ULTRA HIGH-SPEED BROADBAND is on its way to rural Kilkenny at last!

A technical trial testing a new service to rural areas will be initiated in northwest Kilkenny within months. Formal agreement on the trial was signed between Kilkenny LEADER Partnership (KLP) and Chinese broadband firm Wuhan Vstar on the 2nd of February. LEADER Companies in twelve other areas of the country will also facilitate pilot trials in their areas which will offer ‘next generation access’ (NGA) standard broadband coverage.

Rural Broadband Pilot Signing

KILKENNY BROADBAND PILOT SIGNING – L to R Claire Doheny (KLP staff member), Mr Zhang (Chairman Vstar), Minister Ann Phelan, Declan Rice (KLP CEO) and Kevin Murphy (KLP Vice-Chairperson)

Minister for Rural Affairs, Ann Phelan TD attended the historic event and wished the Chinese and Irish partners well with the pilots which have obvious potential of aiding her brief in delivering the CEDRA report. If successful the LEADER Companies and their Chinese partners propose to roll out a national network as soon as possible over the next couple of years, a service which will be well over the national NGA target speeds of 30 mega-bytes per second (Mbps) download and 10 Mbps upload.

The LEADER Companies decided to launch the innovative project, because while they welcome and support the aspiration of the state’s National Broadband Plan to provide high-speed broadband to all rural Ireland by 2020, they are concerned at possible delays in delivery to that timeline. Moreover as community-based companies LEADER has become increasingly concerned at the tangible consequences of the digital isolation of rural Ireland’s businesses and residents highlighted in multiple of recent reports.

Kilkenny LEADER Chairperson Denis Drennan, summarises the position, “Rural Ireland’s communities cannot afford in either economic or social terms, to wait on others – no matter how well-intentioned to address the broadband gap”. LEADER’s proactively work to address the deficit immediately led to the contact with Wuhan Vstar and following discussions to the cooperation agreement.

The technology pioneered in the trial is wireless-based but recent innovations offer much higher average speeds – over the NGA target than has been on offer until now been available to most rural customers. Used throughout rural China, the Vstar system has recently been exported to Australia.

Ireland will be the first country in Europe to see its introduction. While the technology is pioneering it basis is still well-understood and will be fully regulated and within the cautious health and safety guidelines of the state and to international best practice. The technological advances also mean that there is much less reliance on multiple masts than is currently the case. Denis Drennan states, “The potential of the broadband trial are enormous- not just for northwest Kilkenny – but for rural Ireland in general.”

Following their two week trip literally around the hills, bogs, islands, coastal area, farms, businesses and small villages of the country the Vstar group have a very good idea of what the opportunities and challenges that rural Ireland offers. They are confident that the pilots will prove the effectiveness of their system. The broadband partners have cleared their basic proposals with the Communication Regulator – ComReg and briefed government ministers on their plans.

Research is well advanced on local preparations in which the LEADER companies will work with local businesses and communities in each trial area to get the best system possible. Installation work is expected to commence on the project in the coming months and the system to go live by the middle of the year.