Connecting an island: Arranmore is open for business.

Stephen Mulligan
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On: 17 Apr 2019
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Stephen Mulligan, Arranmore

It’s not often you get asked whether you can connect an island. In fact, for Three it was a first. Unlike densely populated areas that by and large enjoy all the advantages of superfast connectivity, more remote locations need some pretty creative thinking and of course, the right solutions.

For the people living on Arranmore (Árainn Mhór), an island situated five kilometres off the coast of County Donegal, the right infrastructure and connectivity solutions had the potential to create a lifeline that would help to sustain this unique community and attract more people to live, visit and do business here.

For Three, the island presented a challenge in more ways than one. Not only were there geographical implications to navigate, but we also needed to find internet connectivity solutions that could be accessed by all. From local businesses to the community centre and primary school, each use case needed to be carefully considered and the right solution put into place.

A desire for change.

There has been an increased migration of people away from Arranmore and onto the mainland and beyond. Arranmore’s population, while still the largest island population in County Donegal, has dropped from 514 to 469 since 2011. The island’s Community Council saw an opportunity to attract people back by improving connectivity and enabling people to work remotely and businesses to grow.

While there is a mobile mast situated on the island, connection speeds were slow and signal strength unreliable. Without the means to communicate effectively, let alone transform digitally, many business-minded islanders and their families have had to reluctantly make the compromise between making their business work on the island they love and following their dreams on the mainland or further afield. Home may be where the heart is, but until recently, it hasn’t been where the connectivity is.

The community on Arranmore is progressive and vibrant. There is a strong desire from people living on the island to stay and for people who have moved from the island to come back home. Many feel that better connectivity will be a lifeline that helps to build and nurture the community and a better way of life for all.

The connection conundrum.

The challenge of connecting an island situated five kilometres at sea is a big one. Fibre-optic cable installation under the sea is slow, expensive and tedious work that would likely take years to implement, and while it may be an option for the future, it was time-prohibitive for now. What was needed was a more cost-effective, scalable and efficient way to send a signal over land, air and sea that would offer the same high-speeds that could be achieved for the rest of the connected world.

Turning plans into action.

The Arranmore Island Community Council had a clear vision of how to rejuvenate the island and give people better ways of working and communicating. Their first objective was to create a digital hub where people could rent out office space and state-of-the-art equipment to do their work over a high-speed connection.

Three Ireland’s Business Team partnered with the Community Council to plan and design technology solutions that would provide high-speed connectivity for the hub and also improve connectivity coverage and speeds for the rest of the island. Three’s team approached the island of Arranmore as it would any enterprise customer, working in partnership to find the best approach and solutions. It was important to not only put the right solutions in place, but to ensure that any hardware installed in external locations would be sensitive to the heritage and natural beauty of the island and “quietly” make life better for its inhabitants. 

A hub is born.

The island’s new digital hub has been designed to create an attractive, state-of-the-art working environment for locals and visitors to work in. Three has provided high-speed, secure and fully scalable connectivity using a wireless leased line, and a managed firewall able to transmit at speeds of 100 Mbps using microwave signals that travel over the sea between the island and mainland. The line is scalable to 200 Mbps, 500 Mbps or more as required and offers uncontended and synchronous (100Mbps up and down). This means guaranteed fixed connection speeds regardless of how many people are using the connection or the time of day it is being used. In addition to 13 desks set up for remote working, the digital hub offers high-definition video and telephone conferencing facilities. A LAN and wireless LAN were also installed, both fully managed and supported by Three.

Navigating geographical challenges.

However, it wasn’t all plain sailing for the project. The landscape and topography of Arranmore Island, while stunning to look at, presented some connectivity challenges along the way, particularly for those living and working on the harbour side of the island. Unfortunately, the mobile mast that provides them with their connectivity is obscured by the hillside and the signal strength is restricted. Fortunately, Three had the answer in the shape of its Business Broadband+ solution. Soon to be commercially available, Three’s solution works by amplifying a mobile signal and carrying it down into buildings to provide ultrafast WiFi at speeds of 100 Mbps.

A wealth of use cases.

Three identified several local businesses and community amenities that would benefit from enhanced mobile broadband. Fixed wireless solutions are currently in place in the island’s hostel, medical centre, primary school and community centre with more installations being planned for the future. The solution is delivering speeds up to ten times faster than previous solutions and opens up new opportunities for business development, healthcare and educational facilities. For the hostel, wireless access means happier guests that stay longer, for the medical centre it enables telemedicine services and less travel to the mainland for patients, for the school it means interactive learning and for the community centre it opens up many new ways to share information and use Internet resources.

Island life without compromise.

Bringing enhanced connectivity to Arranmore will ensure every aspect of community life is improved. For businesses looking to move back to the island or start life here, vastly improved connectivity will give them the same opportunities for communication and growth. For the local community, faster speeds and reliable connectivity have introduced new ways of living, working and sharing that were previously virtually impossible.

The story doesn’t end there. This is a long-term partnership and Three will be working closely with other businesses on the island to develop further technology solutions in the coming months. Through this partnership, Three is demonstrating, in a unique environment, how its business and technology solutions can make a real and sustainable difference, providing the people of Arranmore with a better-connected life without compromise.

If you are interested in learning more about how Three Business are transforming the island of Arranmore, visit our dedicated website: