Author: Conal Henry, chief executive officer, enet
In 2004, iPhones, netbooks and Twitter had yet to make their debut but, crucially for Ireland, some 28 cities and towns had started to ‘light up’ their Metropolitan Area Networks (MANs). enet has managed these world-class networks of fibre-optic cable for over a decade, on behalf of the State. While the company now employs over 60 staff, in the beginning there was a core group of dedicated ten telecom pioneers.
Today, the State’s investment in the MANs looks like money well spent. In the early 2000s, both the Government and Irish businesses agreed that significant investment in developing an open-access fibre network for Ireland was crucial to further economic development in Ireland’s regions.
So long as dominant player eircom controlled the old copper wire network, however, there was no business case for private telecom operators to develop a competitive fibre network outside of Dublin. As a result, competition and innovation for telecoms service was being stifled. This was the original ‘digital divide’.
In 2004, in response to this critical infrastructural and market failure, the Government committed €78 million to develop fibre rings around 28 regional centres, and thus the MANs were born. Today, fibre is universally accepted as the best network for speed and reliability but a decade ago, copper was still being promoted by incumbent operators focused on ‘sweating’ existing infrastructure.
Over the past ten years, the MANs have become central to Ireland's telecommunications network. Over 60 of Ireland’s leading service providers now use the MANs to provide their suites of services, including household names like Vodafone UPC, BT and Imagine. Most of the service providers have integrated the MANs into their own networks, and depend greatly on the networks to deliver their high bandwidth data products and services.