Posts Tagged ‘dublin’

There was a lot of publicity a few months ago when the contract to provide free public WiFi in parts of Dublin was put out to tender. As someone with a more than passing interest in that area I blogged about my opinion.

Anyway, things quieted down after the tender was announced and it sort of disappeared  from the news. So much that last week I wondered what had happened and asked around to find out if the contract had been awarded and if so to whom. I fairly quickly found out that the tender had indeed been awarded to the Spanish company Gowex late last month. In itself that’s a good thing as Gowex has a wealth of experience in this area and a good reputation. However what did surprise me is the total absence of any mention of this in the Irish (or other) media. All I could find was a brief mention on the website “Spanish Business“.

 

It’s strange that not even Dublin City Council has issued a press release about something that was given so much publicity previously. One could be forgiven to expect that it being the silly season for news that at least one news publication or website would have had a few column inches to spare for this news but three weeks after the date nothing has been published so far…

 

 

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Last week Labour Councillor Oisin Quinn announced that his proposal to provide free public wifi in certain parts of Dublin had gone out to tender. This is further than the proposal by FG councillor Naoise O’Muiri in 2007 had gotten when his proposal was dead-ended out of fears that it might be seen as illegal interference in the public telecoms market.

Now as anyone who knows me will confirm I am a staunch supporter of free public WiFi and have come out in support of schemes like this on several occasions. However, while Councillor Quinns idea is in essence well-meaning the whole execution of the tender process is ham-fisted and devoid of any bit of understanding of what providing public wifi actually entails.  DISCLOSURE: I have on several occasions offered councillor Quinn my assistance in speccing and preparing the tender. All on a pro-bono basis. This has not led to any meaningful discussion on the topic.

So, when the RFT was put up on eTenders I quickly logged on to have a look. The RFT consisted out of two documents; the actual tender document and a map of locations where Dublin City Council had decided that the service should be provided. I won’t discuss the actual locations any further than to say that some of them make no sense to me. However the “where” decision is totally up to Dublin City Council as they know Dublin better than me.

The locations are as follows:

  • Smithfield Square
  • Barnardo’s Square
  • Clarendon Street
  • St. Patrick’s Park
  • O’Connell Street Plaza / GPO
  • Temple Bar Square
  • Wolfe Tone Square
  • Frontage to the Convention Centre Dublin
  • Merrion Square
  • Henry Street
  • Grafton Street (on conclusion of current works planned in the Grafton St area)
  • Outdoor amphitheatre located at Civic Offices.

However what really annoys the hell out of me is the utter and complete lacks of any technical specifications from the actual tender document. There is no single attempt to set out the technical & performance criteria for this network. The closest that the document comes to this is by using the terms “wifi” (without any further elaboration if it should be 802.11 a,b,c or n), “Quality of Service ” (without describing what quality this service should be) and “minimum standard of broadband speed” (again without specifying what exactly the minimum acceptable broadband speed is). Futhermore, while it clearly states that the service should include a “The number of minutes of connection per day and/or per session which will be provided free” it also states that Dublin City Council will NOT pay for any of the wifi service or infra-structure. Hence the conclusion can be drawn that whichever bidder is succesful in their bid will only offer the absolute minimum amount of free access and thereby rubbish the claims of “free public wifi for Dublin” that are bandied about. What is absolutely clear by all this is that whoever drafted the RFT had no knowledge whatsoever of what the provision of wifi entitled. Also they didn’t try to get some qualified advice on the matter. This becomes even clearer when one reads the follow-up questions on the RFT and the replies given.

Honesty requires that I admit that the last question was posted by myself but the reply given clearly illustrates the issue. Nobody in Dublin City Council has any idea and they are relying on the tender submission to provide them with sufficient background to make a valid judgement. This approach simply to stupid for words but typifies the general approach by the Irish public sector to technology projects. Not only do they not have any idea that there are different wifi standards they also haven’t got the slightest idea what minimum performance standards to expect. What makes it even more ludicrous is the fact that they really only speak about “internet access” and seem to be ignorant of any other services that this network could be used for. They could take an example from the network being build in San Jose, California. This network will not only provide wifi access, it will also support a myriad of new applications such as high-definition video, parking meters and digital parking guidance signs, video surveillance, and traffic signaling. The network will also play a key role in offloading mobile data traffic from congested cellular networks and will be used to backhaul data traffic to the Internet. By not demanding the inclusion of at least half of these services Dublin will get an outdated network and service and rather than an asset to the city it will be an embarrassment.

What I suggested to councillor O’Muiri in 2007 and what I still see as a valid option now is that Dublin city builds the network itself and keeps the ownership of the infra-structure BUT that they provide a number of operators access to the network for the provision of public wifi services. A proposal like this will *not* breach EU legislation in regards to a public sector entity operating in the private market, it will ensure a healthy & ongoing competition in the provision of public wifi and it will also allow Dublin City Council or any commercial operator to provide the above mentioned additional services (high-definition video, parking meters and digital parking guidance signs, video surveillance, and traffic signaling). All this will also generate revenue for the city.

The current plan will almost certainly lead to a sub-standard service with limited free access. What’s more it will have to compete with commercial operators such as BitBuzz who have announced that if they do not win the tender they will provide a competing service in the same areas and Eircom who recently announced an expansion of their wifi hotspot network from 700 to 4000 in the next few years.

As a closing I just want to re-state my offer, if Dublin City Council is interested I am still willing to provide pro-bono assistance. This could even be in evaluating the tender applications. (NOTE: I am not submitting a tender application myself or am in any way linked to any other applicants).

The above line is taken from a bronze plaque on the base of the Statue of Liberty. This statue has become an iconic symbol for the masses of emigrants who sought a better life in the USA. A very large percentage of these emigrants came from Ireland. You would expect that a country whose people were welcomed with open arms in the USA would at some later stage be eager to return the favour….

Fast forward to 2012. Ireland is in the throes of the worst economic depression in at least 30 years. The FG/Labour government is issuing press release after press release on how our future is in the tech industry and how we need to attract foreign investment, knowledge and entrepreneurs who will create fantastic amounts of jobs to compensate the 400,000 odd unemployed people in Ireland.

And then a Brian Flanagan arrives in Dublin airport. Brian is visiting Ireland from the US as he is looking to hire 15 people to work for a company called “New Context” . He is clearly the type of person who we need here! But no, the Immigration Officer on duty decides in his infinite wisdom that Brian’s reason for visiting is too vague and refuses him entry to the country. See the document below:

Now the company that Brian works for is not some fly-by-night outfit. One look at the people involved will tell you that. Take for instance Joi Ito the Co-chairman. Joi is a very well-known activist, entrepreneur, investor, director of MIT Media Lab, Chairman of Creative Commons and more. Obviously this was not something that the immigration officer was aware of. No, he refused to let Brian into the country. He was told that it was impossible that someone as young as him was here to hire people. Absolute ignorance. Following the refusal Brian was locked in a holding room awaiting further processing.

Enter Paddy Cosgrave of WebSummit fame. Paddy tweeted the following message:

Paddy’s tweet was retweeted by a number of people and the story started to spread. As is so often the case with Twitter the story was picked up by a few people in the media and political world and I am sure calls were being made and pressure exerted. The result was good news, after several hours in a locked room Brian was finally allowed into the country.

Now while this case ended relatively well it has caused some damage to Ireland’s reputation. I know from my own recent experiences that the people on duty at our borders can do with a crash-course in customer services and manners. They are the first faces that any visitor to Ireland encounters and if these people through lack of training or awareness keep turning people away we will always remain a country on the periphery of Europe. We should set up “Come and do business in Ireland” kiosks in every arrival and departure lounge in the country. Those locations have a captive audience of people entering the country or those who have just visited. If we can capture some of the investment potential of these visitors it would provide a valuable asset to our economy. It’s an idea that would require relatively little investment. Man the booth with a mix of people with public sector & private sector backgrounds and occasionally stick in a high-profile entrepreneur in one. I am sure that the return on investment on such a program would be a substantial multiple of the costs….