Thursday 19 April 2018

Race for fibre leadership: how Ireland’s Exemplar Network could give us the edge

Data usage on the web, mainly video, is exploding and traditional networks won’t be able to keep up

John Kennedy

THE nations that will attract the most foreign direct investment and that will give their homegrown businesses the best fighting chance in the decades ahead will be the ones with the most sophisticated and powerful fibre networks.

According to the most recent study on the subject by Cisco, demand for 3D TV and HDTV via the internet will see global internet traffic increase fourfold to 767 exabytes by 2014 – 10 times all the traffic traversing IP networks in 2008. Video alone will exceed 91pc of global consumer IP traffic by 2014.

Google’s plans in the US to experiment with 1Gbps fibre in a select number of communities have been met with 200,000 responses from individuals, indicating the value people are beginning to attach to these networks.

It was no small coincidence that many of the folk who had gathered to witness the switching on of Ireland’s Exemplar Network in a business park in west Dublin were a mixture of scientific and cultural types who see fibre as critical to the country’s industrial and creative future.

Communications Minister Eamon Ryan last week committed a further €5m to the next two phases of the Exemplar Network, which will see it grow from circling Dublin in the second phase to being a nationwide entity by the third phase in 2013.

Ryan said the first phase of the Exemplar Network, in which the State invested €10m with Intune Networks, has already created 140 jobs and by the third phase thousands of jobs, from digital media to high-end computing, green tech and life sciences, could be created as organisations will be attracted by the speed and capability of the network.

The first phase of the Exemplar Network, the Exemplar Testbed, located at Intune’s headquarters in Park West in Dublin, has a capacity for 2.5 terabytes – remarkable when you consider that this is twice the volume of traffic that the current London phone system carries.

Intune Networks, formed in 1999 by a group of ex-UCD photonics researchers, has developed a technology that can enable a single strand of fibre to move from carrying one signal from one operator to carrying data from 80 telecoms and TV companies all at once.

The managing director of EMC in Ireland, Bob Savage, explained that multinationals based here have to compete globally to win investment. EMC and subsidiary VMware employ over 1,700 people in Cork.

“This is a tangible example of how Ireland is innovating. We are entering the world of cloud computing and scalable, robust networks will be key. As an organisation we will be looking to leverage the Exemplar Network in the months and years ahead.”

Pol Mac Aonghusa, chief technology officer in charge of strategy, development and innovation at IBM, which employs 3,000-plus people in Dublin, said the Smart Cities project in Dublin, which is creating 200 jobs, has the potential to create up to 700 positions based on creating the energy, living and traffic-management solutions for future cities.

“The key to what we’re looking at is using cloud computing and distributing rich content and meaningful services at a scale entire cities will consume.

“Collaboration is part of our DNA and we will be bringing research to the world from behind the firewall and we’ll definitely be using the Exemplar Network,” said Mac Aonghusa.

Two other key international fibre networks have been converging on Ireland: first the €30m Project Kelvin transatlantic fibre network built by Hibernia Atlantic that comes ashore at Portrush and connects Ireland with North America; and second a €15m fibre network being built by CeltixConnect that will link Dublin’s East Point with Holyhead and beyond into London’s financial districts and Europe.

“The advantage of the Exemplar initiative is the low latency that internet providers will gain and this will be key to investment,” explained Diane Hodnett, director of CeltixConnect.

“To see the Government take the initiative shows the seriousness of Ireland becoming a digital economy.”

Last December, in a little Dingle church, rock band Snow Patrol gave an intimate performance that was transmitted via a fibre ring using the Exemplar technology to multiple HD screens, iPhones and laptops in the adjoining village.

The promoter of ‘Other Voices’, Philip King, explained: “This technology will be necessary for Ireland to be considerable in the world. Operating in the cultural space makes us considerable. People take us seriously because we are the best in the world at this and Irish music has always collided with technology, especially when you consider Irish music being recorded in America for the first time more than a century ago.”

King said the dividends for the arts world from investment in the Exemplar can be several. “It’s about our self-worth and our ability to take on the best. If we can find a way of joining the brains, the genius and the know-how to technology, arts and the cultural sector we could create something unique in terms of tradition, translation and transmission.”

Patrick Sutton of the Gaiety School of Acting is the driving force behind the creation of an Arts Exemplar Network and the refurbishment of the Smock Alley Theatre that was first established in Ireland 348 years ago and which will reopen next March.

“There’s a heartbeat and real- life aspect to this because people are key to developing content,” Sutton said. “This is significant for the story Ireland has to tell and significant for the world.

“The thousands of new jobs are certain, but people must realise that generating content for their channel, generating that content and ensuring people can see it and maximise it is key. When people realise that generating content for their channel, the primary school, the football club or so Smock Alley can use it and access it is extraordinarily exciting.”

The CEO of Intune Networks, Tim Fritzley explained: “There is a unique opportunity for the island of Ireland. When you look at what’s happening with CeltixConnect going across to the UK and Project Kelvin going to the US, the Exemplar is what’s going to connect all of that together. In terms of the content distribution and creation, it comes together in a unique way that no one else in the world will have.

“What’s interesting is we just had a large European telecoms carrier in and they told us that 95pc of their traffic is video-based and of that 90pc of that should be within a region, but today because of way it is operating users go all the way to the US and back again to watch a single video.

“The reason for that is the current networks in regions aren’t set up to handle how video and web services are being accessed through mobile or fixed broadband. You’ll need Exemplar technology to handle that as you go forward,” Fritzley explained.

To see a video on the Exemplar Network’s potential go to .

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