Reducing the digital divide

Three Ireland’s 5G network has already reached nearly 80 per cent national coverage, offering a lifeline for long-neglected rural and suburban businesses and homes

Neasa Parker, consumer director at Three Ireland

After achieving 79 per cent 5G coverage across the country, Three Ireland is stepping up its efforts to connect more homes to super-fast, reliable broadband.

As our lives continue to become more digitally connected and reliance on online services increases, faster broadband speeds will be vital in meeting demand as streaming, video calls, gaming and remote working are now major components of people’s lives.

That said, where a person is located determines the type of service they have access to, and those in rural areas may not have any broadband services available in the first place.

This is why the likes of 5G broadband will play a significant part in bridging the digital divide experienced by many people on the island.

Since it launched its 5G network back in September 2020, Three Ireland has been investing huge amounts into this service and its overall network, which amounts to €100 million annually. And its efforts are paying off.

It now has 79 per cent 5G population coverage across the country. Notably, more than 60 per cent of its 5G sites are in rural and suburban areas, ensuring that areas that were short on options, relying on old copper connections, or had no broadband at all, now have choices.

Speeds of up to 215 Mbps are enough to catch the eye, but there’s much more to it than that; 5G changes how the average person experiences home broadband.

“There’s a perception that if it’s not fibre, it’s not broadband. But 5G has dispelled that,” said Neasa Parker, consumer director at Three Ireland. “For consumers, it’s about having always-on connectivity that is consistent and our broadband is proven to be just that.”

It has the credentials to back up its service. Ookla, the global leader in internet testing, data and analysis, rewarded Three Ireland with the title of fastest and most consistent 5G network in Q4, 2021.

This means that out of all the tests Ookla carried out, a high percentage saw Three’s download and upload speeds maintained constantly. Being consistent is crucial as devices like Amazon Alexa require constant connectivity to work.

Through a dedicated radio spectrum, Three has ensured that high-quality broadband services are delivered to customers whether they’re in an urban or rural area.

That infrastructure rollout has been critical for the company. With a rapidly growing coverage percentage, its 5G broadband service can serve areas which have traditionally lacked access.

“The rollout has been incredibly fast, with us speeding up our investment in our network as we knew the demand was huge,” Parker said. “Whereas 4G was an incremental rollout, 5G has been much quicker.”

The speedy rollout was down to the groundwork done in recent years. When planning how it would cover rural and suburban areas, Three carried out a significant analysis of the country.

This involved looking at population disper­sal across the country and in which locations it was difficult or im­possible to avail of quality broadband connections. From that information, the network team designed the rollout, which is still ongoing.

Parker said that as the service grew in popularity, the split of customers was leaning more towards those in rural and suburban areas than in urban areas.

Accessibility and cost

With its 5G coverage just shy of 80 per cent, the company can really start pushing the benefits of its broadband offerings. Accessibility was just as crucial a component in the plan as speed and consistency and, from feedback, that decision is paying dividends.

“It was really important for us to prioritise the areas where we know people are having trouble getting connected and it’s working really well for us,” Parker said. “We’ve received many lovely testimonials from customers who mentioned how they waited so long to get a solution in their area.

As it continues to develop rapidly, Three Ireland has put together an attractive package for both current and new customers.

At a rate of €39 per month for 24 months – with the first three months free – the price is competitive and, as Three’s 5G population coverage increases, it will bring with it more customers who have been without broadband or are looking for a change.

While you can opt to install the router yourself, Three also offers a free install service whereby a technician will help find the optimal place for the broadband router so that customers get maximum speeds, or even install an external antenna for even faster speeds. This and the affordable price point form Three Ireland’s push to bring broadband to homes.

“Our technical installers add a lot of value to the process of getting 5G broadband in to homes,” she said. “Depending on the make-up of your house, it’s really important to ensure there’s some guidance there on where you place the modem or additional solutions like a mesh solution.”

“We’ve received strong feedback from customers about this, saying how helpful it was to know where to position the kit to get the best service for their home.”

All the customer needs to know is that they’ll get fast speeds, as well as a consistent and flexible service. To help sweeten the deal, it also offers a family plan that provides discounts of up to 20 per cent for bills.

Unlike other broadband offerings, Three Ireland’s service is not part of an overall bundle including TV or phone lines. Customers can avail of additional services like Amazon Prime Video or Music if they wish but if they only want a broadband service, they can choose it without being tied into a larger bundle.

While things are looking brighter in 2022 with most restrictions lifted, those who moved to rural areas may want to continue working there. Better broadband services will ensure that not only can they stay there, but that those areas will grow and thrive.

“Rural and suburban communities need solutions and there are more people around the country who are based in these areas to be closer to family,” she said. “Having a solution that supports not just their work needs but also communication and entertainment is really important.”

“It’s great to be able to say that there’s a solution here now for you, and our goal is to help people understand that there’s something available for them that’s compelling, and that’s going to keep them connected.”