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Thursday 17 January 2019

Will 5G be turned to as a safety net if rural broadband is not rolled out?

The last 100,000 of 330,000 of the rural-fibre-to-the-home connections being built by Eir will be completed in June
The last 100,000 of 330,000 of the rural-fibre-to-the-home connections being built by Eir will be completed in June
Adrian Weckler

Adrian Weckler

It seems that every year is a crunch year for rural broadband. But 2019 really is shaping up to be do or die for the State's National Broadband Plan, the pledge to connect 540,000 businesses and homes in rural areas to state-subsidised fibre internet.

On balance, a contract with the current bidder, Granahan McCourt, still looks likely to be given the green light. But if this doesn't happen, the Government has a very serious infrastructural deficit to address, even if a small percentage of those without proper broadband will get it through market sources next year.

Inevitably, attention will shift to alternative options. One such option that is often mentioned is 5G, the next-generation mobile technology that is currently being trialled by Irish operators.

At peak, this can deliver speeds of 500Mbs, several times faster than the fastest Eir 'eFibre' phone broadband.

And some operators are even setting up rural trials, with broadband access specifically targeted.

For example, Vodafone Ireland is dipping a toe into rural 5G mobile broadband with trials in Roscommon, Wexford, Tipperary and Waterford, with 250 homes and businesses given roof antennae and equipment that can translate that 5G signal into a speedy wifi connection.

Eir also says that it will look at 5G trials next year, while Three is expected to do the same.

However, don't expect 5G to swoop in where the National Broadband Plan fails to deliver.

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Senior government and industry personnel have all dismissed the idea, pointing to the need for fibre backhaul for such wireless infrastructure.

"It would be complementary," said Vodafone Ireland chief executive Anne O'Leary.

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