Universities and colleges across Northern Ireland will have super-fast access to multimedia course materials and applications by October following the implementation of a new network.
The publicly funded Northern Ireland Regional Area Network (Niran) will link 23 higher and further education institutes to each other, to the internet and to the UK-wide academic and research network, Janet, at speeds of up to 1Gbps.
It will replace the current links of mostly 2Mbps between Janet and the region's educational institutions, including the University of Ulster, Queen's University Belfast and St Mary's University College, Belfast.
Nigel Macartney, director of information services at the University of Ulster and chairman of the Niran board, said: "We will have a minimum level of 10Mbps to each institution, and many will have a lot more, rising to as much as 1Gb for the universities."
He added that these higher speeds would open up many new educational possibilities for the region.
"It means the further and higher education sector can use the new multimedia materials now being widely deployed," he said.
"Many of these have been bought nationally by consortia such as the Joint Information Systems Committee of higher and further education funding coucils [JISC]. They have been licensed for use in education and made available, but you need the bandwidth in order to access them."
Macartney also predicted that the network would drive the use of video conferencing in the region.
"The roads and railways in Northern Ireland aren't what they might be, so I think we'll see that taking off in a big way," he said.
NTL, which won the £2.5m, three-year contract to implement and manage Niran, is confident that it will meet the October deadline.
"We have a track record of delivering this size of project to the local government and education sectors," said David Armstrong, NTL area sales manager.
"We've had a project manager engaged from a very early stage to design an implementation plan in conjunction with the team at Niran and we believe we've mitigated any risks that might have existed."
Niran is being funded by the Department for Employment and Learning and JISC.
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