The Government has outlined ambitious plans to have all businesses and homes connected to a gigabit network by 2028.
Approved following a period of public consultation at the end of 2022, the Digital Connectivity Strategy for Ireland sets out an ambitious roadmap to arm all sectors with the connectivity needed to fully exploit digital opportunities. -Alongside the pledge to ensure all households and businesses will be covered by a gigabit network no later than 2028, the strategy also aims to ensure that all populated areas will be covered by 5G no later than 2030, and that digital connectivity will be delivered to all schools and broadband connection points by 2030.
The Government has an overarching vision to remain a digital leader at the heart of European and global digital developments, as set out in Harnessing Digital – The Digital Ireland Framework.
In terms of performance, the EU’s 2022 Digital Economy and Society Index places Ireland fifth out of the EU27 on digital progress.
Progress on the key areas of the digital connectivity strategy highlighted in the Government’s 2022 progress report include over 97,000 premises being able to order or pre-order a high-speed fibre broadband connection across 25 counties, under the National Broadband Plan, and the installation of high-speed broadband at over 750 broadband connection points, including 279 public sites and 479 school connections.
Also included in the progress report are over 1,000 schools set to be connected to high-speed broadband by 2023, within an overarching ambition to reach 1,600 schools.
Published with the context of the latest progress report, the Digital Connectivity Strategy for Ireland states that “digital connectivity is a pre-requisite to ensuring the delivery of social dividends, including ensuring that disadvantaged groups are not left behind in this transition, and can fully embrace digital opportunities”.
Figure 1, setting out a number of guiding principles of the strategy, outlines pledges to ensure that the regulatory framework encourages investment, promotes infrastructure competition, and supports innovation in emerging technologies. The strategy is complemented by the National Cyber Security Strategy.
Importantly, the strategy outlines the State’s understanding that digital connectivity will be primarily delivered through the commercial investment of the telecommunications industry, however, the Government says it will take measures to drive gigabit and 5G connectivity, “including complementing commercial investment in infrastructure with Government-led initiatives and through facilitating other strategic enablers”.
Government-led initiatives include:
- gigabit network services through the National Broadband Plan’s state-led Intervention to primarily rural areas covering circa 23 per cent of the premises across the State;
- the development of direct international connectivity links to the rest of Europe and ensuring Maritime Area Planning provides the appropriate framework to make this happen;
- ensuring 5G spectrum continues to be made available, with appropriate coverage and deployment obligations, and monitoring of the use of this spectrum; and
- promoting research and innovation in new and emerging technologies, as well as leveraging pilot and test networks available across the State.
- Interestingly, the Government has set out plans to conduct analysis of the impacts of digital technological changes on sustainability, recognising the potential of the deployment of digital technologies to increase energy demands, resource use, and the generation of pollution and waste.
The strategy, which is being led and driven by the Department of Environment, Climate and Communications, is expected to be reviewed, updated, and republished no later than 2025.
Figure 1: Digital Connectivity guiding principles:
• encourage commercial investment in energy efficient solutions, network integrity and security, and supporting and facilitating the modernisation of existing networks and transition to gigabit and 5G networks;
• ensure that Ireland’s regulatory framework encourages investment, promotes infrastructure competition, and supports innovation in emerging technologies;
• where appropriate, government will intervene where the market fails to deliver or where the timing of the anticipated commercial delivery does not meet the needs of the State; and
• promote the adoption of digital technologies through the support of pilot initiatives and through programmes to develop research and innovation in the area.