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Can an Irish upstart save the internet?

IT'S not every fledgling tech company that gets name-checked by Bono. Twice. In a recent Hotpress interview he praises "the wealth of technological geniuses that we have here. People like the Intune Networks -- there's two young PhD students who could change the world, literally". He bigged them up again on Today FM.

The two "geniuses" are John Dunne and Tom Farrell, who started Intune as a campus company in 1999 as young UCD research boffins. They've come a long way.

At a launch party for Intune's game-changing new product line, Verisma, which went commercial last week, high-flying investors and supporters mill around. Bono's brother, Norman Hewson, pops in, Google and Bebo investor, Balderton's Barry Maloney, is there, and goldmining legend Sam Jonah, also an investor, is there.

There's no sign of Dermot Desmond, or anyone from Twitter investor Spark Capital or Acorn Computer pioneer Hermann Hauser's Amadeus Capital, but they're all Intune backers.

To give a context to Verisma's potential: just as early computers filled entire rooms and were shrink-rayed down to tablet size, Verisma compacts down miles of fibreoptic cable and thousands of silicon chips, into something the size of a small fridge. This unprepossessing-looking grey box of switches and cables stands in the launch party room at the Gibson Hotel, as trays of wine and canapés fly by all around.

Take say, the Olympics 2012. There'll be a storm of internet TV watching, YouTubing, tweeting, mobile video and digital image sending: a gigantic data-gobbling power surge over 15 days. Verisma can wing these massive amounts of data to where it needs to go, way faster -- about 80 per cent faster -- than existing broadband. It's all done with different coloured lasers, or Optical Burst technology.

The target customers are the telco giants: O2, Vodafone, BT et al, "The guys," says CEO Tim Fritzley, "who run the biggest networks in the world, that operate in the biggest cities and areas where fibre networks are just bursting at the seams."

After the science comes the selling. This is where seasoned Silicon Valley pro Fritzley comes into his own.

Lured here five years ago by Dunne and Farrell, he's become progressively paler but retains his white-toothed Californian smile and boundless enthusiasm.

Fritzley was sales VP at Microsoft TV. "With Microsoft I travelled the world, and I could see that the networks were going to collapse under all of this video that was coming along in 2003-2005 when social networking and YouTube hit. They are going to have to completely transition -- new architecture, new technology, new software.

"I just felt that John and Tom's was the right technology. What really attracted me to them was that they'd done a phenomenal job on patenting all their intellectual property."

The likes of multi-billion-dollar revenued Cisco are now playing catch-up and Fritzley says Intune is five years ahead of the posse.

He has built up a sales team with "fantastic" contacts. "If you're a start-up, you can't depend on another equipment vendor like an Ericsson or an Alcatel or a Cisco to represent you at early stage -- their goal is to burn you out of cash so that they can buy the technology cheap.

"With your own sales force, you go after their customers, then you get traction and the big guys think 'we better partner with them before somebody else does'. It's a balance of fear and greed." A global distribution agreement has just been inked with one large equipment vendor and another is close to signing.

Would Alcatel-Lucent or Cisco not just save themselves the trouble and buy Intune out? "They will always look at that," says Fritzley, "but we don't want to sell early, we want to create this very valuable company. We would love nothing more than to go all the way through to IPO, so we're in no rush to sell.

Meanwhile, Intune is gearing for profitability. "We're not cashflow positive yet, but we are in revenue. We did about €10m last year, we hope to do €26m this year, in 2012 we're looking to do about €100m and we'll go up to €200m-€300m after that. We are targeting that for 2012 we're cashflow positive."

As well as selling Verisma, Fritzley is drumming up more money. "We're just doing our series C round right now, targeting €30m-plus for this round. I would hope to raise more than that." Intune is currently funded at €49m.

Fritzley didn't expect to be here this long. "In a few more months I qualify for permanent residency!" But he's certain the Californian sunshine deprivation will be worth it.

Sunday Indo Business