The Friday Interview: Brian McBride, Data Edge

20 Jul 2007

This week’s interview is with Brian McBride, CEO of Bray-based Date Edge, who will play a key role in providing equipment for the rollout of next generation networks in Ireland

How did you get into the next generation networking business?

We began in 1989 as a test engineering firm that primarily dealt with the manufacturing industry in Ireland. We spotted a trend away from manufacturing in the Nineties and saw that providing field test equipment for telecoms companies would be an important business for us.

In the mobile market, for example, we saw a trend away from analogue to digital and started to provide test equipment for GSM base stations for Vodafone and O2.

Our business would be divided into two parts (fixed and mobile) and we intend to play a role in enabling the next generation of these networks.

What trends do you see impacting the broadband market in Ireland?

At present the market is based heavily on a standard called ADSL (asynchronous digital subscriber loop), but new standards like VDSL (very high speed DSL) and VDSL2 will lead to speeds of 15Mbps to 16Mbps services.

Eircom is investing in developing its next generation network (NGN) and talks about turning itself into a media provider. How will this happen?

The problem and challenge will be putting equipment closer to the kerb and linking these to the nearest exchanges. The next generation will have cabinets that need to sit within a few feet of every home to give people the feed they will require of internet TV.

That means providers like Eircom will have to put a lot of cabinets out there and run fibre between these and the exchange. The cabinets will also require a lot of electrical power.

Will this lead to a two-tiered Ireland with sophisticated networked cities but under-investment in rural areas?

It is definitely a serious challenge. We do some work with cable operators and if they act fast they will provide NGN services. Fixed-line telecom companies will also need to move fast otherwise they will see cable operators eating their lunch.

But what will NGN mean to the average punter?

It turns a provider of voice services into a provider of entertainment applications like video-on-demand, for example. But to provide such services you need a lot of pipe. Once high definition (HD) TV becomes standard, the bandwidth requirements will be so high that you can’t get away with standard DSL.

The Government has made noises about building its own NGN. Could this happen?

They’ve had a go at building Metropolitan Area Networks (MANs) around the country but one of the big problems is providing access.

I think the Government should be concerning itself with issues like backhaul. I don’t see the Government offering services like IPTV. Only operators can do that to get a return on investment.

Parallel with fixed line, the mobile industry wants to start offering YouTube-like services on phones. Are their expectations the same as fixed?

Fixed and mobile convergence has already started. Mobile operators already offer broadband.

But the offerings will have to be more in tune with what the customer wants. Future services will see the phone seamlessly move onto your home wireless network when you get home so you can reduce costs but continue to get a good service. Quality of service will be the big issue for mobile operators in the next generation space.

By John Kennedy

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