Small Irish firms lag behind on digital tools like fibre broadband

As copper switch-off looms, Ireland is still a two-speed economy when it comes to broadband.

Small Irish businesses are still behind the curve versus their larger counterparts when it comes to making use of digital technologies like fibre broadband.

Half of Irish businesses with less than 10 staff (51%) are not yet using fibre compared to just under a third (30%) of medium or larger businesses without fibre.

“Small businesses currently face a challenging environment, but reliable fibre connectivity can unlock tools which can hugely support their daily operations”

That’s according to research commissioned by SIRO and undertaken by Amárach Research that surveyed more than 270 Irish businesses, ranging from small to large enterprises, on their broadband usage, experience and satisfaction with their connectivity overall.

The analysis comes against a backdrop of accelerating fibre broadband rollouts nationally; increased access to full fibre broadband, particularly in towns and cities where a majority of businesses are located; and the fact that the switch-off of outdated copper broadband networks will shortly commence.

Switching to digital

Less than half of businesses surveyed (47%) are currently using a fibre broadband connection.

While one third (32%) of businesses have switched to fibre broadband over the last five years, worryingly a similar amount (35%) have not.

There is a 20% gap in rates of businesses who have switched to fibre broadband depending on business size. More than half of small businesses (51%) are not yet using fibre compared to 30% of medium or larger businesses who are not.

The largest barriers cited by businesses to switching to fibre broadband include perceived cost (26%), fibre not available in their area (22%), lack of awareness on fibre and its benefits (21%), or a belief that it would not make a difference to their business (9%).

80% of business respondents believe that broadband plays an important role in their business operation.

Of those businesses which have switched to fibre broadband, the vast majority (86%) found that fibre broadband had met their expectations.

“The landscape of the business broadband market has changed massively over the last five years, with many businesses now able to access fibre broadband,” said SIRO chief commercial officer Ronan Whelan.

SIRO recently revealed it is investing €100m to expand its gigabit broadband roll-out in Dublin. The investment by SIRO, a joint venture between the ESB and Vodafone, is part of an overall €1bn gigabit broadband network roll-out across Ireland, will make services available to 50,000 homes and business in Dublin city as well as 100,000 premises across the wider Dublin area.

“The speeds and quality of fibre broadband monumentally exceeds legacy copper networks; and most importantly fibre broadband for business is priced on a par with the cost of older technologies like copper or cable.”

Whelan said that despite this, a process of two-speed connectivity and digitisation is occurring amongst Irish business.

“SIRO’s research shows that while larger businesses are making the switch to fibre broadband, smaller businesses are lagging behind, with knock-on impacts on digital adaption. As a nation of SMEs, employing two-thirds of our workers, with 91% of our businesses employing less than 10 employees, high quality fibre connectivity is a critical building block of digital transformation, yet businesses missing the opportunity to secure their future.

“Small businesses currently face a challenging environment, but reliable fibre connectivity can unlock tools which can hugely support their daily operations. This includes technologies to improve workplace productivity, reduce the impact of labour shortages, or to better manage and lower input costs.

“Equally, with the switch off of copper broadband on the way, Government and industry need to do more to encourage Irish businesses not just to make the switch to fibre broadband, but to better understand how it can deliver tangible benefits to their bottom line,” Whelan added.

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