When was the last time you worried about your internet connection? Whether or not you had enough bandwidth to upload a large file to the cloud, download a presentation from a colleague, or stream your favorite show on Netflix? When was the last time you only had one or two Internet Service Provider options, and both were limited somehow? When was the last time you had no access to the internet at all?
For millions of people around the world, unreliable—or completely unavailable—internet service is their reality. They read and hear about blazing fast fiber connections, while wishing they could simply get connected. Some try to find workarounds by utilizing cell phone towers and hotspots, but that can be spotty and data plans are expensive. Others are eagerly anticipating beta invites to join Starlink.
Aside from the obvious frustration involved in not being able to access what many have deemed to be an essential utility, there’s also the not-so-obvious economic impact. According to Deloitte, the digital divide costs the United States roughly $130 million per day in economic activity. Quite simply, those who do not have access to the internet are at a competitive disadvantage.
In Ireland, farming represents 1.2 percent of GDP and is the largest vertical contributor. There are also more than 500,000 premises—representing 1.1 million people—in rural Irish communities that don’t have access to broadband connections. More than 54,000 of those premises are farms. With agriculture not only being such an important part of Ireland’s overall economy, but also its history and society, it’s more important than ever that those in rural communities are better able to bridge the digital divide that separates them from those in cities like Dublin and Galway.
This is where the Irish Farms Accounts Co-operative (ifac) comes in
Established in 1975, ifac provides financial services to more than 14,000 rural farmers specializing food, agribusiness, and renewable energy. Those financial services include accounting, specialty services, bookkeeping, financial planning, paying taxes, payroll, corporate finance, etc. While many of their financial tools are available online, ifac needed to undergo a massive digital transformation in order to provide their employees—and members—with more robust access to the internet. They also needed to be able to do so with disaster recovery policies in place and security baked-in, especially considering they have more than 150 “road warriors” around the country who work primarily mobile.
When ifac approached us with their problem, we immediately got to work. We started by connecting to other local networks nearby, which meant hooking up with many types of tech already in place, like microwave beams, 4G, and direct fiber. Then, to make sure the network reached everywhere it needed it to go, we installed more than 300 Cisco access point routers, switches and devices across the network.
On the software side, we also rolled out several solutions under our ROCSOLID managed service, which helps members of ifac work together and manage their new network:
- Cisco Communications Manager Express, so they can easily manage their office phones
- Cisco Webex, which lets them make interactive calls
- Umbrella, which keeps everything secure
- Cisco Secure Firewall, which lets them manage security from one place
- ROCSOLID, a ROCTEL product that helps keep networks online 24/7
In just six months ROCTEL connected all devices and delivered carrier-neutral connectivity to offer disaster recovery, high speeds and security to all ifac locations. Now, farmers can walk into any ifac branch office in the country and enjoy enterprise-class Cisco Wi-fi without changing credentials or compromising security. All of which makes it easy to share ideas and keep their farms growing.
By utilizing so many Cisco products to create the managed service, we were able to provide a more holistic operation as compared to the siloed one ifac had been running. Because of this approach, not only has ifac been able to cross the digital divide bridge, they’ve also been able to accelerate their growth by opening new branches in rural areas across the country.
And despite COVID-19 bringing a lot of businesses to a grinding halt, ifac was able to keep on providing best-in-class services to its members by rolling out managed cloud-based services to allow many employees to have full telephony from home by using Jabber and Webex. The organization has in some areas been utilizing ROCSOLID HOME service in order to address that need, making sure their employees are still connected even though they can’t go into an ifac office.
While work remains to be done to fully close Ireland’s digital divide, we at ROCTEL are proud to have played a part in not only connecting the unconnected, but to also help bring necessary services to such an important part of our economy and society.
To learn more about how Cisco, ROCTEL, and ifac are working together
to close Ireland’s digital divide, register for the webinar
Digital Transformation: The Journey of Infrastructure and Cloud Aggregation.
Guest Blogger: Melanie Hunter – Client Services Director, ROCTEL
Melanie Hunter has been working in the telecommunications industry for over 20 years, starting out with large mobile operators. She Joined ROCTEL in 2005 setting up the mobile division. After a number of years in commercial leadership roles, she became Client Services Director in 2014. Melanie is a champion for her customers, loves tennis and many outdoor activities, and most of all looking after her family.