The Friday Interview: Alex French, BitBuzz

11 Apr 2008

Alex French, author of Irish internet guide DOT ie and chief operating officer of Wi-Fi network provider BitBuzz, talks about the Irish, the iPhone and the internet.

What has changed since you published DOT ie in 2006?

The thing about writing technology guides is they’re almost out of date by the time they hit the shelves. But one of the big things we would have predicted by 2008 is that everyone would be on super-fast broadband, and in fact here we all are, not that much different from back then.

I think one of the problems is not enough has changed. We don’t have access to the services we would have expected.

Has mobile broadband changed the nature of the game?

Mobile broadband is almost a misnomer because most of the services you get – the 3G broadband experience – are really quite slow. Yet people are turning to these services because they don’t have a huge number of options if they are waiting for Eircom to turn on broadband in their area.

Will Ireland go from Wi-Fi to the longer range WiMAX, much like our US counterparts are beginning to?

Actually, looking at other countries, what seems to be the real trend going forward is people using more and more networks of Wi-Fi hotspots because Wi-Fi is a technology that exists today, it’s a proven technology and it’s very fast.

There are issues over WiMAX deployment. A few of weeks ago, people availing of WiMAX in Australia reported they were very disappointed with the technology because it doesn’t give the results it promises.

So as far as Wi-Fi goes, the problem is the lack of hotspots around Ireland. We’re not waiting on a big technological fix, it’s just a question of deployment and adoption.

Did Apple make a mistake by not having a 3G iPhone in the first place?

If you look at the iPhone and why Steve Jobs chose not to put a 3G chip in the first place, it’s because he didn’t think it was necessary as there is good Wi-Fi availability in the US. However, there is news of the 3G model coming out later this year, so things are changing.

Should other mobile manufacturers be afraid of the iPhone?

No, the iPhone raises the bar for all handset manufacturers by saying ‘Look, the mobile web shouldn’t be a second-rate experience’.

I think people’s expectations have now been raised and mobile users are thinking ‘Why shouldn’t I have a good web experience?’.

Even so, the iPhone doesn’t allow downloading of file attachments. There are also no Flash animations available like on normal websites, so it’s not the be-all and end-all. But it’s a very important step towards saying ‘I want the web and I want it anywhere I go’.

This is what all these technologies (Wi-Fi, WiMAX, 3) are all about: being able to access the internet on the move and in a nice, fast way. People are no longer willing to go with the older standard of WAP browsers with a very pared down browsing experience.

By Marie Boran