Weekly Digest Issue No. 535
New jobs continue to trickle in | AOL snaps up three firms in one day
Rural broadband gets a boost
Broadband availability in rural Ireland is a key recurring issue in the Government's drive to make broadband accessible nationwide. A novel deal announced this week between US firm Shared Access and the Football Association of Ireland (FAI) could make some headway in bringing broadband to remote areas.
Under the scheme, Shared Access will invest EUR30 million to pay for and erect floodlights at local football clubs around the country. In return, the clubs will agree to let the US firm add wireless antennas and, if available, fibre connections, to the floodlights' set up. So far 400 local clubs have applied for the scheme, and this figure is expected to reach 500 by the end of 2010. The clubs are based in both urban and rural areas.
Communications Minister Eamon Ryan called the scheme "shared infrastructure at its best". At the launch of the deal the minister said: "The country will benefit from this excellent scheme. Though broadband penetration has trebled in the past three years, we will take every opportunity to continue this pace of progress. Broadband provision is central to our economic recovery."
In another boon to the nationwide availability of high-speed broadband, Aurora Telecom, a division of Bord Gais Networks, announced details of a rollout of an ultra high-speed fibre optic network, which will link Dublin to the West of Ireland. Aurora will deliver an open-access fibre optic network, which it will make available to telecomms operators and large companies. The company will install over 330km of fibre-optic cable in ducting laid along the route of Bord Gais’ gas Pipeline to the West of Ireland. The project will also allow companies to ‘own’ a fibre optic network by providing dedicated fibre for individual companies: ‘Dark Fibre’.
"Developing high-speed bandwidth is fundamental to our economic recovery. Not only will this project improve the attractiveness of Ireland for continued investment, but it will greatly assist in the growth and sustainability of small businesses, particularly in our regional towns," said Minister Ryan.
New jobs continue to trickle in
There was some movement on the jobs front this week, with a handful of firms creating a number of positions around the country. First up, Dublin-based iQuate, which develops audit and monitoring technology, said it plans to create 25 new jobs over the coming year. The new positions come as the firm reports increased sales in the pipeline, and the roles will focus on software development, implementation, project management and sales.
Next up, indigenous IT services firm PFH announced that it has formed a new finance company that will offer blue-chip clients long-term leasing arrangements as an alternative to buying IT systems. The firm, which has offices in Dublin, Cork and Galway, expects the move to bring in additional revenues of EUR45 million this year. In light of this new revenue stream, and its July acquisition of the Irish division of Siemens Enterprise Group, PFH says it plans to increase its staff numbers to more than 200 by the end of the year; it currently employs just under 200 people. The new roles will be primarily in the sales and technical areas.
Meanwhile, US mobile phone accessory maker Otterbox has said it will create up to 50 new jobs in Cork over the next two years when it establishes its EMEA headquarters in the city. The jobs will focus on a number of areas including marketing, web design, graphics, supply chain and engineering. Recruitment is currently underway.
Finally, Meath-based web design and development firm Silkweb is to increase its workforce by 26 as it expands the company. The jobs will be based around the country and the first phase will focus mainly on sales roles. A second recruitment phase will begin in early 2011. Silkweb is headquartered in Trim, Co Meath and also has offices in New York and London. It provides web design, web development, dot-ie domains, SEO, hosting and IT support for businesses.
Eircom unveils eMobile
Also creating jobs this week is Eircom, which announced the launch of its new mobile service, eMobile, on Wednesday. Rather than replace Eircom's Meteor brand, the new service will be targeting the over 30s demographic in both the pre-pay and bill-pay markets, while Meteor, which has around 1 million customers will continue to focus on the younger, predominantly pre-pay, customer.
To support the brand Eircom will be opening eMobile retail stores in Dublin, Limerick, Waterford and Cork, creating 50 new jobs in the process. Eircom said it plans to increase retail staff in the coming months as demand for the service increases. The retail drive will also be supplemented by partner deals with Carphone Warehouse, Xtravision and DSG Ireland, which operates the Dixons and PC World brands.
For its pre-pay offering, eMobile's Seven 10 will offer customers a weekly package of "all the calls and texts they need" to any network, any time for EUR10 per week. Customers need to top up by EUR10 each week. If customers want to include data for web browsing or email, they can avail of Seven 15, which adds 250MB of data each week for EUR15. eMobile bill-pay packages range from EUR14 to EUR94 and can include data add ons. Free calls to landlines come with all bill-pay tariffs.
At the launch of eMobile in Eircom headquarters on Wednesday, Paul Donovan said he believes the services offers "exceptional, if not the best, value in the market." It will be interesting to see how market heavyweights Vodafone and O2, as well as the other players in the market, react to the eMobile launch. There's certainly been a heavy TV and radio marketing push by Tesco Mobile over the past week or so, and as the eMobile ad campaign kicked off Wednesday evening, we can expect an onslaught of similar ads from the likes of Vodafone.
RIM PlayBook to squash iPad dominance?
After the initial speculation of last week, Research in Motion (RIM) officially launched its first tablet device on Monday. Called the PlayBook, (not the BlackPad, a name which had been bandied about in the press) the device has a seven-inch screen and dual high-definition cameras for video conferencing.
RIM president and co-CEO Mike Lazaridis, who launched the PlayBook at RIM's DevCon event outlined some of the device's main features, which include an HTML5-capable browser, USB ports, 1GB of built-in RAM, multitasking and Flash support. Lazaridis described the PlayBook as "enterprise ready", suggesting it was aimed at business executives. A price for the device hasn't yet been mentioned.
The PlayBook is set to launch in the US early in 2011 with releases in other markets to follow later in the year. What's interesting is that the initial version of the device will not feature 3G, rather it will rely on Wi-Fi primarily, and when a user does not have Wi-Fi availability they can connect by pairing the tablet with a BlackBerry smartphone. RIM hasn't made it clear if a user can connect to the internet using any other brand of smartphone aside from BlackBerry. Further ahead, RIM did say in its press release that it "intends to also offer 3G and 4G models in the future."
Initial reaction to the device has been positive although RIM stock has suffered in the markets due primarily to the lack of pricing details, the 3G issue and the fact that the PlayBook won't be available until "early 2011". Still, on the positive side, the PlayBook could well challenge Apple's iPad on some levels, namely its Flash support and USB ports. Because of the iPad's early dominance of the market though, a lot could depend on the PlayBook pricing.
AOL snaps up three firms in one day
Internet giant AOL was on quite the acquisition streak this week, snapping up three companies in one day. On Tuesday AOL bought web video-syndication company 5min Media, Thing Labs, which makes Web-based social-networking software, and influential Silicon Valley blog TechCrunch.
Thing Labs creates Brizzly web-based software applications, which allow users to view and post updates to social network sites like Twitter and Facebook. According to the Wall Street Journal, the founders of Thing Labs, who helped create Google Reader, will join AOL. Apparently the deal has been in the works for some time, according to a blog posting by Thing Labs. Financial details of this acquisition were not revealed.
5min Media is a video syndication platform with a library of instructional, lifestyle and knowledge videos from over 1,000 media companies and independent video producers. The buy forms part of AOL's drive to boost its video content; in January, it acquired StudioNow, a video content creator and distributor. "AOL is building a video ecosystem for the next decade," said Tim Armstrong, the firm's chairman and CEO, announcing the 5min deal. Again, financial details weren't revealed.
As well as the TechCrunch blog, the TechCrunch family includes MobileCrunch, CrunchGear, TechCrunchIT, GreenTech, TechCrunchTV and CrunchBasethat. TechCrunch also runs a number of regular conferences including the Disrupt series. All properties will be acquired by AOL as the internet firm tries to reinvent itself as a original content creator. TechCrunch was founded in 2005 by Michael Arrington, who will move to AOL. The internet firm said the TechCrunch team will retain its "editorial independence". While official figures for the deal were not revealed, the Wall Street Journal quoted people familiar with the acquisition as saying AOL paid USD30 million for TechCrunch. The blog and its network of websites attract more than 10 million unique visitors and over 33 million page views per month.