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The village with the fastest broadband service in Ireland

A fibre-optic broadband initiative in Ratheniska, Co Laois, by Vodafone-ESB joint venture Siro could have far-reaching implications for businesses in rural areas

A rural community in Co Laois is benefiting from Ireland's fastest commercial broadband service, thanks to an initiative by Vodafone-ESB joint venture Siro. The company is developing Ireland's first 100 per cent fibre-optic broadband network and Ratheniska has been chosen as a pilot village to evaluate the potential for bringing the network to other rural areas. Some 17 premises have been connected to the Siro network, including 14 homes, Ratheniska National School, the community hall and Park Ratheniska GAA club.

According to Siro chief executive Sean Atkinson, Ratheniska was selected because of its proximity to both the national telecommunications hub and the ESB training centre in Portlaoise, its accessibility, and its diverse demographic and occupational profile. Participants in the trial will experience broadband speeds hitherto unheard-of in rural communities.

The one-gigabit connection is made possible by Siro’s custom-built 100 per cent fibre-optic service. There are no copper connections at any point in the network, ensuring that the connection is ultra-fast, with the capacity to download a high-definition film (4GB) in just 30 seconds, as opposed to the one hour it takes using a 10Mbps broadband connection.

The fibre is deployed on ESB's existing overhead and underground infrastructure, facilitating a fast and cost-efficient rollout to every county in Ireland and potentially enabling fibre to building connections to every home and business premises in the country.


“The network can reverse the digital divide between the capital and regional towns”, says Atkinson. “It will enable each community on the network to avail of the latest developments in areas like ecommerce, remote working and telemedicine. This will in turn encourage more people to live in rural communities, take advantage of business opportunities and establish new companies.”

Atkinson sees the network opening up new possibilities for Ratheniska. "Our 100 per cent fibre-optic broadband network will revolutionise Ratheniska's broadband experience and put the village on a par with cities like Hong Kong and Tokyo in terms of connectivity.

“Access to our one-gigabit network means that Ratheniska’s broadband infrastructure will be four times more powerful than Dublin’s. This investment by Siro complements the government’s National Broadband Plan and will further increase the quality of Ireland’s broadband services.”

The decision to roll out the service to a rural village before the first phase, involving 10 towns, had even been completed was partly motivated by a desire to gain experience of delivering the technology in different settings.

"We are investing €450 million in bringing the network to half a million homes in 50 regional towns", Atkinson says. "The first 10 towns to be connected will be Cavan, Dundalk, Westport, Castlebar, Sligo, Carrigaline, Tralee, Navan, Letterkenny and Wexford. Earlier this summer, we announced Skibbereen as a phase-two town and we are connecting up the new Percy Ludgate Digital Hub there.

“There was a lot of learning for us in that. There are differences in how to tackle a town of that size and larger towns. The same applies to rural villages where the electricity infrastructure is very different.”

Customers are set to benefit too, of course. "It will allow customers to do things far more efficiently," Atkinson says. "I live in rural Wicklow and I know how frustrating it can be trying to get by with a very slow connection. It can even be a chore getting on to The Irish Times website at certain times of the day. More exciting is what it will enable customers to do in future in areas like digital business and agriculture."

Atkinson sees very significant potential in the latter area.

“The demands of feeding a growing global population represent an exciting opportunity for Irish farmers and the local food industry,” he says. “Higher yields, improved productivity and a greater integration of cutting-edge technology into traditional farming methods will need to be achieved if these opportunities are to be exploited. However, the new farming and smart agricultural applications that will fuel this growth require much better connectivity than is currently available to many farmers and rural businesses.”

Atkinson points out that tablet computers are as important to a modern farmer as a tractor or harvester. “They are increasingly using the latest technologies to maximise productivity and efficiency. But these require fast connectivity to the cloud to make best use of the advanced data analytics tools now available to them.”

Ratheniska resident and business owner Gillian Reidy is looking forward to exploring the full potential of Siro.

“My business, Penhouse Design, is based in the village,” she says. “We build brands for clients using print and digital media, and employ four people. Up until now, we’ve had to make do with what we had and it was certainly a bit frustrating, especially at busy times. We are now looking at how far we can push the new service . . . It will definitely open up new possibilities for us.”

While it is still early days for the new service, Reidy believes it has the potential to attract other businesses to set up in the area. Atkinson agrees.

“We think we are transforming the market and will affect business decisions in a very fundamental way,” he says. “The advent of Siro will make it possible for the new generation of digital businesses to set up in villages like Ratheniska.

“It will also make rural Ireland more attractive to multinationals, many of whom require their staff to be capable of working from home over high-speed broadband connections.”