Change and telecoms go hand in hand

‘Investment in smart technology enablers must be widespread and not limited to the major urban centres’ says Peter Hendrick, CEO of NBI

30th November, 2021
Change and telecoms go hand in hand

What's your name and what position do you hold?

I’m Peter Hendrick and I’m the CEO of NBI, the company responsible for rolling out the Government’s National Broadband Plan.

What is your professional background?

I have 20 years of telecom, engineering, sales & executive experience. I held senior roles in Siemens before co-founding AirSpeed Telecom, serving as the company’s Chief Operations Officer until 2015. During this time, we built the business into a national telecoms operator focused on delivering managed telecommunication services to both retail and wholesale customers across Ireland.

Following Granahan McCourt’s acquisition of AirSpeed Telecom in 2014, I led the integration of the company into Enet, where I served as CTO before becoming NBI’s Managing Bid Director during the National Broadband Plan (NBP) procurement process.

What are your day to day responsibilities?

As CEO of NBI, I head up a team of some of the best and brightest minds in telecoms, delivering one of the most ambitious telecoms projects in the world.

One of the biggest challenges facing rural Ireland is bridging the digital divide with urban areas. To remedy this situation forever, NBI is delivering high-speed broadband to every household and business in the National Broadband Plan (NBP) rollout area. No town, village or community will be left behind and I’m here, with the team, to make sure that happens.

How has the pandemic affected priority areas for smart city strategy and investment?

We all recognise from first-hand experience that the pandemic has accelerated the work from home phenomenon and the adoption of enabling technologies. It could be too early to say definitively but the new ways of working are likely to fast-track the shift to smart cities in a broader sense.

In the coming years, I think once we have solved the ubiquitous connectivity issues with Fibre to the Home and 4G / 5G mobile small cells supporting true Internet of Things, the emergence of disruptive technology companies will create game-changing solutions to help us commute, communicate and collaborate more productively. The National Broadband Plan will ensure futureproofed, high-speed broadband infrastructure becomes a vital utility for every person in the country, enabling major advances in strategic smart city planning which shows tremendous potential, particularly with regards to climate change and the environment.

What do cities & towns need to do to secure investment and to keep developments on track?

Cities and towns have to learn from each other’s experiences. Some of the smart cities technology that’s already deployed may be among the best kept secrets out there – I’m thinking about self-compacting bins or traffic lights that trigger engineering visits when they become faulty.

We’re all too familiar with the digital divide – something that NBI is working hard to remove through the delivery of quality, affordable high-speed broadband to all parts of Ireland where such services are not available commercially. Once completed, all parts of Ireland will have access to a world-class, reliable broadband network, capable of supporting the communications, information, education and entertainment requirements of current and future generations.

If the benefits of smart cities and towns are to be experienced and available throughout Ireland, then investment in smart technology enablers must be widespread and not limited to the major urban centres – the last thing we need to do is create a new version of the digital divide – not one that refers to internet access, rather one that refers to the over-the-top services that ubiquitous Gigabit connectivity offers.

How digital ready are we?

Change and telecoms go hand in hand. 15 years ago, service providers had proprietary networks and made their products and services available over their own infrastructure. This is no longer the case.

The ongoing explosion of cloud and specifically cloud-enabled services is naturally a major driver for the next phase of the digital revolution and communication networks are critical to this.

Comms infrastructure, as well as cloud services are being leveraged by the over-the-top disruptors to make their products available. When you combine this fact with wider societal trends, such as the proliferation of digital channels, I think it’s true to say that the telecoms industry has shown its ability to flex and support the digital revolution and it will continue to do so.

In the next few years, and in line with the pathway set out by the European Commission, Ireland will have dramatically improved connectivity – either delivered through fibre to the home or with 4G / 5G mobile small cells supporting advances in machine to machine connectivity and Internet of Things technologies. This will surely enable a raft of disruptive technologies and will alter the way we relate with the built environment.

Where does Ireland stand in a European context in terms of our infrastructure?

Developing infrastructure to be able to deliver Gigabit connectivity is a universal theme. Ireland’s National Broadband Plan is part of a much broader pathway set out by the European Commission, to ensure every household has access to high-speed broadband by 2025 and Gigabit connectivity for all by 2030. Ireland, thanks to the commercial investments from eir, Siro and Virgin Media, as well as NBI’s deployment to 554,000 premises is placing Ireland at the forefront of European nations in terms of providing high speed broadband to 100% of the population. This has taken ambitious and forward thinking leadership by the Government of Ireland to invest in futureproofed infrastructure and make it a human right for every person in the country to have access to high-speed broadband.

The migration from legacy broadband to full fibre is already well underway. ComReg data shows that, at end-Q2 2021, there were almost 309,000 fibre connections in place, out of a total of 2.2 million fixed line subscriptions - showing annual growth of 54%.

A report published in May 2021, by the Fibre to the Home Council Europe states that almost 56% of homes in Ireland have access to full fibre, compared with the EU27+UK average of 44%. The same report cites Ireland as the fastest growing market (in volume and in %) in terms of Fibre to the Premise subscribers. Of course there is more to do, but we are definitely on the right path.

Peter will be speaking at the Connected Cities & Towns 2021 Summit on December 7th. For more information see www.smartcities.ie

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