Last week, SIRO announced the next stage of our fibre network expansion – a €620 million investment that will almost double our existing network footprint, reaching 770,000 homes and businesses and up to 2.1 million people across Ireland over the next four years. Combined with our existing investment as part of the first phase of our broadband network roll-out, it takes our total investment in building a new 100% fibre network to almost one billion euro overall.
The answer as to why, SIRO is investing this level of capital, can be summed up in a word – demand.
Demand from homes and businesses for reliable connectivity which gives people what they need today but also is future proofed for what they will need tomorrow. Many of the patterns of living that we have become accustomed to over recent months, such as remote working, online education or eHealth, shopping online or streaming or video calls for work or personal reasons or increased use of cloud-based technologies, were all slowly taking root before the pandemic. COVID-19 accelerated their usage from the margins to the everyday. COVID-19 also exposed the inadequacies of our existing broadband infrastructure across Ireland – and in both urban and regional areas. Equally, any doubts of high-quality fibre gigabit broadband being a luxury vs. a necessity were quickly dispelled as data demands skyrocketed. Like so many other areas of our lives, the pandemic forced a rethink of how connectivity, and broadband as the engine to deliver it, became framed in the public conscious.
People now need, want and expect seamless connectivity to allow them to do what matters most in their lives in a convenient and easy way. So, whether its’s allowing them to live where they want, and increasingly many are choosing to do so away from our congested cities or working flexible hours which matches their lifestyles and family needs or both staying connected and spending more time with loved ones; the fact is that none of this is possible without high quality broadband. It is now the cornerstone which is unlocking the means to allow people to live in a different and more sustainable way. Once motorway were the key arteries to bridging people to and from where they lived and worked, now broadband networks are increasingly fulfilling this role. And therein lies the crux of the problem Ireland still faces, and to which SIRO last week committed to contribute to fixing in a meaningful way – large parts of Ireland still cannot access high quality broadband. It’s why we have committed to increase our existing network reach from 410,000 premises to 770,000 premises over the next four years. This also means we will increase the number of towns across Ireland from 64 currently to 154, an additional 90 towns, who can access the SIRO network.
In short more families, more communities and more towns will be fibre enabled – supporting the digital agenda and delivering benefits to more regional towns across Ireland.
Since SIRO was founded in 2015, we have always been keenly aware of the demand across Ireland for our 100% fibre-to-the-home, reliable broadband. Typically, once a SIRO van is spotted in a neighbourhood, our technicians are quickly approached by residents in that estate or even those surrounding it looking for information on when they can get connected. Since COVID-19 began, and understandably, as people whether willingly or not found themselves working from home, the level of consumer understanding of connectivity and what amounts to a good broadband connection has also become ever more sophisticated. Back when SIRO began its’ journey to build Ireland’s first 100% fibre broadband network most people either didn’t know what a fibre connection was, were unclear what connection they had and certainly weren’t comfortable navigating a conversation on copper vs. fibre broadband. This is changing fast.
More and more people now are aware that fibre broadband offers a gold standard service, which, most of all, they can depend on. Given, that it is future proofed to speeds of up to 25 Gigabits, it is also likely the last connection they will ever need. Last week with COP26, global leaders are focused on climate change, reducing emissions and finding ways for humanity to live more sustainably but equally juggling how the world adapts and recovers from the pandemic, fibre broadband can play a key role here too. Examples include increased working from home or in hubs closer to where we will live, taking cars off our roads thereby reducing emissions or underpinning smart technologies in our towns and cities delivering benefits such as greater energy efficiency or using natural resources better.
It is apparent that copper switch off is happening all over the world and in Ireland. Fibre itself when compared to older outdated copper or cable broadband technologies is also much more environmentally friendly with less emissions and lower energy consumption. As SIRO now sets off on the next phase of our development and the work to bring our network to tens of thousands of more homes and businesses across Ireland begins, we are conscious that there is still much work to be done to make a full fibre Ireland a reality for all. Ireland is currently at a halfway point in our fibre broadband journey, just over 50% of homes and businesses can access a fibre network, while approximately 13% are connected to one. There remains much work to be done. Yet if we take a view that companies like SIRO, who have already rolled out to over 410,000 premises now have an intent to reach the remaining half of the population in an accelerated and faster timespan, our decision-makers must now also increasingly factor the benefits and opportunities which arise from a fully connected Ireland.
Ireland’s fibre networks will be a strategic asset for decades to come, delivering huge social and economic benefits for decades to come. We can’t waste the opportunities they unlock. Our policymakers must now really consider the wide range of areas which fibre broadband can influence such as how and where we live, how public services are delivered, the skills and expertise required by our workforce in a digital age and above all how we can leverage technology to allow our country to prosper but in a way which does not harm our planet.