Irish companies show innovative strength and sign lucrative deals on global stage
MORE than 70 Irish companies showcased their wares at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona this week.
They range in scope from one that improves network coverage in remote parts of Africa to one that enables you to pay for your morning coffee with the swipe of a phone.
"The Irish mobile technology industry is young, innovative and punches well above its weight compared to the size of the country," said Jennifer Condon, head of software at Enterprise Ireland, the government agency that helps start-ups and small businesses to grow.
Many of the Irish firms either have their own stands or take part in private meetings, but each year Enterprise Ireland also subsidises the presence of a dozen young firms on its booth.
Robert Bushnell, development adviser at the agency, said: "All of the companies at the Enterprise Ireland stand are smallish but they're acting globally -- they're meeting people from the Middle East, Africa, Brazil, Russia, from all over the world.
"This is the biggest mobile technology show in the world; this is a chance for Irish firms to showcase their technology. They can meet a lot of good people here. The Enterprise Ireland stand acts as a hub for people to come together -- such as investors or big companies who want to work with our firms."
Industry veteran Colm Greally heads up Digital Reach, a Dublin-based web development and digital ads company that was set up only 15 months ago. It created RTE's iPhone/iPad apps plus the technology that serves up ads within them.
It has seen its ad traffic rise tenfold since Mobile World Congress last year and has also tied up deals with the BBC to provide ads on its website.
"You get to meet people you don't normally meet in a condensed three-day period," said Mr Greally. "We've spoken to companies from Indonesia to India to the US.
"Without Enterprise Ireland, we couldn't afford to come to Barcelona and they deliver to us a constant stream of people we might be able to do business with."
Gerry McQuaid is commercial director of Cubic Telecom, which used MWC to announce a deal with Ryanair to sell phone SIMs under the MaxRoam brand.
The SIMs cut down the cost of roaming by offering a single rate to make calls in any of 43 European countries while allowing calls to be received for free.
"This conference is huge to us," said Mr McQuaid. "It's been bedlam here. We've had a bunch of meetings with carriers, internet companies and distributors."
Zapa is a young Dublin company working in the hot new area of near-field communication (NFC). Essentially, it's like having a smartcard built into your mobile that enables you to make small payments by waving your phone at an electronic reader in a shop. The technology requires a small ID chip attached to your phone but is just beginning to appear built into new mobiles and is expected to feature in the next iPhone.
"There are three main areas we work in NFC -- payments, loyalty cards and coupon redemption," said Donal Gallagher, Zapa's chief operating officer. Zapa already has several schemes up and running, including one with the Insomnia coffee chain that began in 2009.
"We're already in the UK and we're talking to operators in Germany. We've enabled five towns in Ireland where the majority of retailers have been fitted with NFC."
Social network software firm NewBay is a graduate of the Enterprise Ireland stand, having moved this year to take its own large booth along the Irish contingent as the company expands.
Triona Mullane, chief technology officer, explained: "We provide mobile operators with the software that backs up all their customers' content -- pictures, videos, etc -- on to the internet, so they can access it anywhere on any device."
This week at MWC, NewBay, which has offices in Dublin and Seattle, unveiled a deal with electronics giant LG to provide the software to all of LG's devices -- for example, phones, cameras and TVs.
"We have 56 million users worldwide in the US, Australia and Europe," said Ms Mullane.
"MWC has become the premier show in the world for mobile -- I've met potential customers from India, Korea, Austria, South Africa and the US this week. We got several deals out of last year's show."