It's 5:00, I still haven't quite recovered from Florida and I'm up and shaving in the darkness ready for the 5:30 cab to take me to Gatwick and thence to the Isle of Man — a place described by Billy Connolly as "65,000 alcoholics clinging to a rock in the middle of the Irish sea" (a quote that Manx Telecom chief executive Chris Hall is remarkably fond of trotting out.) It's certainly the home of the grumpiest barman in the Atlantic Isles, whom we are to encounter many hours later in the airport bar on our way back.
It's wireless broadband again, only this time it's the far more corporate O2/Manx Telecom showing off the far more ready-to-eat HSDPA system that they've attached to a 3G network. Although it's the official launch of the network, it's actually been up and running for nearly a week by the time we get to see it and rather disappointingly it does exactly what the company claims. "Can I run Netmeter?" I ask. "Sure. It's already on those laptops" says the chief technology officer. It is — and the figures match what they promise. They have paying customers. They have 30 base stations across the island. They have a plausible strategy for Germany, Ireland and the UK. What's sanity doing in a mobile phone company?
Equally disappointingly, I come armed with a long rant about mobile data tariffs and find I'm pushing at an open door. O2 knows all about bill shock and claims with some believability to be against it. After three months finding out how people are using the network, they're keen to get the tariffs set up so that people can actually use the system. They're not keen on letting the filesharers go mad, but other than that… well, we'll see. I do make repeated requests for low tariffs and generous bundles. Let's hope.
There is one reassuring departure from making sense. I ask about voice over IP using HSDPA. "No," says the CTO. "We can't see that being a good idea. It probably won't be a reasonable value proposition". This stance is somewhat weakened when they show a video clip of a BBC report from the island, where the network is used instead of some wired broadband that didn't work properly. The BBC engineer in charge is delighted to be able to make the broadcast link back to the studio over the system — using, rather inevitably, Skype on a laptop
It further turns out that just about everyone in the boardroom has their own Skype account, and it doesn't take long for the Manx Telecom bods to tacitly admit that yes, perhaps people will use it for that after all. I end up using Skype to talk back to the office (thus bypassing the horrendous roaming rates on the island) while I flash some screenshots over. It's not going away — and in the same week that the CEO of France Telecom said that voice is going to be free, the future seems inevitable.
And so after a long day we're given a bottle of Manx Spirit apiece — a most peculiar beverage — and drive through the countryside to our encounter with the grumpiest man on earth.