Telecoms industry sees opportunity in tough times

28 Oct 2008

Dublin Castle was last week the scene for pragmatism, optimism and grim determination in order to weather the current economic storm and position Ireland in the premier league of telecoms infrastructure worldwide.

Almost 300 members of Ireland’s communications sector attended the annual Telecommunications and Internet Federation (TIF) Conference to discuss ongoing infrastructural priorities like next-generation networks (NGNs), current progress and important new trends ranging from innovation and education to the new nirvana of anytime, anywhere digital entertainment.

The Irish telecoms industry heard messages of sobering reality, but also of optimism and vision on how the landscape will shape up in the years ahead.

Future Human

With a theme focused on today’s virtual generation who enjoy social networking, online gaming and content on demand, the conference confirmed its standing as a vital bellwether in terms of the health of this ever-changing sector.

“The €724m invested annually by the telecoms sector will take many years to achieve its outcome, and can only do so through a facilitative regulatory environment,” TIF chairman Gerry Fahy told executives, reminding them of the importance of agreeing a detailed vision of how NGNs will develop.

The Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Eamon Ryan TD, reminded the audience of the importance of accessible telecoms to Ireland’s budding entrepreneurs, and how important it is that Europe develops a telecoms sector that will help the region compete with the US and Asia for business.

Minister Ryan said that with one million broadband subscriptions, Ireland is now above the OECD average, but that we need to go further. “We need to set ambitions to be one of the leading countries in the world. We have over one million broadband connections – 60pc of households have it – and in terms of mobile broadband, we are leading the world because of our younger population. They have the ability to take on mobile apps, and this is a base on which we can build and aim to be one of the leading countries in the world.”

He said the NGN policy paper, which will see over €400m invested in Ireland’s fibre assets, as well as creating an honest broker for access to government assets such as ducting, will be of crucial importance to help the industry create an investment environment to build the networks we need.

Frank Sixt, executive director and group finance director of Hutchison Whampoa, was a keynote speaker at the conference and impressed the audience on the growth of mobile data globally, and how his company intends to bring the revolution in mobile handsets ignited by devices such as the iPhone to the mainstream through developing affordable, internet-friendly devices.

Phil Smith, chief executive of Cisco in Ireland and the UK, talked about the challenges Europe faces in terms of IP growth, and said that by 2012 the internet will be 75 times its size in 2000, with over 400 times the traffic due to the rise of online video.

Dan Kirk, a partner with Spectrum Value Partners, talked about how wireless spectrum could be worth up to €160bn to the European economy, and how digital dividend could be best harnessed to serve the nations of Europe as the 2012 analogue switch-off approaches.

A panel discussion on education and innovation and the role technology has to play featured Martin Curley, global head of innovation at Intel, the chief executive of HEAnet, John Boland, Wainhouse Research’s lead consultant, Richard Norris, and Per Jacobsson, a Swedish entrepreneur who has built Ireland’s fastest-growing social networking site from a thesis he wrote for Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT) Aungier Street.

A spirited discussion on the shape of infrastructure investment in Ireland featured Robert Finnegan, CEO of 3 Ireland, Eircom strategy director, Peter O’Connell, ComReg (Commission for Communications Regulation) chairman, John Doherty, O2 director, Tony Hanway, BT Ireland CEO, Chris Clark, E-net CEO, Conal Henry, UPC Ireland’s CEO, Robert Dunn, and Vodafone Ireland CEO, Charles Butterworth.

In the third panel, the onset of digital terrestrial television (DTT), IPTV, digital audio broadcasting (DAB) and the health of Ireland’s broadcasting sector was debated by RTÉ director general, Cathal Goan, Magnet Networks CEO, Mark Kellett, Michael O’Keefe of the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland, Brian Quinn of Setanta, Padhraic O Ciardha of TG4, David McRedmond of TV3, and Michael Wilson, managing director of UTV.

By John Kennedy

Pictured: speakers from the panel debate at the TIF Conference 2008

For video highlights of the keynotes speeches and panel debates from this year’s TIF Conference, please visit

Video highlights:

  • interviews TIF chairman Tommy McCabe about the road ahead in terms of investment, innovation and competition
  • Senior executives from 3 Ireland, Eircom, BT, Vodafone, O2, E-net, ComReg and UPC battle it out in a tough debate – not without humour – on the future of infrastructure investment in Ireland
  • Gerry Fahy, chairman of TIF, talks about the risks associated with investing in the various infrastructure platforms – fibre, cable and wireless – in the years ahead, and the need for a cohesive national NGN strategy
  • Communications Minister, Eamon Ryan TD, gives his views on the importance of a competitive telecoms landscape, the emergence of the semantic web, electric vehicles, technology in education and the need to make Ireland a broadband leader
  • Frank Sixt, group finance director of Hutchison Whampoa, talks about the mobile revolution sweeping the world, and how affordable internet devices will prove to be a game-changing technology
  • Phil Smith, CEO of Cisco Ireland and UK, talks about the increase in the size of the internet by 2012 and how video is putting immense pressure on existing infrastructure.

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