Urban areas in Northern Ireland are set to receive minimum broadband speeds of 10 megabits per second, after BT and the Department of Enterprise Trade and Investment announced a £48m fibre rollout.
The speeds will be far higher than the minimum 2Mbps that the rest of the UK, including rural Northern Ireland, is set to receive as a result of the government's Digital Britain plan. BT will put around £30m into the deployment, which is set to be completed by May 2011, after it won a tender for the programme, while DETI will fork out the rest.
"This is hugely significant," Northern Ireland enterprise minister Arlene Foster said in a statement on Thursday. "At a time of economic slowdown when private sector companies are scaling down their investments, this multi-million pound injection in our infrastructure has the potential to indirectly create up to 1,000 additional jobs per annum."
The project will mostly be based on fibre-to-the-cabinet (FTTC) technology, which uses fibre-optic cable to connect street cabinets to local exchanges, then uses existing copper connections to hook up homes and businesses to the cabinet. A total of 166 exchanges are to be upgraded across Northern Ireland.
The FTTC approach generally provides speeds of up to 40Mbps, and DETI said in its statement that many businesses would received speeds "well in excess" of the 10Mbps downstream minimum.
Foster said the deployment would see 85 percent of businesses in Northern Ireland receiving next-generation broadband speeds within 18 months. She also said the project would "leave a significant legacy", in that installing fibre now will make future evolutions of broadband easier to implement.
A spokesperson for DETI told ZDNet UK that the rollout would cover two types of areas in Northern Ireland: where business density is less than 10 businesses per square kilometre and there is currently no 2Mbps minimum service speed; and where business density is greater than 10 businesses per square kilometre and there is currently no 10Mbps minimum service speed.