SITTING ALONGSIDE LOUGH DARO in the AbsoluteHotel on Sir Harry's Mall (recommended for its lovely spaces and free wifi access) for Limerick OpenCoffee (lobby shown at left), a snippet of conversation turned to the depressing state of broadband in Ireland. The conversation was all the more remarkable because my laptop was connected to O2-Ireland's HS network and I had recently used that 3G network for a three-screen event powered by OnlineMeetingRooms.com so I was entering the conversation from the point of view of a guy who had been blessed with ADSL at home and 3G internet access in major towns across Ireland. But it remains easy to find people who live within five miles of my home who do not have broadband. I hope to help correct that shortfall by mounting an access point on top of my three-story home and using it as part of a broadband relay system that can turn an 802.11 signal around the corner of the imposing Rock of Cashel. That aside, Ireland is sitting on top of a large in-country market, a market populated by people who would probably conduct business transactions online. All they need is decent high-speed, always-on connectivity. Some numbers from the States offer an example.
The US Online Overview Report documents a wide swath of internet usage and demographics in the States. During OpenCoffee, I learned that e-commerce accounts for $1 of every $10 spent across all retail channels in the US. It would be wonderful if 10% of Irish retail activities occurred online. I'm working with two small businesses who trade in County Tipperary to scale them up to this percentage.
Every Christmas season, two-thirds of American internet users shop online. I think a significant chunk of change is being spent by Irish using American online shops because dollars are very inexpensive compared to the euro.
The online advertising sector enjoys $21 billion worth of business in the States. I don't know the Irish number but I run into Irish website owners who use Google's online systems to good effect.
All these facts point to a part of the Irish economy that would deliver a handsome return for the Exchequer. But to stoke an effective e-commerce ecosystem, you have to build out proper broadband infrastructure and that remains the weak link in Ireland.