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close this bookInformation Technology in Selected Countries (UNU, 1994, 148 p.)
close this folder1: Development of information technology in Ireland
View the document(introduction...)
View the document1. Introduction
View the document2. Historical perspective
View the document3. Government policy and the role of key institutions
View the document4. Development of the electronics industry
View the document5. Development of the software industry
View the document6. The telecommunications infrastructure for it
View the document7. Manufacturing applications of information technology
View the document8. IT applications in the service sector
View the document9. The impact of IT on employment
View the document10. Education and training in information technology
View the document11. Summary and implications for developing countries
View the documentAppendix A: IT-related courses in tertiary-level institutions in 1987/88
View the documentAppendix B: EOLAS innovation support programmes
View the documentReferences

6. The telecommunications infrastructure for it

As emphasized in section 1 of this report, information technology adoption has been enhanced and promoted by developments not only in the electronic semiconductor industry but also in telecommunications.

The Need for a Digital-Based Telecommunications System

Within Ireland it was recognized that the demand for data transmission facilities was directly bound up with future developments in the computer area.7 Telecommunications developments have been important (1) in providing links between sites within Ireland, and between Irish and overseas locations, for data transmission, and (2) in supporting demand for telecommunication products. These include products now developed in Ireland by companies such as Ericsson and Alcatel, which have helped to generate employment and economic growth in Ireland. Exports alone of telecommunications and sound recordings or reproduction equipment amounted to over IR£152 million in 1987, an increase of 7 per cent over exports of these products in 1986. However, emphasis in this section is placed on how telecommunications have and are being used to support computer applications and data transmission.

The importance attached to good telecommunications to support industry and the development of the economy was recognized in an NESC report in 1981: "the IDA is increasingly trying to attract firms which are more sophisticated technologically and which are more likely to engage in marketing and other headquarters activities here which require high standards of communications. They are more likely to be put off, particularly by the shortcomings of the [existing] infrastructure in the more remote regions." The report referred to the lower level of telephone exchange lines in Ireland, and lengthy waiting lists for new subscribers. By 1977, 11 per cent of phones were still not connected to automatic exchanges. This adverse situation was particularly acute in the Donegal and Western regions of Ireland.29

Reporting in 1981, the NBST recommended that plans for developing the telecommunications services be carried out and new advanced services be introduced. Recognizing that, without such developments, the software sector would be retarded in Ireland, the NBST called for liberal policies and practices in relation to connecting terminal equipment to the telecommunications network. 19

Following these recommendations, a decision was made to invest IR£800 million in the telecommunications system in order to bring it up to the standard achieved in the European Community by 1984. This development was based on digital switching and transmission to permit the integration of voice, data, text, and pictures for transmission through the system. The government also decided to build a satellite earth station in the south of the country.30

The expansion of many informatics and telematics services and "integrated services digital networks" depends on the installation of digital switching.31

Telecommunications Services Currently Available

In the early stages of computer use in Ireland, only a small number of companies availed themselves of data transmission services (approximately eight in 1969). Some used the facility for off-line (delayed) processing. Aer Lingus was one of the first companies to use on-line (interactive) transmission for airline seat reservations. The Irish Sugar Company, gathering data from decentralized locations, used off-line transmission. Two state-sponsored institutions, An Foras Taluntais and FAS (formerly AnCO), were linked to terminals in London.7

Use of telecommunications facilities grew considerably in the 1980s. In 1984, Telecom Eireann was established as a state-owned monopoly with responsibility for the Irish telecommunications system. It operates the three key communications networks: telephone, telex, and the more recent data network, EIRPAC, first introduced in 1985. These in effect represent the network options available to computer users.

Public Switched Telephone Network

The public switched telephone network (PSTN) is primarily designed for speech transmission. For data it entails relatively long call set-up times and limited data transmission speeds. However it is available to all telephone subscribers who have the necessary modem and computer terminal equipment. The modem changes the computer output into signals for transmission, instead of carrying a conversation.

Leased Lines

Some companies want a higher degree of security or the ability to speed up the rate of transfer of information. They can opt for leased lines, which are fully private, for use by the individual subscribers. The leased line lacks flexibility since it links only two fixed points (e.g. two plants, one in Cork and the head office in Dublin). It is also costly for low traffic users. Sometimes the volume to be sent cannot be accommodated. Hence, frequent or more specialized users have opted for the third network, EIRPAC.32


EIRPAC is a public packet switching data network, designed as a dedicated network for data users in Ireland, for both national and international traffic. The network is based on packet switching exchanges (PSEs), which facilitate high speed transmission. Access may be by direct connection or by dial-up over the PSTN. The network has many advantages, for example: terminals operating at different speeds and using different protocols can communicate together; it has an inbuilt error-checking system to ensure the accuracy of the data; it has fast call set-up times; and it is considered cost effective for many data applications.

The following represent typical uses of EIRPAC:

- information retrieval,
- bureau services,
- intra-company data transfer,
- inter-company data transfer,
- electronic funds transfer,
- reservations,
- videotext.

The telex network can also be linked to computers through a device known as a data telex interface (DTI). This means that companies can save the expense of having a dedicated telex terminal. EIRPAC also links with the telex network and offers an electronic mail serviced via EIRMAIL.

Use of Telecommunications (TC) Facilities

According to the National Software Centre's report on Irish computer usage in 1986/87, "although more respondents communicate through the public network, potential communications over EIRPAC-like data networks exhibits a proportionately larger 'plan to install' response."8 Telecom Eireann estimates that, since its inception in 1985, there are now 1,300 subscribers and demand is rapidly growing (table 1.8).

The results of a survey of TC facilities users in Ireland are shown in table 1.9. Among the 534 computer user or intended user respondents, the most used facility was that of telex messaging, used by 63 per cent of respondents. Facsimile (fax) services were also commonly used (43 per cent). For data transmission, the ordinary telephone line was preferred to either leased lines or the EIRPAC service. Electronic mailing was not extensively used (although it would be more common for communications within some larger organizations), accounting for only 5 per cent of respondents. Of EIRPAC users, 30 per cent were from the banking and financial industrial sector, and 20 per cent respectively were in the business of metal manufacture and other

Table 1.8. Use of Telecom Eireann telecommunications services, 1988

EIRPAC working lines


X.28 Direct

X.28 Dial-up

Data working lines

PSTN modema

April 1985
























Source: Unpublished data from Telecom Eireann, September 1988. a. These figures are estimates of how we would see the trend for PSTN usage going. They also exclude the EIRPAC customers. and others manufacturing items. This suggests that certain types of business activity may be more inclined to use such facilities than others.

Table 1.9. Use of telecommunications facilities, 1986/87

No. of companies

Form of transmission

Currently used

Intended use

Data transmission

PSTN (telephone line)






Leased line



Hard copy transmission










Visual transmission







Video conferencing



Source: Ref. 8.

Ireland's experience of late, but eventually decisive, government intervention to restructure the telecommunications sector has important implications for industrial, service, and general economic growth. According to the OECD, one factor stands out in reviewing changes in TC structures. This is "the reluctance of many countries to take decisive action to enhance the efficiency of their economic structure and open new opportunities to industries by adjusting telecommunications structures."33 With the advent of further developments in satellite and optic fibres TC technology, positive government policies to make the necessary adjustments are an essential stage on the path towards taking fuller advantage of the IT revolution.34