Smart plan to saturate Cork with broadband

3 Feb 2004

Smart Telecom boss Oisin Fanning intends to use the Government’s new metropolitan area network (MAN) in Cork to connect with all 28 business parks in the region through establishing 200 network nodes and linking businesses separated from the MAN by fixed point-to-multi-point 34Mbps wireless networks.

Fanning fosters plans to become the number two residential and number three business telecoms provider in the country, which he estimates will involve a €35m investment in a fibre optics network over the next five years.

From the debris of Fanning’s failed stock broking business MMI in 1999, Smart Telecom was formed when Fanning raised €2.5m in private equity funding, which he used to buy the prepaid call cards business of Switchcom for €600,000. Fanning went on to acquire the phonebox business of Alphyra for €2.4m as well as a further 600 payphones from Esat BT, which divested itself of this business for a sum of €1.2m. Smart Telecom now has 35,000 customers and reported annual revenues of over €16m. The company has grown from a staff of 20 people to 180 people. A further 100 jobs are to be created in Cork following the lighting of the MAN there.

Last week, Brian Timmons, the chief financial officer of Smart Telecom, told an Oireachtas Committee on Communications that the company stands to create around 100 jobs in Cork on the back of the MAN going live there. Fanning confirmed this to by stating that the jobs would be primarily in customer service and sales roles.

Fanning told that the company plans to use the Cork MAN, the largest of the 19 MANs being created by the Government, to connect with the 28 main business parks around Cork. The company has already established a network node, or point of access, at the National Software Centre in Cork.

Smart has also signed a contract with ESB Telecom to connect the Cork MAN with its own 120km fibre optic network around Dublin, using ESB’s €50m 1,300km network that connects with 11 of the 19 proposed MANs. Smart’s own Dublin network connects into the 2km fibre optic ring around the Digital Hub district as well as the T50 broadband network that straddles the west side of Dublin and Bord Gais’ Aurora fibre optic network.

The company has connected this network with all the 18 different data centres in Dublin, which then connects to the pan-European Epsilon fibre network that connects with a further 32 data centres across Europe as part of a Smart/Epsilon business pact. A similar alliance has been forged with US-based Beyond The Network (BTN), owned by Hong Kong Telecom, that will connect Smart with all the major US centres of business.

Through what Fanning’s colleague, carrier services manager David Ralph terms “pre-provisioning” the company has entered into a product alliance with Luminous Networks to install intelligent SDH/fibre optic switching systems in the various data centres. This move allows the company to create a new fibre optic circuit virtually. Ralph explains: “We buy all our kits well in advance, in anticipation of demand, and pre-load the data centres with our chassis. When a customer rings up asking for more broadband or a new circuit we can have a new 1Gb Ethernet voice and data connection live within an hour by making a few commands on our computer that could connect Dublin with Cork or Cork with Frankfurt or London. This involves a sophisticated technology that can carry 80Gb with little expenditure.”

Speaking of Smart Telecom’s plans for Cork, Fanning explained: “Cork is the biggest MAN and is the first to go live. Through this we plan to saturate Cork with broadband and give businesses in the region previously undreamed of broadband. This will involve the MAN reaching and connecting with 28 business parks. We are already connecting the National Software Centre in Cork with the rest of the world. If you are in Cork, you can connect from Cork to New York for less than €800 a month on a 2Mb circuit. In the traditional Irish telecoms arena that used to cost at least €36,000 a month. There is a serious sea change coming in the Irish broadband arena.”

Ralph explained that the company intends establishing on average 200 nodes, or points of access, per MAN. “We’ve built two in Cork so far and 16 in Dublin and can roll out about five nodes per week.”

One criticism Fanning has of the Government’s 19-town broadband rollout is that there is little provision made to overcome the “last mile” problem that still dogs independent telecom operators in the Irish market. “While the MAN exists, there is still the problem of getting from the network to the enterprise. To overcome this we are engaged in R&D on a number of access technologies that involve line-of-sight 34Mbps connectivity to multiple businesses as well as trialling the use of sending broadband along existing power lines.

“We aim to save businesses around Ireland a whole pile of cash”, Fanning continues. “A Fortune 500 company in Cork can now connect with Bangalore and Dallas without any incumbent participation and no price movement. Because of high communications costs, Cork businesses are losing business to East European businesses and anybody that can do anything about this seems to be sitting on their hands,” Fanning complained.

By John Kennedy