Switching it on for the virtual generation

11 Sep 2008

Irish telecoms firms are investing €700m in upgrading their infrastructure. But to ensure their confidence, the Government will need to re-evaluate telecoms regulation, says Tommy McCabe of the Telecommunications and Internet Federation (TIF).

Ireland now has over one million broadband subscribers. Have we reached the tipping point?
I definitely think so. The fact that we are at a million compared to a couple of thousand at the turn of the millennium is indicative of how far we’ve come.

Prices are now at between €20 and €40 a month and average speeds have grown from 256Kbps to between 2Mbps and 10Mbps and some service providers are offering between 20Mbps and 50Mbps.

Speeds are better and the market has become more competitive in the past 14 months.

The Minister for Communications Eamon Ryan recently allocated €435m towards building next-generation networks (NGNs). Is this deliverable?

The key challenge the industry faces is the next phase of investment in NGNs, without a doubt.

But we have questions about how many of the policies the Minister has outlined will actually be delivered, and when they can be delivered.

Central to this is telecoms regulation. However, if the current regulatory framework remains, it is unlikely the investment needed will ever be made.

Does Ireland have the right regulatory environment to stimulate investment in next-generation broadband?

No. We recently welcomed the Government’s paper on NGNs, but if these networks are ever to be realised, Ireland needs a policy framework that would encourage investment.

Later this month, a workshop will be held between industry and the Government on NGNs and while it’s good to have dialogue with Government, there needs to be a clear policy to incentivise investment. That’s not there at the moment.

What can be done to change this situation?

What’s needed is a policy directive from the Government to ComReg that will cause telecoms companies to accelerate investment.

The Government has allocated €435m, but in the overall context, this is not enough to facilitate NGNs in Ireland.

The Government is relying on the private sector to invest. The policy should be such that they will do so gladly.

A clear policy will encourage competitive pricing. It’s unlikely that any operator in any platform is going to invest in something all their competitors will also use, unless there is a clear return for the major players.

In recent months, the Government said it was switching off analogue TV signals and embracing digital terrestrial television (DTT). Will Ireland be ready?

By late next year, analogue TV signals will be switched off in tandem with the switching off of these services in the UK. This will bring about great possibilities in terms of interactive audiences and bundling of services with broadband.

Telecoms providers are offering bundled broadband and telecoms services and when DTT comes along you will see audiences generate their own content either to broadcast to their own circle of friends or interact with TV programmes.

For the telecoms industry used to voice and data services, the arrival of DTT will bring about a whole new way of doing things.

In the context of the current downturn, what role will the telecoms industry play in getting Ireland back on its feet?

The reality is the telecoms industry has enabled the expansion and development of Ireland’s services sector. We’ve gone from an agricultural economy to a manufacturing economy and now we’re a services-based economy.

In the context of the current economic downturn, telecoms infrastructure will enable new services and allow companies and universities to innovate. Businesses should be looking at telecoms and trends like outsourcing and teleworking to generate savings. Job hunters are better equipped to research and find the jobs they are looking for.

Ireland’s telecoms infrastructure is going to enable companies and individuals to make it in the current downturn.

By John Kennedy

Pictured: Tommy McCabe, TIF

The TIF annual conference will be held this year at Dublin’s Mansion House on 23 October. For more information go to www.tif.ie.


John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years