Ireland Puts 5G in the Fast Lane

Wednesday 23 Mar 2022 | Member Press Release | Member Resources |

The Irish government has recently launched a new national digital strategy, “Harnessing Digital – The Digital Ireland Framework,” to drive and enable digital transformation of the Irish economy and society. The government committed to enhance digital infrastructure by making connectivity available to everyone, including bringing 5G to all populated areas by 2030. We analyzed Speedtest Intelligence® data from Q3-Q4 2021 to see how Irish 5G speeds compared to those of Ireland’s regional peers and examined how Irish operators’ 5G networks performed across the country and against each other.

Ireland has already awarded mid-band 5G spectrum 

Ireland was one of the first countries to assign spectrum in the 3.4 GHz – 4.2 GHz band, C-band spectrum, which is considered a sweet spot for 5G as it strikes a good balance between capacity and coverage. In June 2017, the Irish regulator, ComReg, granted new 3.6 GHz licenses to five operators for a total of €78m, consisting of €60.5m in upfront fees and around €17.7m in spectrum usage fees. The following companies purchased a total of 350 MHz of TDD spectrum, which has been assigned at a regional basis:

  1. Vodafone Ireland received 85 MHz in rural regions and 105 MHz in the cities. The operator launched 5G services across five Irish cities in August 2019.
  2. Eir Ireland obtained 80MHz in the rural regions and 85 MHz in the cities, and went live with 5G in December 2019.
  3. Three Ireland was the only operator to receive a nationwide spectrum — 100 MHz nationally — and switched on its 5G network in September 2020.
  4. Imagine Communications Ireland (Imagine), a fixed wireless operator, won 60 MHz in each of Ireland’s rural provinces. This will offer fixed wireless broadband to homes that are outside of the high speed broadband coverage and within the National Broadband Plan intervention area.
  5. Airspan Spectrum Holdings (Airspan), a new entrant to the Irish market focused on smart utilities, transportation, and public safety, obtained 25 MHz in rural regions and 60 MHz in cities. It has since been rebranded to Dense Air Limited.

Provisional spectrum assignment in the 700 MHz band 

A decision has been made at the European level to allow operators to use the 694-790 MHz frequency band (the 700 MHz frequency band) across Europe. In Ireland, RTÉ has been utilizing this band to broadcast national digital terrestrial television (DTT) but that license expired in March 2020. In order to free up the 700 MHz spectrum bands, services had to vacate these frequencies.

New regulation under the Wireless Telegraphy Act introduced in April 2020, allowed for the temporary assignment of licenses in the 700 MHz band to “help alleviate congestion on the telecommunications networks during the exceptional and extraordinary situation raised by the Covid-19 situation.” Initially, awarded for the period of three months, the temporary licenses have been extended to an indeterminate date when a spectrum auction will take place. Awarding a permanent 700 MHz license is critical, as low-band spectrum has very good propagation characteristics, which enable a wider geographic coverage footprint. This will be key to achieving the goal of covering populated areas with 5G by 2030.

Ireland 5G performance compared to its European peers 

In our recent post “5G in Europe: Reflecting on the Progress So Far and Mapping the Future”, we looked at how different European countries stacked up versus each other and international peers. Here we compare 5G in Ireland against its peers’ 5G. During the second half of 2021, France (190.17 Mbps) and Switzerland (188.27 Mbps) topped our list with the fastest median 5G download speed, followed by the United Kingdom (176.22 Mbps), Ireland (162.46 Mbps), Germany (155.87 Mbps), and Netherlands (142.55 Mbps). Interestingly, despite all of the French operators launching 5G service in December 2020, relatively late compared to other analyzed countries, they achieved top median download speeds due to substantial network investments.

Switzerland, however, had the fastest median upload speed over 5G at 35.51 Mbps during Q3-Q4 2021, followed by the Netherlands (31.29 Mbps), Germany (25.80 Mbps), Ireland (21.20 Mbps), France (15.19 Mbps), and the U.K. (14.79 Mbps).

The Irish regulator, ComReg published the number of mobile 5G subscribers for the first time in Q3 2021. 5G mobile voice and mobile broadband (MBB) subscriptions increased 31.4% quarter over quarter from 298,479 in Q3 2021 to 392,082 in Q4 2021, accounting for 3.9% and 5.0% of subscriptions at the same time. However, operators are still looking for ways to stimulate market adoption. For instance, in order to increase 5G market adoption, eir has announced that as of November 1, 2021, 5G was enabled on all market mobile plans at no additional cost.

Cork had the fastest 5G download and upload speeds in Ireland 

Cork was the clear winner for 5G speeds across Irish cities, with a median 5G download speed of 339.98 Mbps during Q3-Q4 2021, a 14% year-over-year increase for all operators combined. Cork also had a median 5G upload speed of 32.82 Mbps. Three Ireland’s 5G network in Cork reached a median download speed of 508.96 Mbps. Cork was ahead of the rest of the cities, which partially can be explained by being home to pharmaceutical and IT companies such as Apple, Amazon, and IBM. Cork also benefited from connectivity with the EXA Express undersea cable.

Three Ireland was the fastest 5G operator in Ireland 

Despite being the last operator to jump on the 5G bandwagon in September 2020, Three Ireland has raced to the top in terms of median 5G download speed — achieving 238.70 Mbps in the Q3-Q4 2021, a 20% year-over-year increase. The median 5G upload speeds across all operators were very similar at 19.89 Mbps (Vodafone) and 22.35 Mbps for 3, and 22.24 Mbps for eir during Q3-Q4 2021. However, 3 Ireland has been hard at work with Ericsson to transform its Radio Access Network (RAN), rebuilding over 1,000 deployments. 3 Ireland also has the advantage of being able to use some of its excess capacity in the 1.8 GHz band to deploy 5G in rural villages and towns, a strategy that can take advantage of favorable propagation relative to 3.6 GHz.

Ericsson has been the partner of choice for Three, not only in terms of network roll out but also in terms of looking for new ways to monetize 5G. As such, in May 2021, Three Ireland joined Ericsson’s global Startup 5G program as the first communication provider. The goal of the program is to leverage 5G as a platform for innovation and thus stimulate 5G commercialization and monetization by introducing operators to startups in the area of immersive learning, augmented reality (AR), and virtual reality (VR) among other emerging technologies.

In July 2021, Ericsson and Three Ireland extended their collaboration to the field of Industry 4.0. They launched a strategic partnership with Glanbia Ireland to install an indoor 5G network to increase manufacturing efficiency of the Glanbia’s cheese plant in Ballyragget, County Kilkenny. However, this isn’t the first 5G private network in Ireland. In March 2021, Vodafone in partnership with Irish Manufacturing Research (IMR) rolled out a private 5G Standalone (SA) network utilizing Ericsson’s equipment. IMR, a not-for-profit manufacturing and energy research organization, plans to test smart manufacturing 5G use cases such as automated production lines, predictive maintenance, mobile robots, cobots, and AR and VR. These demonstrations of 5G capabilities in the manufacturing context are important to showcase the value digital transformation can bring to the sector by deploying private networks and creating bespoke use cases that enable greater latency and security.

eir tops the charts for 5G Availability 

The picture is slightly different when it comes to 5G Availability — the percentage of users on 5G-capable devices that spend most of the time with access to 5G networks. 5G Availability across Ireland was 11.7% in Q3-Q4 2021. eir is a clear winner with 26.6%, ahead of 3 (8.2%) and Vodafone (6.4%).

eir’s €1 billion national investment programme includes roll outs for fiber broadband and 5G networks, as well as the expansion of 4G LTE networks. The operator has expanded the 5G Availability of its 5G NSA (Non-Standalone) network by using spectrum in the 1800 MHz and 3.5 GHz. In October 2021, eir announced that its 5G network was available to more than 70% of the Irish population (across 336 towns and cities), and increased this to 430 towns and cities during Q4 2021.

Vodafone, has also expanded 5G to its prepaid customer base and introduced a 5G broadband option in 2021, utilizing Dynamic Spectrum Sharing (DSS) in the 2.1 GHz band in partnership with Ericsson.

The Irish Government looks to 5G to help it to realize its digital transformation ambitions, and to position Ireland as a prime destination for international businesses. While it’s still early days in terms of 5G adoption in the market, the Irish mobile operators are actively expanding 5G network speeds and coverage. Learn more about how Speedtest Intelligence can help you benchmark your 5G performance against competitors.

 

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article/press release are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the approved policy or position of the GSMA or its subsidiaries.