1. Research Knowledge Base
  2. Funding, markets and sectors

All-Island Competitiveness Information and Communications Technology

Published: February 2002


Information is rapidly becoming the driving force of competitiveness, economic growth, employment and social development. Pervasive, high speed, low cost access to information services is a prerequisite for participation in the information age and the island of Ireland
requires widespread low cost bandwidth availability to ensure future competitiveness.

ICT plays a critical role in national competitiveness at all levels from national infrastructure to in-company exploitation. This report assesses the current competitiveness of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland in these areas, identifies the respective strengths of each jurisdiction and proposes recommendations, in co-operation, to enhance the overall competitiveness of the island of Ireland.

The role of ICT is well recognised in both jurisdictions with significant investment programmes
in hand. While either Northern Ireland or Republic of Ireland may be stronger in particular areas, both are well behind international best practice in many and this is the real issue in seeking to improve competitiveness. Strategic co-operation between Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland could improve all-island competitiveness and benefit the whole island.

In terms of provision:

  • International broadband connectivity in the Republic of Ireland is excellent, and the Irish government’s partnership with Global Crossing is an excellent example of strategic telecoms planning in setting a vision and delivering it through public/private partnerships. International connectivity in NI is currently routed through GB. However, the same access principles have not been applied to the internal backbone and broadband coverage is uneven, with local access restricted by delays in unbundling the local loop, particularly in Republic of Ireland;
  • Mobile penetration rates are similar in Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland, with Republic of Ireland usage costs greater and the issue of Third Generation (3G) licences is significantly behind schedule there. Rollout of interactive television and ‘always-on’ Internet connections through digital television is not progressing in the ROI as envisaged;
  • There is a wider range of suppliers and services available in Northern Ireland than in Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland is in a stronger competitive position in terms of suppliers and services availability as a result; and
  • Republic of Ireland is up to best European practice in use of PCs and business Internet access and Northern Ireland is progressing rapidly to close the gap. There is a much better provision of data centres in the Republic of Ireland (19), with just one BT data centre which offers a complete package (Internet Service Provider (ISP), Applications Service Provider (ASP), security and hosting services) open for business in Northern Ireland and seven others which offer a variety of data hosting services.

The biggest barriers to the adoption of eCommerce are a lack of appropriate skills and inadequate bandwidth in the regions. Evidence suggests that companies may not be fully aware of the immediate business benefits.

In terms of tariffs, while Republic of Ireland is more competitive in national, international and leased lines, Northern Ireland is cheaper for mobile calls and offers flat rate unmetered Internet access.

Both Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland have defined strategies for competitiveness in eCommerce and supporting ICT. Greater harmonisation of national regulatory authorities’ implementation of European legislation could help drive down costs and increase access. Various models exist of best practice in co-operation, education, learning, etc., and these can be built upon in developing strategies to improve competitiveness.

A lack of telecoms infrastructure in regions, a shortage of service providers in the local loop, delays in the rollout of new technologies and opaque cross-border pricing policies will hinder all-island competitiveness. Action is required to ensure that the island of Ireland does not fall behind best practice and Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland can increase competitiveness by working together.

This report proposes initiatives to enhance the island’s overall competitiveness.

Telecoms Actions

  • A co-ordinated approach should be taken to infrastructure planning in both jurisdictions to

    ensure that:

    – An overview is taken of the key gaps in provision, priorities for investment and cross-border synergy opportunities; possibly facilitated by plans in each area having common

    sections dealing with cross-border issues;

    – Rollout is extended beyond the current commercially viable areas in order to improve

    access to broadband and prevent the growth of regional ‘digital divides’, particularly in

    cross-border areas. The delivery of affordable broadband access is of high relevance to

    the social as well as the business agenda. Public/private partnerships are one mechanism

    by which this could occur;

    – Consistent planning of telecoms infrastructure occurs between local authorities in each

    jurisdiction and in cross-border areas, to encourage telecoms operators to share

    infrastructure costs and minimise environmental impacts; and

    – National guidelines are agreed for telecoms infrastructure planning in Republic of

    Ireland, as well as a common approach to infrastructure sharing by local authorities and

    telecoms operators.

  • Government departments in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland should ensure

    harmonisation of regulations within the island of Ireland, within the constraints posed by

    differing OFTEL / ODTR regulatory regimes and telecoms being a reserved matter for

    Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment in Northern Ireland. This parallels the EU

    move to co-ordinate regulation within Europe.

Information Technology

  • The slowness of industry, particularly SMEs, to exploit IT is a key all-island competitiveness
    gap requiring further co-operative investigation taking account of the views of industry,
    north and south. To address this:

– Research should be conducted by sector, location and scale to obtain feedback from industry on priorities, barriers and opportunities, etc.;

– Root cause analysis should be carried out on the reasons for slowness in uptake; and

– Ongoing benchmarking within the island and versus external best practice should be
carried out, focusing on performance and the lessons to be learned;

  • Governments should act to increase IT education generally and provide universal access to
    IT to address the risk of a growing ‘digital divide’. Thus:

– An all-island-training programme should be developed for SMEs, which promotes IT and  increases their desire to move up the connectivity chain and develop eBusiness opportunities, thus helping to stimulate demand in the end users; and

– A co-operative education programme should be developed to communicate to consumers an understanding of, and the benefits from, IT including a basic IT familiarity course for workers and the unemployed.

Cross-cutting Themes

  • The government initiatives which led to this unique study of all-island competitiveness should be developed to provide an ongoing focus for action to address gaps versus best practice and business needs, and to avail of synergy opportunities.
  • Actions should be taken to promote transparency of cross-border mobile tariffs and educate the consumers on the real cost of mobile telephony packages, e.g. development of websites such as b4Ucall.com.
  • A joint All-Island Business Directory Information Service would improve availability of information and provide further publicity for existing businesses throughout the island, as would easy access to the online directories of each jurisdiction.

InterTradeIreland’s role should be to co-ordinate and monitor the implementation of the above
recommendations, acting as a facilitator for the respective governmental departments and agencies that will be involved. 


You can find out more about A Guide to e-Commerce and Digital Services on the InterTradeIreland Cross-Border Trade Hub.