This week’s interviewee is Conal Henry (pictured), chief executive of Limerick-based e-Net, which manages 27 of the €80m Government-funded metropolitan area networks (MANs) around Ireland.
Critics of the MANs say they are unnecessary in providing broadband to regions and that local loop unbundling (LLU) should be given priority. What’s your view?
Firstly, the MANs were never intended to create an alternative to LLU. However, if an operator in a regional area wanted to unbundle to an alternative operator to Eircom, they couldn’t do so without a MAN.
Our role is to provide a network onto which alternative operators can deliver circuits in areas around the country. Every network outside of Dublin is unbundled onto the MANs.
I think that the MANs on their own are not the answer to the overall broadband problem. But if you think about Ireland’s telecoms landscape without them you’ll see the difference they make.
What achievements can the MANs be credited with so far?
As a result of the MANs going live in 27 towns, operators such as BT, Digiweb, Ice Broadband, Irish Broadband and Colt have been going after multinational business in areas of Ireland these multinationals mightn’t have gone to because of the lack of telecoms competition.
In 2004 only 20pc of jobs created in Ireland were created in the 27 towns where the MANs have been built. This increased to 40pc in 2005 and 60pc in 2006.
I would never say that this was down to the MANs on their own but I have to believe we are having some impact.
Government and IDA policy are driven to support these towns but we have customers signing up to the MANs to deliver high-end telecoms services to multinational customers. A year ago IDA chief executive Sean Dorgan actually said that telecoms is no longer a barrier to foreign direct investment.
Have the MANs sparked the imagination of Ireland’s business community?
Outside of several hundred multinationals now connected to MANs, prominent high-street retailers Boots, Marks & Spencer and Tesco also connect to them, while mobile operators O2 and Vodafone channel their calls in the regions through the MANs.
One of the big opportunities going forward would be the SME (small to medium-sized enterprise) sector. At the moment direct fibre offerings are only available to large corporate firms or companies with 50-plus staff per site.
We would like to get into smaller sites or firms employing 10-plus people and we are working on that right now.
Ninety new MANs are going to be built under the National Development Plan. Will e-Net be pursuing this business?
It would be a big surprise if we weren’t heavily involved in that. The exact nature of the tender process has yet to be defined but we would be looking to take the expertise we’ve built and go after that business.
We have focused our business on making it as easy as possible for customers to access the network and will continue to focus on doing that.
By John Kennedy