2002: Modern Ireland gets connected

23 Nov 2021

The Nokia 6310i, a WAP phone first introduced in March 2002. Image: © Gudellaphoto/Stock.adobe.com

With advanced networking technology coming to pass, the mobile revolution was afoot and the Government was eager to get digital.

Celebrating 20 years of Silicon Republic, 2001-2021

In 2002, the Eurozone came into effect as the euro began circulating in 12 EU countries, including Ireland.

The ravages of the dot-com bust also came to Ireland, with job losses throughout the year. Of some 23 data centres built in Dublin at the turn of the century – in what was then an investment of half-a-million in Irish punts – about half went out of business by 2002.

However, the foundations of the next tech revolution were being laid with 3G licences awarded to Ireland’s three major mobile telcos: O2, Vodafone and Hutchison Whampoa (Three).

Digital goes mobile

January 2002 dawned with a new currency and a new technology across Ireland. General packet radio service, or GPRS, arrived on the networks of Digifone and Eircell (which would soon become O2 and Vodafone, respectively).

GPRS overlaid the existing radio networks used by wireless carriers to bring us into the ‘always on’ era of mobile data. To start, owners of WAP phones could rejoice with a whole 2.5G network to play with, inching ever closer to the brave new world of 3G.

O2 gave its first live demonstration of 3G services and applications at the ICT Expo Technology exhibition in the RDS in April. This next generation of mobile networking brought big business opportunities and September saw Nokia beat out Ericsson and others for a multimillion-euro contract with Vodafone to roll out Ireland’s 3G network.

It was also a new world of opportunity for content. In August, Ireland Live Television became the first broadcaster in the world to offer a live colour TV news broadcast direct to mobile phones. Specifically, to the O2 XDA, billed as an all-in-one phone and personal digital assistant. The Irish Film & Television Network dubbed it “the start of a new era in which television can be viewed on mobile phones and multi-purpose mobile devices”.

This was followed in October by Vodafone Live!, a mobile portal offering games, downloads, data and picture messaging, and O2’s own media messaging service and games arcade portal. By November, Ireland was abuzz with new multimedia messaging services, prompting Nokia to blitz Dublin’s Pearse Street Dart station with billboards for the 7650, its 0.3MP camera phone.

Phones were no longer just for calls and the mobile digital revolution was afoot. “I think the mobile phone has been transformative in how we live our lives,” said Tony Yangxu, CEO of Huawei Ireland (which would be established two years later), as he reflected on the past 20 years.

“To think that in your hand now is a device that has more computing power than the systems that got astronauts on the moon, that’s amazing. And it has been a marathon not a sprint, with incremental improvements each year and new developments. I think we will soon see more connected devices playing an important role in our lives.”

The making of an ‘e-government’

July 2002 marked the inauguration of TD Mary Hanafin as Minister for the Information Society. The so-called ‘e-minister’ was given a brief that focused on bridging the digital divide quickly cleaving its way between the connected and the unconnected. This centred on delivery of a National Broadband Plan.

Critics of Hanafin’s appointment included ICT Ireland, which was disappointed to see the role handed to a junior minister. “I very honestly came out at the beginning and said technology is not my forte. But coordination is,” Hanafin told SiliconRepublic.com in October of that year.

She explained the Government’s commitment to a public-private partnership with a multi-phased approach to broadband roll-out. New Connections, a Government report from earlier in the year, proposed a €200m investment in national broadband infrastructure by creating metropolitan area networks in 67 towns throughout Ireland. In late 2002, the tendering process was underway and the first phase was set to reach 19 towns.

However, the future of the plan was already looking insecure. The threat of budget cuts to the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources called further roll-out into question. This would be a major disappointment to the country’s modestly rising number of teleworkers.

Meanwhile the evolution of digital devices continued apace, whether Ireland was prepared to keep up or not. September saw the unveiling of the PaceBook tablet PC in concert with Irish software firm Unilansys. Then Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, TD, was at the launch and noted the user-centric design of the device and its software. “Both allow the user to interact with them in a convenient and efficient way and both match technology with need,” he said. “My Government wants the same for e-government.”

Computing the climate crisis

March 2002 saw two significant moments for environmental science.

On the first of the month, the European Space Agency’s Envisat satellite was launched to record information on environmental change. It’s still in orbit today, though the ESA lost contact with Envisat and concluded its mission in 2012.

Later in March, the Japanese government officially opened the site of its Earth Simulator supercomputer. It would be the fastest supercomputer in the world for the next two years, designed to generate global climate models. The building housing the Earth Simulator was protected from earthquakes using a seismic isolation system with rubber supports.

In other news

4 January: Fineos announces its first round of funding since the Dublin-based company was established in 1993, an equity investment of €10m.

10 January: Napster reboots as a legal, members-only file-sharing platform. It didn’t take off, and by the end of the year its name and technology was sold to Roxio at a bankruptcy auction.

14 February: The statement of principles from the Budapest Open Access Initiative promoting open access to research literature is released to the public.

19 February: NASA spacecraft the 2001 Mars Odyssey begins its mapping of Mars from orbit using its thermal emission imaging system.

6 March: A referendum to tighten the constitutional ban on abortion in Ireland is narrowly rejected. A website providing up-to-the-minute reporting on the vote, Referendum.ie, saw more than 1m hits during the voting week.

26 March: A marriage made in the era of the dot-com bubble quickly hits the rocks with a massive $54bn write down in the value of Time Warner since AOL acquired the business in January 2000.

3 May: The merger of Hewlett-Packard and Compaq is completed, sparking fears of job losses across their collective Irish workforce of 4,000.

July: Eircom launches its SMS-enabled landline service and cordless handsets with the help of comedian Pat Shortt and some Queen-sized inspiration.

15 August: Irish tech companies Iona Technologies and Riverdeep are delisted from the Morgan Stanley Capital International Ireland index and Stoxx 600 index, respectively.

September: Google begins beta testing Google News, an aggregator organising articles from thousands of publishers and magazines.

18 September: iRobot’s Roomba, an autonomous robotic vacuum that can clean floors while avoiding obstacles, is released in the US.

16 November: The first case of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), an infectious disease caused by a coronavirus, is recorded in Guangdong, China.

22 November: Travel site Lastminute.com marks its first pre-tax profit in a rare moment of positivity from the online retail sector.

1 December: Researchers announce that “major portions” of the Centibots project are in place. Funded by DARPA, Centibots sought to build a system of 100 robots able to autonomously communicate and coordinate their actions.

3 December: The IDA reveals that, having invested €191m into Intel’s base at Leixlip, it will throw in a further €150m to support the construction of a $2.1bn chip fabrication facility, the company’s largest outside the US.

17 December: The year-end report of UK-based email security firm MessageLabs finds that the ratio of viruses to email nearly doubled in 2002.

20 December: Analyst firm OneStat reveals Microsoft Internet Explorer’s complete dominance in the web browser market with 95pc global usage share.

20 December: The resignation of Trent Lott as US Senate Republican leader marks a defining moment for the blogosphere, which was first to report comments made by the politician apparently in support of racial segregation, ahead of any mainstream media outlets.

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