The head of the company responsible for rolling out the National Broadband Plan (NBP) has said it is looking at opportunities to accelerate the seven-year building programme.

But the chief executive of National Broadband Ireland, Peter Hendrick, indicated that getting sufficient skills could be a difficulty.

"In doing so, there are some challenges ahead in terms of getting people into the country, resources, training-up," he said.

"There are lots of students and graduates, getting them trained under apprenticeships. Many of our industry partners have started that process and it is a critical one," he added.

The NBP roll-out was originally planned to take place over seven years.

But the Government is now exploring whether that can be faster, due to the move to remote working brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic and the benefits that will flow from increased rural connectivity.

Speaking to the Connected Ireland event organised by Total Telecom and Nokia, Mr Hendrick said the NBI team has grown from 30 this time last year to 900 today.

He said it will increase further to between 1,500-1,800 as the roll-out ramps up and could even reach 2,000 if the roll-out is accelerated.

Mr Hendrick said 35 retailer providers have signed up to supply services using the network.

He said customers connecting to the network for the first time will be offered a minimum speed of 500Mbps, rising to 1Gbps where wanted.

But he added that the network when complete will be capable of handling speeds of up to 10Gbps, making it futureproofed for the next 10-15 years.

"Future-proofing the technology is critical," he said.

He said building work on the roll-out will have begun in all 26 counties by the end of this year.

170,000 premises have now been surveyed and 136,000 designed received for the 544,000 premises that fall under the NBP contract.

Mr Hendrick also said that 113 Broadband Connection Points, which are shared rural community spaces where high-speed broadband is available, have now been connected, with 29 of those in schools.

In the last few weeks, the first premises were formally connected to the National Broadband Plan network.