Wireless players demand ‘centre of excellence’

25 Oct 2005

If indigenous mobile software companies are to get their fair share of a wireless market forecast to be worth US$235m by 2010, better access to funding, greater collaboration between companies and better links with academia are essential, an international conference last week heard.

Delegates at last week’s inaugural International Wireless Conference sponsored by the Irish Software Association and Silicon Republic also suggested the Government invests in a “centre of excellence” where local firms can showcase their technologies, test and prove their solutions and gain credibility in order to make international sales.

The general consensus amongst delegates is that there needs to be greater communication and collaboration between indigenous mobile software companies, especially if Enterprise Ireland’s objectives of building companies to scale from typically 20 or 30 people today to firms of 400 people or greater are to be realised.

In April 2004, research commissioned by Forfás indicates that Ireland has the strength to establish a robust wireless cluster that can exploit opportunities in the international mobile data services market, which currently has an estimated market value of US$55bn and is set to grow to US$235bn by 2010. The report revealed that the wireless sector in Ireland comprises more than 60 enterprises and employs 4,300 people, split evenly between foreign and indigenous firms. Bolstered by considerable venture capital investment, Irish companies have built a strong knowledge base in key growth areas such as messaging and mediation (billing).

Brendan McDonagh, managing director of Aran Technologies and chairman of the Forfas-backed Wireless Implementation Group, told some 200 wireless industry executives that there is a pressing need to bring together the worlds of industry and academia and guide the academic world on relevant areas of research in wireless.”

McDonagh’s assertion was backed by John Whelan, director of Alatto, who said entrepreneurial firms that have tried to work with universities in terms of commercialising research have found their efforts frustrated. “It’s great to work with universities. Technology is not the problem. The problem is selling to larger organisations from a rock in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.

“We tried to engage with academia but have found it frustrating. When we tried, there was nobody working on a specific area that was relevant and if there was there would have been problems with time lines. The wireless industry changes every six months and academia has to be able to respond to that in the same way as indigenous companies.”

Martin Creaner, chief technology officer of the TeleManagement Forum, said greater networking between Irish wireless firms is needed if synergies are to be realised and firms merge and scale up to create an Irish world leader of the same standard as Nokia or Ericsson.

Creaner said although Ireland with 94pc mobile penetration was a world standard wireless economy, there are few local customers for mobile software firms and firms have to look overseas to make those difficult first sales. “Having a reference site is critical. We need to create a test and development lab that is open to all indigenous wireless firms that can give different firms some form of credibility from zero to a level that would give them an edge.”

Sigma managing director Tony Boyle called for better information sharing and dialogue between companies. “The key is collaboration and the creation of clusters where collaboration happens. We need to get the industry here collaborating more,” Boyle said.

At the event a SMS-based survey of the 200 delegates found that 82pc believes that there is an opportunity available for Ireland to become a global wireless leader. However, some 73pc believed that none of the right steps have been taken in Ireland so far. Some 45pc of the delegates called for increased government support while 31pc said they believe greater collaboration between companies is needed.

Earlier at the event, Government Chief Whip and Information Society Minister Tom Kitt TD revealed that Wireless Wednesday has secured €300k from Skillnets to provide business training to the SME wireless sector in Ireland. “The significance of Wireless Skillnet is that increased skill levels – and knowledge of international trends and new markets – will have a direct impact on the success of Irish companies and the sector’s competitiveness and will improve employee competitiveness and security.

“A key issue for this developing sector has been the lack of ability of many Irish wireless SMEs to scale up their operations – as has been identified in the report of the Enterprise Strategy Group – and some of the development agencies. Wireless Skillnet will give Irish companies the opportunity to do this through the provision of expert wireless training for their staff.”

By John Kennedy

Pictured: Tom Kitt TD, Minister of State with responsibility for the Information Society with Göran Wahlberg, Nokia Corporation’s director of concepts and technology at Ireland’s first International Wireless Conference, which took place last week