In recent weeks, Meteor went live with the first stage of its 3G network, and by next year plans to be a force in the mobile broadband business. Elaine Robinson is head of product development at Meteor.
How is the current economic climate going to affect the telecoms market in Ireland?
We can’t bury our heads in the sand and say the current climate is not going to affect business, but while there is less discretionary spend, people will continue to talk and text. People will be upgrading their phones less often though.
I think competition has always been a big driver of innovation, and I don’t see that decreasing in the market. The telecoms business in Ireland, in general, is very competitive.
The mobile phone is becoming the new software battleground. In terms of innovation, how do you think the devices and services will evolve in the coming year?
If you look at the handset market, there are two major things happening. On the one hand, you have Apple creating its own software marketplace around the iPhone, but it’s a very much closed, vertical market. On the other hand, you have Google with its Android operating system, which takes an open approach.
While the iPhone is a fantastic device, and deserves credit for kick-starting innovation, I think the real winners will be manufacturers that have taken a more open approach.
Meteor must be cognisant of what our customers want, and not get carried away by handset hype. A large percentage of consumers want a good-value phone, rich in features but affordable.
You are in the midst of a 3G broadband rollout. There are already three key players in the market, how do you intend to be different?
We’ve made a commitment to build a network and be different from our competitors. We’ve adopted a two-pronged approach of small screen versus big screen.
The small-screen 3G market will consist of people who will access the internet via a handset, and it will be about enabling a good mobile experience and making it as easy for them to do what they want to do. Operators in the past have tried to dictate software applications, but I firmly believe customers will want to find a way to bypass these mechanisms.
The big-screen 3G market is about accessing the internet from laptop computers. With this, we will be working to give customers as close to a DSL (fixed-line) internet experience as possible.
How is the broadband rollout proceeding?
We plan to launch in spring with data-card services, and we are very aggressively at work rolling this network out.
Once built, it will be the best-in-class mobile network in Ireland. Because we’re later to the market than our competitors, we’ve been able to ensure that we’ve the latest mobile broadband technology on our network.
In recent weeks, the GSM Association delivered the official HSPA mobile broadband logo that will sit on laptops. We envisage exciting opportunities with mobile broadband embedded in these devices. It presents some challenges in how we might support devices like laptops and netbooks, but we don’t think the laptop will completely displace the phone.
In its financial results, Eircom has made no secret of the fact that Meteor is the ace in its hand. Can we envisage cross-selling activities and bundled services in the future?
We see mobile and fixed broadband as complementary, and on some levels, Eircom and Meteor have already come together with offerings. Expect to see more of that in the near future.
Both companies are determined to leverage both fixed and mobile opportunities, as well as converged opportunities.
For example, we are both looking at the TV opportunity. Eircom already has an internet TV (IPTV) trial underway at the moment, and we are looking at how we might leverage that opportunity.
By John Kennedy
Pictured: Elaine Robinson, head of product development at Meteor