Irish communications services provider (CSP) Imagine Communications has joined forces with Chinese network supplier Huawei to build a pioneering national fixed-wireless access (FWA) network across Ireland as an alternative to fixed broadband.
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The two firms plan to use 4.5G mobile networking technologies, such as massive MIMO (multiple input, multiple output) and carrier aggregation, to offer a 200Mbps ultrafast broadband service that they hope will help bridge the stark digital divide that exists between urban and rural parts of Ireland.
The average broadband speed in Ireland is about 14Mbps, according to speed test statistics released today by broadband comparison website Cable.co.uk, and although there is limited availability of fibre-to-the-premise (FTTP), fibre-to-the-cabinet (FTTC) and cable-based services in places such as Dublin, as in the UK these services rarely meet the advertised headline speeds.
Meanwhile, outside of larger towns and cities, about 61% of the Irish market is still served by traditional digital subscriber line (DSL) delivery technology, with services hovering around the 3Mbps mark.
“The Imagine network will overcome the significant challenges that have impeded the delivery of future-proofed high-speed broadband services across Ireland and meet the government objective of a truly connected society, positioning both rural and urban Ireland to fully capitalise on the digital economy,” said Imagine founder and executive chairman Sean Bolger.
“In a global digital era, the availability of high-speed broadband can ensure not just the sustainability but the development of a vibrant rural Ireland both socially and economically.”
The service will use high-performance customer premise equipment (CPE) to connect homes and businesses to mobile masts hooked up to fibre backhaul, which means the service can hopefully be deployed much more quickly and cheaply than fixed broadband.
Although Ireland does have a national broadband plan with a target speed of 30Mbps across the country by 2020, the roll-out has seen similar challenges to that being undertaken in the UK, particularly around the cost of deploying FTTP.
A limited commercial trial of the Imagine-Huawei FWA network has already seen a 70Mbps service provided to 16,000 homes (by contrast, FTTP has reached only 12,000 properties in Ireland) and 100,000 people are said to have applied for the service. The full roll-out of the production network is set to begin in earnest in October, with plans to cover 85% of the Irish market by 2019.
“Huawei’s WTTx [wireless-to-the-x] solution has the capability of providing internet access to everybody everywhere,” said Mao Dun, Huawei VP of wireless marketing and solution sales. “Working with Imagine in a commercial environment, we have optimised our WTTx solution deployed as a purely fixed network alternative to FTTx. Removing the barriers faced by FTTx deployments to meet the need and demand for superfast broadband, Ireland is an ideal market to demonstrate the ability of the latest WTTx solutions.”