Last week it was officially announced that I had been re-appointed as Chairperson of Telecommunications Industry Ireland (TII), the Ibec representative body for the electronic communications industry. I am excited to hold this role for a further year and equally recognise the trust placed in me by my industry peers when nominating me to serve two consecutive terms in this role. TII is a broad church with a diverse membership. From broadband companies, like SIRO, to broadcasting, cable, data centres, fixed, mobile, satellite and wireless internet as well as equipment manufacturers and network providers; our members span the full spectrum of the industry.
Reflecting on 2020, it is clear the telecommunications industry was tested like never before. The reason, one we are all too familiar with by now – Covid-19. Yet, it fills me with pride to say, our industry not only stood up to the challenge, but exceeded our own expectations. During the worst days of 2020 and now into 2021, our industry has kept the nation connected. Across the country people have worked from spare bedrooms to kitchen counters, shopped, zoomed, streamed or schooled. Indeed, such was demand that our telecommunications networks experienced an average [35%] increase in peak traffic during 2020. Despite these pressures our telecommunications industry has remained resilient, robust and continues to deliver to our over two million active subscribers across Ireland. Effectively, telecoms connectivity has been and is the nervous system for the country. It is the enabler for our communities to live, work and play.
This did not happen by accident.
It is a testament to our industry and to our people, all 25,000 of them, who drive it forward each day and never more so than during the pandemic. Equally, with more than €3.25 billion invested by the sector in infrastructure networks since 2015, our industry was ready to flex up when the pandemic struck. And yet, I also know that while our industry certainly played a huge role in keeping our country connected, there remains some parts of the country and groups within our society who have not shared as fulsomely in the benefits which telecommunications can deliver. For example, in my own sector of the industry, I am acutely aware that notwithstanding the work of companies such as SIRO and eir are doing in rolling out FTTH broadband, 50% of our country still does not have access to high quality broadband. Equally a recent survey by Vodafone found only 19% of our SMEs are highly digitised.
So, as I look to the rest of 2021 and my role as Chairperson of TII, there are several priorities that I wish to both fulfil and advance during my term. Key amongst them will be the role that the telecommunications industry can play in supporting in Ireland’s post Covid-19 economic recovery (including working with the industry to achieve access to high quality broadband for all), promoting sustainability economically and socially, to assisting members with the implementation of the European Electronic Communications Code and combating digital piracy. In addition, I am also focused on working to communicate the industry’s position on key issues such as cybersecurity and the Digital Single Market in conjunction with the Ibec Digital Economy Policy Group.
The Future of Telecommunications
While the former are all issues of immediate concern, both TII, and personally as Chairperson this year, need to always keep our heads up and looking to the future. This must include a focus on continually seeking to improve telecommunications services for Irish consumers and businesses. TII aims to do this by promoting a positive environment for investment which in turn will accelerate the roll out of Very High-Capacity Networks such as 5G, Cable and FTTH. This will future proof Irish homes and businesses and our economy for the increasing demand for telecommunication services in the years ahead. We cannot overindulge ourselves in our successes in 2020. Ireland still has a long road to travel to become a global digital leader. The latest statistics from the European Commission’s DESI (Digital Economy and Society Index) report indicate that Ireland ranks 23rd in the EU in connectivity. This is something TII is determined to work with all stakeholders from Government and policymakers, regulators to businesses and consumers to achieve as part of our 2021 priorities.
Sustainability and Resilience in the Telecommunications Sector
A final key consideration not just for me but for all leaders across the telecommunications sector is sustainability. It is understandable that as we all grapple with the fall-out from a global pandemic that we can sometimes forget about this other big challenge of our time. The telecommunications industry can make a huge contribution to achieving a more sustainable world. In many aspects of life, our industry holds the keys to unlocking more sustainable ways of living. Examples include working from home instead of commuting to offices, ensuring equal access to public services such as through ehealth or online education, bringing Smart Cities to life or driving more efficient uses of resources in manufacturing or supply chains, to name a few. Over 200 years ago the poet William Blake wrote “what is now proved was once only imagined” and so it was the case for the telecommunications industry in 2020, when all its facets came together to keep our country running. And yet the promise of what the next years of this decade will bring in terms of revolutionary advances in our industry and their wider impacts will be hugely transformative – high quality broadband in every community across Ireland, a nationwide roll-out of 5G and an increasingly digital society and economy. As Chairperson of TII in 2021 I am excited to play a small part in that revolution.