Irish wireless software players target next parish east

28 Jan 2004

Lower costs of entry and targets of opportunity like the burgeoning wireless market have sparked a renewed interest by Irish companies in the UK market over the US, with some 40 mobile and wireless software firms active in the UK.

At the height of the technology boom, most Irish technology companies seeking finance and customers had to be seen to be talking about doing either one of two things, either planning to raise capital through a potential flotation or establishing an office in the US. Affectionately termed ‘the next parish west’, the US was seen as the place to go. What often was neglected to be mentioned was the fact that the cost of entering the US market was prohibitively expensive, estimated on average at around US$1m just to set up an office on the East Coast, inconveniently relieving an Irish software company fortunate to have raised venture capital in the first place of much-needed cash.

“In the midst of all the hype, the nearby UK market was mostly neglected by young Irish software firms in favour of the US. However, that has changed primarily due the reality of doing business and the fact that a very dense and highly evolved technology market with multiple niches is less than an hour’s flight away,” explained Mary Barton, manager of international services at Enterprise Ireland’s London office. “In particular, we are finding that Irish software firms targeting the wireless and mobile enterprise and operator applications business are carving significant business opportunities for themselves. Some 40 Irish mobile and wireless software developers are extremely active in the UK market right now.”

The UK, with 20 times the population of Ireland, is indeed a highly evolved mobile and wireless society. The UK is second to the States in terms of wireless local area networking, and in terms of mobile device services and market opportunities is one of the biggest in the world outside of Asia. The country has already seen almost a year of the advent of 3G services through the arrival of Hutchison’s 3. In the UK ring tone downloads have begun to outsell the sales of CD singles, with some €365m being spent a year and high street retail operators like Boots have started to offer clever services such as full colour photo printing for 20p for people with multimedia messaging on their camera phones. It is only the beginning as UK TV companies (think Big Brother), newspapers, magazines, internet content players and radio stations get in on the action.

According to Charlotte Lane, a senior market development adviser at Enterprise Ireland in London who focuses on the mobile market, Irish mobile software companies like ItsMobile, Vordel, Openet, Xiam and Am-beo are sparking considerable interest from operators like Orange, Vodafone and O2 as well as UK businesses and local governments who see the value in deploying m-business and m-government services to boost efficiencies. “For example, Its Mobile is receiving a lot of interest. The company last year rolled out mobile payment for parking meters in Edinburgh. There is a drive at local government level in the UK to provide better access and ways of charging for services and mobile is gaining momentum in that regard.”

Lane added that the small size of the Irish market and the easy access local companies have to international software houses like Microsoft as well as international mobile operators like Vodafone and O2 gives local mobile software players an advantage over UK-based competitors. “Winning deals with these operators immediately opens doors on a global stage. Because of its market size, UK development companies don’t have that. Potential buyers of software and applications can get an opportunity to see that application up and running in the Irish home market and can make their decisions.”

Lane’s assertion has certainly proved true for Irish software firm Cyantel, except this time in the German market. Cyantel was recently awarded a valuable contract to deploy a location-based fleet management solution for Vodafone Germany’s business market. The company’s E-Z-Manage Resource Manager technology enables companies to locate their workers using cell-based information from the mobile phone network. In a recent interview, Cyantel boss Padraig Murphy explained the company’s breakthrough in the German market, traditionally a tough market to crack for Irish companies, was enabled through his company’s links with Enterprise Ireland and Vodafone in Ireland. “We beat off strong local competition to win the project as part of the selection process and we were able to give a live demo within weeks of sealing the project,” Murphy said.

Back to the UK market, another Irish technology company leveraged its local contacts with O2 to make its breakthrough. CST International recently a ‘free-to-sender’ deal with O2 in Ireland and the UK to conduct marketing surveys over text messaging or SMS (short messaging service). Through the deal CST International will be able to access O2’s SMS Broker Platform, an international connectivity platform that allows companies to reach millions of mobile phone users in Ireland and the UK regardless of their mobile phone network.

Lane continued: “Xiam, for example, works quite closely with Vodafone and often go on road shows across the UK with Vodafone. It’s a privileged position due to local contact the company has in Ireland. Another Irish company Alatto’s digital jukebox technology is soon to be snapped up by UK media companies to deploy ring tones and mobile karaoke games.”

Indeed some wireless companies are being started up by Irish businesspeople directly in the UK instead of Ireland. A group of ex-Ebeon executives have established Inspired Broadcast Networks in London. With the co-operation of Ericsson and Intel, Inspired is involved in the creation of a nationwide wireless network that will enable high-speed Internet access in thousands of locations all over the UK. The new network will be the largest of its type in Europe. Inspired Broadcast Networks began building this network last year, called The Cloud. Inspired is leveraging its national network of broadband connected games terminals and its exclusive partnership with Leisure Link, which manages 90,000 machines in 30,000 locations across the UK. The Cloud is open to any branded service provider to offer Wi-Fi services to their customers under their own brand. BT Openzone became the first service provider on The Cloud and began offering its services last July.

Another small start-up, Limerick-based Galty Technologies is causing a stir in the mobile business market with a unique application for RIM’s Blackberry devices that allows business people on the move to access data on the desktop back at the office and send documents as attachments via the Blackberry device.

“At present, the mobile and wireless market occupies a 10pc segment of the overall UK IT market, and that is expanding all the time as IT applications evolve to include more mobile working features,” Enterprise Ireland’s Mary Barton concluded.

By John Kennedy