2002: Review of the year – Part I (Jan-March)


17 Dec 2002

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Looking back over 2002, LISA DEENEY selects the main movers and shakers in public and private sectors, the dotcoms and the dotbombs, and the big deals that made the headlines in a difficult year.

JANUARY

The next generation war for the hearts and minds, not to mention the wallets, of mobile phone customers began this year with the delivery of GPRS by Digifone, (now rebranded O2) and Vodafone (formerly Eircell). The network technology overlays existing GSM infrastructure, enabling always-on, faster data transmission over mobile phones. Not that anyone would notice until the end of the year…
The year also started with good news on the job front when EDS Corporation said it would increase its Irish workforce from 350 to 500 people by the end of the year. More good cheer came when two Dublin-based software companies announced fundraising deals. Fineos secured an equity investment of €10m, while Rococo Software raised €900,000. But the deal of the month went to Lionbridge Technologies and its multi-year, multi-million dollar contract with Digital Media Division and the Windows Update divisions of Microsoft.

FEBRUARY

Liberalisation and deregulation of the Irish telecoms market was branded a failure by Sean Melly, CEO of Etel Group. Etain Doyle, director of the Office of the Director of Telecommunications Regulation (ODTR), responded to style: “If there are issues, such as innovative technologies not being provided for or if there are bottlenecks or new entrants not being served, we will be in there doing everything we can in our power to make things happen.” Hmm…
Bouncing back to business, the month saw several lucrative deals and hoping-to-be lucrative launches. Irish software firm, Openet Telecom and ICL, part of the Fujitsu Group, signed a global alliance agreement whereby Openet became a preferred ICL partner.
New products and services that made the headlines included an online betting service from Epan.com. It offered a real-time share spread betting facility and claimed to be Ireland’s first online real-time financial bookmaker. Allied Irish Bank launched a personal finance portal, Aib.ie, which hoped to double its existing number of 95,000 online banking customers; Visitor Based Networks unveiled what it described as “Ireland’s first comprehensive source for Bluetooth devices and network components”, while VHI Healthcare launched a text message alert service, developed by iTouch, for its 1.5 million members through its web portal, Vhihealthe.com.

MARCH

A government report, New Connections, was launched and proposed a €200m investment in a national broadband infrastructure. A major revision of its contents is expected shortly…
Hong Kong mobile operator Hutchison Whampoa threw its hat into the 3G (third generation) ring. A combination of debt and uncertainty about the future of 3G technology meant that Hutchison was the only other bidder besides incumbents Vodafone and O2. Nobody was entirely surprised that Meteor, Ireland’s third mobile operator with 3pc market share, decided to opt out of the application process. The three applicants would all prove to be successful in their bids.
Microsoft launched its long-awaited games console, the Xbox. Dublin City Council unveiled its new portal site Dublin.ie.
Deal of the month goes to IMS Maxims, a Dublin-based software firm that secured a £3.8m sterling contract to provide cancer care IT infrastructure across the north west of England.
Referendum.ie received a big Yes this month. The website that provided up-to-the-minute result reporting on the abortion vote received a total of 1,032,717 hits during the voting week, with the majority of these (981,753) on voting day itself.

Pictured: Gerry Fahey, director of strategy Vodafone Ireland