The environment to attract investment in Irish telecoms

22 Jul 2010

The Telecommunications and Internet Federation (TIF) represents the local telecoms industry, which invests more than €500m annually in infrastructure. Tommy McCabe is director of TIF.

What role will telecoms play in enabling Ireland’s economic recovery?

Telecoms is going to be one of the key infrastructures to underpin the growth of the next economy in Ireland and globally.

At our 17th annual conference in October we are going to look at the key areas of the telecoms sector that will help the Irish economy
pull out of this recession, namely broadband.

Ireland has made great strides in broadband in the past few years and 60pc of the population now has broadband access. Broadband has been growing rapidly and now the key difference is the range of choices people have, from cable to satellite and from DSL to mobile. The challenge is getting the country to move to the next-generation networks (NGNs).

Neelie Kroes, European Commissioner for Digital Agenda, will be speaking at the conference alongside Eircom CEO Paul Donovan and hopefully Shane O’Neill of Liberty Global, which owns UPC.

The biggest problem facing NGNs is who exactly is going to pay for these new networks. How can this be resolved?

Who will pay for it is the big question. Our research conducted by Analysys Mason puts it at €2.5bn. The question of who pays for the
infrastructure usually gets caught up in the debate around net neutrality. Firstly, if you build the highways the cars will come goes the old adage. If this infrastructure is built a lot of companies like Google or eBay can utilise the high-speed networks. But who pays for it needs to be looked at, and achieving a fair balance between paying for it and using it needs to be debated.

Another area that needs to be looked at is green technology. The telecoms industry is aware of the need to cut back on CO2 emissions and in the telecoms arena a green agenda needs to be established.

How would you rate the progress of moving towards NGNs by the various providers?

We’ve made very good progress in the provision of broadband in Ireland and by and large, most people who want broadband can get it. For those who can’t, no doubt it is hugely frustrating. That is being tackled by the Government through the National Broadband Scheme (NBS) to ensure everybody can get a minimum standard of broadband connectivity.

In recent months, UPC said it was upgrading its speeds to 150Mbps and Eircom is doing trials in Dublin and Wexford to achieve equivalent speeds.

Mobile technology is moving to give people speeds of between 7.7Mbps and 14.4Mbps and that will keep growing as the technology
improves. All the time the market is looking for the higher speeds and new applications.

Mobile has become an indispensable piece of equipment that everybody must have and the devices are putting pressure to have more bandwidth, like the iPad for example.

The speeds will continue to increase in urban and rural areas and competition in the marketplace will ensure affordable services.

Will competition alone provide the investment needed for NGNs or will Government intervention be necessary?

Competition alone will not drive investment. We need competition but we also need policy in place so that investment is encouraged by the environment. Otherwise, investors will go elsewhere where they can get a better return.

It requires dialogue between the Government, the Regulator, the telecoms companies and I think the goodwill is there all round. The challenge is to realise that into a next-generation infrastructure that delivers what the market wants, delivers a return on investment for investors and competition to take place.

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