The Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications has released a draft document of its Digital Connectivity Strategy.
The strategy sets out three overall targets for digital connectivity in the State:
1. All Irish households and businesses will be covered by a gigabyte (GB) network no later than 2028.
2. All populated areas covered by 5G by no later than 2030.
3. Complete the delivery of digital connectivity to all connected hubs and all schools by 2023.
Setting out the purpose of the strategy, the Department states that it will encourage investment in energy efficient solutions, network integrity and security, and support and facilitate the modernisation of existing networks and transition to GB and 5G networks both with direct and indirect government supports.
It further pledges to ensure that the regulatory framework promotes infrastructure competition, encourages investment, and supports innovation in emerging technologies.
Plans of action
The draft document outlines a number of potential plans of action to ensure that the three targets are met.
One of these is ensuring investment by commercial operators in quality, secure, and resilient GB network services to the vast majority of premises, which the Department believes will lead to the deployment of GB network services through the National Broadband Plan’s state-led Intervention.
The Department further intends to introduce a universal service obligation with the aim of ensuring that broadband is accessible for all, as well as the strategic placement of high-speed connectivity in certain locations throughout the State, including an initiative under the National Recovery and Resilience Plan (NRRP) to provide high-speed broadband connectivity to up to 1,100 primary schools through the Schools Broadband Programme.
The document further outlines intentions to establish a broadband connection point project with the aim of ensuring that 300 points throughout the State are provided with high-speed broadband for public use. This will be underpinned by the continuation of the rollout of Eduroam WiFi spots in the State’s public spaces such as libraries, universities, town centres, and healthcare facilities.
The aim of ensuring the international connectivity infrastructure to and from the State are resilient, suitably diverse, and robust so that they can serve the demands of the national requirements, is additionally set out in the document.
“The vast majority of premises in urban and suburban areas will be covered with a fibre to the home services with GB network services being made available to these locations by 2026.”
Ireland’s 5G network needs to continue to be released “with appropriate coverage and deployment obligations, and continuous monitoring of the use of this spectrum for both indoor and outdoor locations, to ensure it is used efficiently and effectively,” the draft document states.
The document emphasises the necessity of “ensuring that public administrations maximise the benefit from 5G technologies through the creation of infrastructure that enables users to process data at the appropriate location (e.g. edge node; regional node; or cloud)”.
“This will contribute significantly to Ireland’s Public Protection and Disaster Relief (PPDR) capability while also providing practical insights on the use of these solutions to all sectors.”
Key to the 5G progression is the appropriate spectrum is made available and that mobile connectivity solutions are provided for the use of public services.
Meeting the State’s connectivity needs will require the adaption and awareness of new emerging technologies over the coming decade. The document states that “fostering the necessary ecosystems to facilitate the deployment of smart city applications and services in urban/suburban, town settings and rural communities” will play a complementary role to the facilitation of new emerging technologies.
Key strategic enablers
The document outlines a list of key strategic enablers, the implementation of which will ensure that the connectivity commitments are met within the timeframe specified.
The first enabler outlined in the document is that of ensuring the commercial investment necessary in connectivity in the state. “The vast majority of premises in urban and suburban areas will be covered with a fibre to the home services with GB network services being made available to these locations by 2026.
“Commercial investment is expected to result in GB network services being made available to the vast majority of premises, in primarily urban and suburban areas covering circa 77 per cent of the premises across the State and 5G services being made available to all populated areas across the State once the appropriate spectrum is made available.”
The document additionally places an emphasis on the importance of continuing with the National Broadband Plan, liaising with the Mobile Phone and Broadband Taskforce, ensuring that there is the necessary international connectivity, and that the necessary regulations are in place.
The regulatory framework will be decided at a European level by the European Electronic Communications Code, and domestically by the national regulatory authority, the Commission for Communications Regulation, who have responsibility for the rollout of 5G connectivity in the State as well as the radio spectrum.