Sunday, July 01, 2007
Sunday Business Post
By Cian Ginty
Can wireless broadband providers really deliver on some of the promises now being made, asks Cian Ginty.
Wireless networks have been making some big claims in recent months. While some are saying they will father the first 4G networks in the country, others are promising 100 per cent coverage.
It’s an exciting time to be a wireless customer, but can operators sustain their broadband bravado?
Digiweb claimed it was about to launch the first part of a 4G network. The firm said the first section covering 500 square kilometres would include nine major towns, which will make it “the first 100 per cent broadband enabled region in Ireland’‘.
“Digiweb’s 4G network construction is under way and the first completed region will be announced imminently,” said Colm Piercy, managing director of Digiweb.
“It will deliver the first 500 square kilometres of Ireland which is broadband-enabled from tip to toe. Customers will experience speeds up to 5Mbps while moving at speeds up to 120 km per hour.”
Last month, the Commission for Communications Regulation (ComReg) assigned Digiweb the 088 mobile number previously used by Eircell.
Along with the launch of broadband products based on the wideband digital mobile data service license, Digiweb is due to launch mobile phone services early next year.
“Over the balance of the year and into early 2008, Digiweb will continue the roll out of this exciting new network to reach all regions of the country,” Piercy said.
“It will deliver broadband, voice and media services to personal, mobile, and fixed devices.”
He said Digiweb planned to provide 54 per cent coverage within the next seven months and national coverage for broadband, voice and media services by next summer. This will include personal broadband devices, 4G mobile handsets and office solutions.
Meanwhile, Irish Broadband will be working on expanding its network in Dublin, Cork, Limerick and Waterford and then in towns such as Carlow and Portlaoise.
“We plan to increase the capacity where we already have our network,” said Orla Carroll of Irish Broadband.
“We find that service increases demand in the same broad area.”
Irish Broadband launched voice-over internet protocol (VoIP) services before Christmas. Carroll said the company was getting ready to launch more services.
“The aim is to finally tie off the phone line and line rental issue,” she said.
“People are realising that they cannot only get rid of line rental, but experience huge call savings.”
As for mobile phone operators, Irish Broadband doesn’t see the mobile firms’ 3G data services offering a threat.
“You could say they are encroaching on our market, but we’re encroaching on their market in the sense that we provide a voice service,” Carroll said. “We also provide a mobile voice service in our Go card.
“We welcome the mobile market because it’s a very big market. If people now start getting used to using broadband on the go that can only benefit us in years to come. I think in a sense the mobile operators have a greater fear of wireless broadband and what wimax [worldwide interoperability for microwave access] can offer in the future.”
Digiweb takes a similar view.
“Mobile phone operators are experiencing a rapid erosion of their revenues as competition and new technologies bite hard,” Piercy said.
“And it’s entirely understandable that they will seek alternative uses for their networks.
“In a country which lags behind the rest of Europe in terms of broadband availability and take-up and with such a poor copper network, any alternatives are welcome. So it’s a case of all hands to the wheel to address this national embarrassment.”
Piercy said 3G data services were still based on dial-up protocols and not true always-on broadband products. He said with wide fluctuations of speed and latency, mobile companies’ 3G services were unpredictable.
“Traditional mobile phone operators are scrambling for alternative revenue sources,” he said.
“But while they struggle with legacy protocols they simply cannot match the emerging built-for-purpose networks of today’s wireless operators.
“This is regardless of whether the operator is OFDM [orthogonal frequency-division multiplexing] or Wimax, or one of the new breed of next generation mobile IP [internet protocol] networks.”
Piercy said Digiweb’s launch of the first 4G network would bring it into direct competition with the large mobile phone operators.
“The main difference will be that Digiweb is deploying a next generation mobile IP network, the holy grail for today’s telecoms provider. The large mobile phone operators are likely to be extremely concerned and the services about to be launched will do absolutely nothing to allay those fears.”
Meanwhile, Fran Rooney, executive chairman of Ice Broadband, said there had been “misinterpretation’‘ of claims that it would cover “every square kilometre’‘ Using Motorola mesh wireless technology.
Rooney said the firm would roll out coverage right around the country, but not “100 per cent coverage. What we are actually saying is that we are going to roll out right around the country. Obviously we can’t say 100 per cent, or that we’d be on Achill Island, for example. Basically, we’ll have major parts of Ireland covered in the next few months.”
Using Limerick as an example, Rooney said Ice would be looking at towns around the city rather then the city itself.
“The other operators are actually working in the cities,” he said.
“We’re not working in the cities, we’re taking the large towns outside the cities. We’re looking at the rural areas which have been neglected to date.”