Head of research at CIT says Government should look to the skies to solve rural broadband woes

Head of research at CIT says Government should look to the skies to solve rural broadband woes
8 H1 student Michael O’Grady pictured with his former classmates after receiving their Leaving Cert results at Christian Brothers College. Pic Daragh Mc Sweeney/Provision

THE head of research at Cork Institute of Technology (CIT) has said the Government should look to the skies to solve rural broadband issues rather than spending €3bn on laying fibre cables as part of the National Broadband Plan. 

Dr Niall Smith, head of research at CIT and Blackrock Castle Observatory, said satellites could offer a better way to deliver broadband to rural areas. 

Currently, the National Broadband Plan will require the installation of around 144,000 kilometres of fibre cable on about 90,000 Eir poles around Ireland to deliver access to broadband in rural areas.

Dr Smith said space technology was developing so fast that the government should consider its use within the broadband plan.

The scientist, who has a degree and PhD in astrophysics, wrote to the Department of Communications some time ago, outlining his advice for the National Broadband Plan (NBP) but did not receive a response.

In America, the Federal Communications Commission has given Elon Musk’s company, SpaceX, permission to launch up to 12,000 broadband satellites based on the idea that they can use satellite technology for broadband connectivity in rural parts of the US.

“Those same satellites will be flying over Ireland,” Dr Smith explained.

“Now, we can talk to Space X and ask them what they can do for us or we can not ask that question. My view is we should be asking that question.” 

The scientist said that just last week, a lawyer from Abu Dhabi contacted him with questions regarding space technology and the opportunities that exist within a space-based internet.

“We have talked to some of these companies to try and understand their model, we have done research and nobody is saying this is stupid stuff.

“There are a number of reports, one by Morgan Stanley in 2017, which outlines the development of space-based internet and how effective it is going to be.

“They are predicting enormous growth in internet traffic in space in the coming years,” Dr Smith said.

A spokesperson from the Department of Communications said: “All qualified bidders in the process proposed a predominantly fibre solution as the best model to address the requirements set out in the NBP, including the requirement to future proof the network to cater for future demands and capacity.

“The Department considered alternative technologies and methods to deliver the NBP but concluded that a predominantly fibre solution was the best option to guarantee the reliability, quality and speed of the service required over the 25-year NBP contract."

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