e|net, the company which has the contract to operate the Government-funded metropolitan area networks (MANs) in 27 regional towns, has rejected any suggestion that the infrastructure merely replicates Eircom’s or that they are not commercially feasible.
Conal Henry, chief executive of e|net, says the Limerick firm now has 26 customers including BT Ireland, Smart Telecom, cable operator UPC, Vodafone, O2, Digiweb and Irish Broadband – in effect all the alternative telecoms operators who do not just simply resell Eircom wholesale products.
“Over 90 per cent of all non-Eircom telecoms traffic touches our network,” Henry says.
He adds that e|net’s research has shown that towns with metropolitan area networks have increased their share of IDA Ireland-backed foreign direct investment from 20 per cent to 60 per cent.
“It’s very easy to dismiss the MANs networks because they are in the background, they are not high profile because what we have is a wholesale offering,” Henry explains, “but just look at how many people would be affected if they were switched off tomorrow.”
The chief executive claims that 33,000 jobs rely on IT infrastructure that uses the networks, as do 90,000 third-level students, 400,000 mobile phone users and 40,000 homes whose broadband connection is carried over them.
Last week it was revealed, in a Department of Communications briefing document for new Minister Eamon Ryan of the Green Party, that Eircom had threatened legal action over the development of the metropolitan area networks.
Eircom has said it views the networks as duplication of its infrastructure and hinted that the Government’s investment in them may constitute illegal State aid under EU regulations.
Henry says he would welcome Eircom as a customer.
“I would love Eircom to use us. A lot of major multinational companies need resilience, but Eircom can’t provide that as they only have one network.”
The ministerial briefing also highlighted that “back-haul” connections to the networks, which connect the regional infrastructure back to Dublin and on to international networks, continue to be an issue.
Henry says that all but three of the networks now have a back-haul connection.
“We will break even in the 12 months,” he says. “Our financial performance is in line with the business plan we submitted when we won the contract.”
e|net has submitted a tender to run the second phase of the metropolitan area networks project, and Henry is hopeful the contract will be awarded by the end of the year.
The company has also beefed up its management team with the appointments of former Esat Telecom executive Martin Keogh as its new sales director and BT Ireland’s director of wholesale business, Bartley McElroy, as its director of corporate development.
“We have good people joining the organisation and significant blue-chip organisations using our infrastructure,” Henry says. “If they were an irrelevance and duplication, why would they be doing that?”
John Collins, The Irish Times