The magical year 2000 marked the entrance of a new millennium, with an ever-increasing impact of information technology on everyday life. On the internet with its countless application options, new business and revenue models have mushroomed, for example, along with an accompanying increasing demand for bandwidth. It was also the year two leading players in the Dutch bandwidth market were founded: Speer IT and Eurofiber. In an interview, Kees Jonker, CEO Speer IT, and Eric Kuisch, COO Eurofiber, look back to the past and ahead to the future.
The start of the new millennium was very promising. The feared millennium bug in the computer systems turned out not to have a great impact on organisations and citizens, in retrospect. The internet was also increasingly being perceived as more than just a place to put up a shop window website. E-commerce sites like eBay and Amazon had already been active for a few years, but in 2000, the floodgates were really opened. Companies, governments and private individuals all created an explosion of websites and therefore also an explosion in internet traffic. With the growth of application options of the internet, the need for bandwidth also increased. At that time, it was already clear that a more future-proof alternative to the traditional network infrastructure that was based on copper and coax would eventually be needed. The first large-scale fibre optics networks were therefore installed around 2000.
In 2000, Speer IT started its work, Kees Jonker tells us: “The founders of Speer IT, Mark van der Heijden and Peterpaul Brundel, decided to start an IT company together at that time. A few months after the start, operator Telfort dropped in. He asked if Speer IT could help with a migration, because Mark and Peterpaul had worked with telecommunications before. The task was transferring the information through a fiber optics network of the Dutch Railways. Telfort had purchased a concession on that at that time. The data in question had to be migrated to the fiber optics information system that Telfort was using. Marc and Peterpaul then wrote special migration software for this. Telfort liked that application better than the American fiber optics information system that had been purchased at a high price. Telfort therefore asked if they could continue to use Marc and Peterpaul’s software. That was the flying start of Speer IT and Cocon, our software for the registration of landline and mobile network infrastructure. At one point, operator BT took over that part of Telfort. The funny thing is that BT is still one of our clients. We also have a long-term relationship with Eurofiber; we’ve been working together for about seventeen years now.”
“Eurofiber started in 2000 with the construction of the Randstad Ring, a fiber optics network that ran between Amsterdam, Utrecht, Rotterdam and The Hague,” Eric Kuisch reminisces in turn. The first part of what would later become a nationwide digital infrastructure. At that time, he was not working at Eurofiber yet, but was active at another big telecom company, KPN. “That was during the time that IT and telecom were booming, just before the internet bubble burst in 2001. A lot of telecom parties were constructing network infrastructure with high bandwidth then. It was a wild time, when big investments were made, and the Dutch market was seen as a springboard to the international market by various telecom companies.” His employer at the time was one of those companies that was looking to expand from the Dutch domestic market to other countries in Europe. “At that time, we were busy becoming a Pan-European telecom player and were not fully focused on the Netherlands. That was our domestic market in which we already had a dominant position. In that lee, various players, such as Eurofiber, were able to continue rolling out digital infrastructure in the Netherlands, with relatively little disturbance.” In the years after that, Eurofiber took its first steps into the international markets with a series of acquisitions. At the same time, there was a lot of investment going on in the Netherlands, Kuisch says: “Around 2006, mobile telephony started to accelerate rapidly. This led to a greater need for fiber optics for mobile phone masts, something Eurofiber knew how to deal with. That demand caused a boost in the company’s growth. Because the great thing was that Eurofiber was able to use the expansion of its fiber optics requested by mobile operators as a steppingstone to supplying bandwidth to other companies.”
Fast forward to 2020: both Eurofiber and Speer IT have grown enormously, in terms of the scope of the portfolio, the number of clients and employees and they are focusing on the international market. Both companies are now active in a number of countries. Speer IT serves various clients, including in Belgium, Germany, Great Britain, Ireland, the Middle East, Spain and Turkey, with the multinational version of its flagship Cocon, via the cloud. Growth that was purely organic, Kees Jonker explains. “I joined Speer IT as a partner about five years ago. The company was at a crucial point: something had to be done to make additional, stable growth possible. I came from the KLM, where I had led big domestic and international operations. The contrast with Speer IT, which at that time was a company with just seventeen employees, could not have been greater.” Jonker could see that the next step must be taken to ensure that the potential of Speer IT and its products would be used optimally. “One of the main changes that sped up our growth, paradoxically, was that we opted to restrict the speed of the software development, without sacrificing our versatility and flexibility. Because to roll out a new version quickly is inevitably coupled with technical errors. And as a reliable supplier, that is something we don’t want. We also put more focus on business operations. Those steps gave our growth additional impetus. By now, just in the Netherlands, we have 99 percent of all the Fiber to the Home connections in our database.”
Eurofiber in turn operates both fiber optics networks and regional data centres abroad – through acquisitions and organic growth. What has not changed over the years is the close collaboration between the two companies. Kees Jonker: “We see our clients more like partners in ‘small marriages’. You know that in relationships there are times when things are more challenging, and you need to pick up things for the other partner. And that you need to talk about it. And that the cause is often on both sides of the table. Then you have to get together and solve the problem. This builds mutual trust and you strengthen each other. Just like in a marriage. That is no different in the relationship between Speer IT and Eurofiber.” Eurofiber’s international expansion also creates opportunities for Speer IT, Eric Kuisch tells us: “We recently did an acquisition in France. We plan to use Cocon there to map out our assets.”
The corona pandemic has disrupted everyone’s social life considerably all over the world. Citizens, companies and governments have had to deal with the effects of the various restrictive measures that are supposed to stop the rise of the COVID-19 virus. At the same time, it also brought another challenge for many IT and network companies with it. The demand for bandwidth exploded, because working from home became the new norm in a very short time. Both Eurofiber and Speer IT have had to deal with that. Companies were dependent on the digital infrastructure to enable employees to continue their work. Video conferencing replaced physical meetings and traditional education. The upscaling of band width went really well, both Eric Kuisch and Kees Jonker ascertain. A successful operation with a harsh cause. Eric: “The digitization of companies and governments has been sped up due to the corona pandemic. If there is anything in this crisis that can be called positive, this is it.”
What will the future bring for both companies? Eurofiber does not expect this growth to slow down any time soon. We are swimming with the tide: the need for reliable, safe digital infrastructure and high bandwidth is only increasing, both in the Netherlands and in the rest of Europe. The same applies to Speer IT. Because the growing hunger for bandwidth is coupled with the expansion of a fixed and mobile network infrastructure. And all those network components – both existing and new – literally need to be mapped out properly.