Sunday 22 September 2019

Top-secret innovation will revolutionise internet use

With laser technology, Intune Networks has an Irish solution to a universal problem, writes Jane Suiter

Intune: CEO Tim Fritzley and chief marketing officer John Dunne.
Intune: CEO Tim Fritzley and chief marketing officer John Dunne.

EVER been annoyed at the crappy resolution on a YouTube video? Enraged that you couldn't see the ball when watching the Ryder Cup on the net? Or simply wanted to have a real high-definition chat with your colleagues around the world? Then an Irish company may have the answer to your problems.

Intune Networks, described by hi-tech investment expert Barry Maloney as one of the hottest opportunities in the world, is getting ready to unveil its new laser network.

The technology is ultra geeky and complicated -- suffice to say it could mean that all your internet hassles are over.

The company was founded in 1999 by John Dunne (then a UCD PhD) and researcher Tom Farrell when they turned down job offers in the US and the UK in favour of setting up their own firms with the help of four angel investors and Enterprise Ireland.

They began selling manufacturing equipment, but were determined to do something new -- and so they also kept their heads down at R&D. In 2003, they hit potential gold, inventing laser technology that has the potential to transform the way we use the web.

The invention attracted some big names in Silicon Valley, and now the former Santa Barbara denizen and Microsoft TV executive Tim Fritzley has taken over the CEO job, with Dunne moving to chief marketing officer.

Fritzley, an enthusiastic Californian, is just about coping with the Irish weather -- but he is evangelical about the technology. It means, he says, that anyone will be able to have as much bandwidth as they like on demand -- where and when they need it.

This new network will simply allocate a 100 per cent guaranteed amount of space to wherever you want it. Right now, watching high-definition video of a live sports event is impossible through the internet, explains Dunne. Intune will unblock this using optical technology.

This technology will deliver voice, music, video -- you name it -- on demand. It will change the way we interact and will mean the equivalent of HDTV instantly, wherever you are -- whether at home, on a bus or on the beach. The best bit is that you will pay for only what you use.

"We're talking zeta bytes," says Dunne. That's millions and millions of zeros to you and me.

The company will be selling this technology to all the big internet providers across the world. Everything is still top secret, but what they can say is that the technology has been validated by several large telecom companies.

The other main benefit from the major telecoms' point of view, claims Dunne, is that it drastically reduces their energy consumption by as much as 75 per cent while space requirements will fall by up to 50 per cent.

Some large telecom companies -- such as Deutsche Telecom -- can be responsible for up to 3 per cent of a nation's power needs, so this is potentially a mega reduction.

A typical exchange will have hundreds of switching devices from Cisco and massive fan systems. That will be gone. Indeed, if Intune has its way, it will be taking over large parts of that market from Cisco.

"This is going to be the Nokia of Ireland," predicts an excitable Fritzley.

The market is considerable -- worth $15bn a year globally -- but what is most remarkable is that Dunne has not yet encountered any competition.

Basically, the company invented the technology and has patented all the key elements. Research and development is continuing and Intune now employs 88 people, more than half of whom have PhDs.

Just two years ago, when Fritzley joined, there were 14 people employed, but the plan is to have 100 by the end of this year. He went out fundraising and came up with a €13.5m package from a consortium of venture capitalists, including the lead investor and the largest in Europe, Balderton, run by Barry Maloney (see panel). Amadeus, London's oldest venture capitalist, and the Boston based Spark, are also in there.

In the meantime, the company has opened a research and development office in Belfast, where there is lots of optical expertise thanks to Nortel and Fujitsu.

And Fritzley is now going after the next round of fundraising.

"We need to grow to about 200 people to be able to have this on the market within 18 months," Fritzley says.

Anyone wondering where to put their money in these uncertain times is welcome to come and talk, he quips.

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