Rural areas right around Ireland often struggle with poor access to mobile phone signal. With the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, and a rapid switch to home working and learning, the absence of quality connectivity became even more apparent. Colleagues, friends and families both needed and wanted to be better connected, in a world which had changed almost overnight. Stories of employees having to take calls in their front gardens, of increased loneliness amongst older people, and students unable to access their coursework left many communities disadvantaged.
For a number of years prior to Covid-19, Cellnex Ireland had been looking at ways to bring communities closer to the telecom infrastructure decision making process. With a minority often reluctant toward the erection of masts and associated infrastructure, but a vast majority with genuine desire to improve connectivity, there was a need to empower communities to stand up and be counted.
Get Connected was born as a platform to hear directly from neighbourhoods in need of improved connectivity, particularly mobile phone signal. It seeks to address mobile coverage blackspots that hinders the development of social, employment and economic activity, particularly in rural areas.
Key to the authenticity of Get Connected was a firm promise by Cellnex Ireland to investigate each submission to the platform. The concept also needed to be simple and transparent, and the “community call” was designed around an accessible website where local residents could make a proposal for improved connectivity through a simple form submission.
The initiative had its first official launch in April 2021, in counties Laois and Offaly where Cellnex has invested over €3m since 2013. The initial launch leveraged existing relationships in both the local authorities as well as business groups, to ensure key local influencers were informed prior to the project going live.
Engagement with local stakeholders was supplemented by a media campaign across print and broadcast, to maximise the visibility of the initiative. Following on from Laois and Offaly, Get Connected launched in 6 more counties around Ireland: Cork, Kerry, Cavan, Monaghan, Sligo and Roscommon. To date, over 40 submissions have been lodged resulting in over 20 planning applications with the first solutions set to be installed before year end.
With a delivery time of less than 8 months, Get Connected has proven how effective community empowerment can be for the installation of vital telecom infrastructure. The future for the project looks bright, with a nationwide launch set for the last quarter of 2021.
“Get Connected is a real opportunity for people in Ireland to have a say in what their future looks like and to come together to support better connectivity for their area. Cellnex is giving communities the firm promise that we will work with them to try to ensure that they get the infrastructure that they need”, says Colin Cunningham, Managing Director of Cellnex Ireland. “We have already seen that local communities are taking this opportunity to seek an improved service and working with us to deliver solutions for their areas.”