Business Irish

Thursday 23 November 2017

Airspeed boss O'Kelly gets a big boost from Obama and the queen

60-second pitch: Why you should invest in Airspeed Telecom

Liam O’Kelly, MD of AirSpeed Telecom
Liam O’Kelly, MD of AirSpeed Telecom
Louise McBride

Louise McBride

WHEN Dubliner Liam O'Kelly started off his career in a workshop, repairing equipment, little did he know that he would be building TV stations around the world in his early 30s – and helping to broadcast the Irish visits of Queen Elizabeth and Barack Obama when he was in his 40s.

He is MD of AirSpeed Telecom, which he set up with Gerry Giblin in 2003 to provide telecommunications services to businesses.

O'Kelly had built up an eye for technology while building the infrastructure for television stations, including TG4 and Orbit Satellite Television and Radio Network, a television network for the Middle East which was developed in Rome. It was this eye for technology that spurred him to co-found AirSpeed Telecom.

"I first came across wireless technologies in the late 1990s and by 2003 these technologies had started to look quite interesting," said O'Kelly.

"I was well aware of the limitations of the telecommunications structures in Ireland at the time. The fact that I saw these technologies showed me there was an opportunity to do something different here and to offer alternative telecommunications services to businesses."

The company has certainly done well here. It has snapped up some high-profile clients, including RTE, TG4, Dairygold, Zurich, Chill Insurance and the Keelings Group.

It had a turnover of about €12.3m in 2013, up almost 25 per cent on the previous year. Its turnover of €10m in 2012 was about 40 per cent higher than in 2011.

So what is driving this turnover growth? O'Kelly puts it down to the company's ability to "constantly innovate" and help customers save money.

"In the recent challenging economic times, a lot of companies looked to save costs," said O'Kelly. "Many years ago, we wouldn't have got a hearing as businesses often went for the incumbents.

"During the tough years of the recession, companies were more willing to give us a hearing as they wanted to save money. We've come out of the recession with a good reputation and a strong business."

As for innovative technologies, about four years ago, AirSpeed teamed up with the independent Irish satellite communications service, Digital Space, to launch a live broadcasting service, known as LiveLinx.

This technology, which allows live outside broadcasting within a set area, was used to broadcast the visits of Obama and Queen Elizabeth in 2011.

LiveLinx has also been used to provide the temporary broadcast links for other events, such as sports, elections, press conferences and live music festivals. For example, the bloodstock company Tattersalls recently used Livelinx to broadcast live racing from Fairyhouse Racecourse.

The main advantage of Livelinx is that it allows companies to broadcast live from different events without having to hire camera crews or engineers, thereby reducing costs.

AirSpeed has also hooked up with Digital Space to offer a technology which allows broadcasters to transmit newscasts directly to the newsroom. This technology, which is known as Metrocam, is used by TV3.

AirSpeed was also the first to come to the market with SIP Voice – a technology that allows businesses to make telephone calls using their broadband connection, according to O'Kelly. The main advantage of the technology is that the business can save on monthly landline charges as there is no need to pay for both phone lines and a broadband connection.

Another thing that has helped drive AirSpeed's growth is the demand for good broadband from businesses based in rural areas.

"We are very well known for providing high connectivity to businesses around the country," said O'Kelly. "Many multinationals were located in areas which were starved of employment and infrastructure. We have been successful in helping those businesses out there.

"We have built a large broadband network on the western sea board, as well as networks all over Donegal. The demand for bandwidth [the amount of data which can be transferred from one point to another in a given time] has grown and will continue to grow exponentially. Businesses are looking for networks to provide multiple connectivity."

The rising threat of hacking attacks – which saw almost half of Irish firms hacked over the last year – means that cyber security has become a new aspect of AirSpeed's business.

"If we go back a few years, customers were really only interested in bandwidth," said O'Kelly. "More recently, security has also become an important issue for a lot of customers."

AirSpeed has partnered with Fortinet, a worldwide provider of network security appliances, to offer a computer-security system which is based on cloud technology.

"There is and is going to be a huge demand for cloud security," said O'Kelly. "If people lose a computer or network connection, or a connection is compromised in any way, their business can't function. So security is a huge issue."

O'Kelly, who is 48 and married with two children, describes himself as "obsessed with" his job. "I'm interested in technology and my job is my hobby," he said.

Most of AirSpeed's business is based in Ireland. Although O'Kelly is interested in expanding elsewhere, he will do so carefully.

"We have connectivity in Northern Ireland and we have some business in Britain – mainly for Irish companies based over there," he said.

"We have ambitions to expand and we'd look at other geographic locations. But we are quite conservative, so we would look to do that carefully."

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