Three Business | The IslandOn November 11, 2019 by Raul Dinwiddie
It pains me to say this but up until a couple of weeks ago when a young girl was born that was the first child born on the island for three years. So, you know, you do the maths on that, it doesn’t look good long term. There’s no better place to live than Arranmore but we have been decimated by emigration. I think like a lot of other Arranmore people we have this mad hankering to get back home. The only thing that’s really going to help people to work remotely is the best connectivity you can get. There are no opportunities here. The majority of my age group – they’ve left the island and haven’t come back. We’re very top heavy with elderly people. About 45% of the population is over the age of 65. The biggest silence I hear on Arranmore is the sound of children and it’s only when you don’t have it the silence is deafening. When you chat to Irish people they are very proud of where they come from. Islanders are probably even prouder. As an islander you never really leave, the draw is always there. Moving home has always been a dream but the fundamentals of connectivity for my line of work just made it unfortunately impossible. My company develops high-end educational games and immersive environments. I need secure, fast, reliable connectivity. When I first really started trying to work back here the first probably three days I almost went out of my mind. I was getting about five to ten minutes of connectivity up until about nine o’clock. You’re always slightly nervous when you wake up in the morning whether there’s going to be connectivity there or not. What would make Arranmore a sustainable place what would make it a place where people not only would want to come but when they do come can survive and thrive. We talk to business customers all the time and the first thing we ever do is we listen. Tell us about what you need to grow the island into the future and I suppose we looked at it the same way we would any other business. A huge amount of our businesses that would be major corporates around Ireland would run off 100mb in all their sites. When you get 100mb up and 100mb down and it’s full-on syncing as 100mb then we could provide fabulous internet connection back. The technologies we’re putting in place are going to have a real and profound impact. This is about people and about making a difference. We had a conference call but I couldn’t really make out who was at it, were any of you? I wouldn’t approach it as just a purely technical exercise. You get to hear all their stories and you kind of get a bit attached. You want to make sure that you’re giving the people the best experience that they can get from the Three network. The whole thought process around this is to try and bring the connectivity to the island to try and generate some employment, bring people back to the island. A Digital Hub was something that we thought would be a great asset to the community because it would be a shared workspace and they can do anything in any job from that space. I’m in London paying a fortune for just the cost of living so if I can do that in Arranmore where the cost of living is a fraction and I have no commute that’s from my perspective is just fantastic. We’re all about a better connected life and in business, a better-connected life is all about a better connected business. We can help we can do something to make a change here. So we’re going to use a technology called a wireless leased line. It’s essentially a microwave link that goes from the hub all the way back to one of our masts which is back in Derrybeg in Donegal. I’ve described it to the guys here as like having your own M50 to drive to work on and there’s no other cars it’s just you. Four workspaces here, four workspaces there. We all expect nowadays that we pick up our phone or we go to our computer and it just works but in order for that to just work, there’s a lot of complexity that actually has to sit behind that. On the island, you have essentially a large enterprise built up of lots of mini-businesses, so we saw lots of different individual use cases on the island that all had their own technological requirements and I suppose if we can help the doctor for example be able to upgrade his ICT infrastructure, then that’s going to allow him to deliver better patient care and therefore allow him to run his business better. My father needs somebody with him 24 hours a day and then my mother became ill. We had a visit with the consultant in Beaumont. It involved two nights away going on the quarter to eight ferries, traveling for four or five hours, she won’t eat until she’s has had her hospital visit over the last thing she needs is to be fasting all day and do that two days, it takes a lot out of her for a 30-minute consultation. A lot of older people have to attend anything up to seven or eight visits in the hospital each year. A lot of that could be done from the surgery directly with video linkage. It should be you know really powerful from a telemedicine point of view. It looks very good it has huge possibilities and then sort of add-on things like dermatology and mental health, it makes a huge difference. Because the populations are dwindling they’re very very embracing of people coming in, in fact, anybody that moves to the island with kids are always swamped, thank god we’ve somebody new for the school brilliant. This year we had no junior infants, the year after then there’s only two more and then there’s no babies after that. I suppose we’ll just have to have to hope for the best with everything that is happening on the island now trying to get people coming home that might save us if people make the move in the next few years. When we look at the connectivity into the doctor’s surgery say for example or we look at the connectivity into the hostel, the school, I don’t think there’s going to be very many islands around the world that are going to have that much connectivity to drive the island forward. The opportunities for it are massive and I don’t think we’re putting too fine a point on it when we say that this connection is the electrification of the 21st century. It’s that big a thing for us. The Digital Hub is critical to the island’s future and it means people working for tech companies like mine can work there. We’re on an island here in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean but as far as a person who’s at work goes you could work here just as easily as you could in Dublin or New York or London. The set up is definitely as good as London but the view is just significantly better. Arranmore presents a huge opportunity for young people in particular. It’s brilliant, brilliant speeds oh, it’s been perfect yeah, I think it’s actually better than what I have in my office. Hopefully with this place open and a few of us raving about how good it’s going and the speeds they can come home test it for themselves and then plan to come home then for good. I think it’s the way forward for us. Video conferencing will allow those businesses to collaborate and communicate anywhere around the world. This is the first offshore Digital Hub in the country and that in itself is a big thing. If we can do this on Arranmore you can do this anywhere. The most connected island on the planet is going to be a serious boast for us. When you can see you know twenty children coming in here who are all national school age they’re the future. When children got to a certain age of leaving school they had to go and find work and that young bunch of children who are in there today might never have to leave. This isn’t a quick fix this isn’t an overnight thing. I’d just love to know that the technologies we’ve put in place have the desired effect. I’d love to see loads of the houses that are not full at the moment be full. I’d love to hear more kids running around on the island. Technology is just the secondary part of this. This is really genuinely about people and hopefully changing people’s lives. If we had this conversation 5 years ago I would have said how can technology produce babies. It’s going to do it on this island. I know I’m going to hear them children and I know that this island will be back to what it once was. Great place to call home.