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08 January 2016
A strong year for TeliaSonera saw its CEO Brendan Ives take to the stage to collect a Global Carrier Award. He tells Agnes Stubbs why investing in customer service will set the carrier apart in 2016.
In the game of rugby, there is
a saying from the indomitable All Blacks that goes: "The first
stage of learning is silence; the second stage is
The philosophy of listening to
his customers and going where their needs are, is one that
Brendan Ives, chief executive of TeliaSonera International
Carrier (TSIC), a New Zealander – and a
passionate All Blacks fan – has set in motion since
leading the carrier in January 2014.
The philosophy is paying off.
In November, Ives collected the Best Global Wholesale Carrier
for data at the
2015 Global Carrier Awards, while his beloved All Blacks
won the Rugby World Cup final in late October. "The award is
confirmation that we are focussing on the right things
– primarily customer centricity and innovation," says
A big driver for TSIC in 2015
has been its IPX offering. It first launched its IPX service in
May 2013, which is based on its wholly-owned and fully
redundant, 100G-enabled optical network.
In April 2015, Turkcell started
offering its customers LTE roaming – in 32 countries
– with TSIC’s IPX diameter signalling
service. "For us, a big push has been on IPX. The focus on that
has been around LTE roaming," he says, noting that the
technology is in its early days as operators are still honing
their LTE strategies amid the busy landscape of IPX services.
"I’ll question anyone who claims that
they’ve got a ton of traffic driving their
At the same time, TSIC has set
about expanding its global IP backbone network, particularly in
North America. "We are focussing more on density by
adding data centres within the metros in the US," says Ives.
Houston, Texas is a good
example of where TSIC is applying fresh focus to metro
networks. Customers can now access a set of connectivity
services at its 1301 Fannin Street in May 2015, after the
carrier launched several PoPs throughout metropolitan and
suburban Dallas last year. About 40% of TSIC’s
61,500km of fibre runs through North America and its growing
presence in Dallas and Houston,– strengthened
through partnerships with Netrality Properties and Unite
Private Networks – provides a major gateway to Latin
America, including Mexico.
"We see a huge growth in Texas
that will enable us to reach the key demarcation points for
Mexico," says Ives. "We are experiencing really good growth in
Latin America. Mexico is a big market for us and we want to get
closer to the traffic."
Also in May this year, TSIC
announced that it had added 100 service provider customers in
18 months and increased its reach to 62 major North American
data centres. The US market has proven to be one of its highest
performing markets, notes Ives. "Our top-line growth has been
in excess of 25% for five years in a row now. That has been a
really big growth engine," he says.
The additional PoPs will
further extend TSIC’s 100G fibre-based
connectivity services into more North American markets. The
carrier was said to be
the first to launch its 100G-enabled network from Europe to
"We started the year a bit slow
but we’ve had a huge intake of 100G transport in
Q3 . We expect to see that continuing into Q4 in both
Europe and the US," says Ives. "It’s developing in
line with our expectations."
Creativity in managing
At a panel discussion at
Capacity Europe, Ives
urged carriers to move beyond traditional services and find
ways to be creative in how they provide and manage
"Different customers require
different services. We need to make sure we are not narrow
minded and just pushing traditional services like IP transit.
We need to be creative with managing and running services,
which is where our strengths lie," Ives said at the
So how does TSIC stay creative?
"We’ve been asking ourselves, 'What are the
components of what we do for ourselves that could be
interesting to a company?’" says Ives.
"For example, a big content
service provider may want to own fibre and choose an
application or service on top of it, but would it really want
to build up a network operations centre and an engineering team
to manage that network? That’s where TSIC steps
TSIC has been largely "inward
focussed" in the last year, says Ives. "A lot of work has been
around retooling our processes and systems. When we talk about
customer centricity, it drives everything we do."
As a result, TSIC has sought to
repackage, retool and utilise different components for
different customer needs while at the same time, staying true
to its core strengths.
"We have been operating a big
backbone and that’s what we are really good at,"
says Ives. "We are not a digging expert but once there is fibre
in the ground, we are really good at optimising the running of
the network, deploying the kit to light up the network,
managing the performance of the network."
At the same time, because of
the relatively thin margins in the competitive wholesale
market, TSIC has to be careful not to drive down costs by being
overly flexible with its offerings.
Ives observes that customers
are purchasing a lot of fibre, which has led to TSIC providing
services on top of their network.
"There’s a handful
of that happening today and that trend will continue. We are in
discussions with several clients right now," says
What is Ives’ plan
for driving profit in the coming year? "Continue to be a really
good supplier for our customers," he says without missing a
beat. "Our growth is on building market share in the markets
where we are not mainly the leader already today."
Pride in second
In Europe, the abolition of
roaming charges in all 28 countries of the EU by next year will
drive significant traffic too, he predicts. "We need to make
sure that we are one of the first companies customers are
thinking about when they start looking to solve their mobile
roaming needs, for example," he says.
TeliaSonera never had a
strategy to be the biggest, Ives maintains. "Our aim was never
to be the number one in IP transit. If you look at the US
market, we knew we were never going to be as big as some of the
gigantic companies out there. But if we can secure at least
being the alternative, then we’re well placed to
be the front runner," he explains.
Ives is likely to have the
merger of its rivals Level 3 Communications’ and
Global Crossing in mind. The
two combined forces in 2011 in a move that has since
strengthened their network footprint and balance
"We need to establish ourselves
as a strong number two player. I believe we’ve
done that by focussing on being the premium provider," assesses
Pointing to its rivals, Ives
says he does not see any competitor as niche as it is. "If you
look at the likes of Level 3 – these are great
companies but they also have a big enterprise focus. The only
thing we do is wholesale and connectivity. I like the fact that
if something goes wrong, our clients know that they can ring me
and the only thing I – and my employees –
think about is wholesale," he says.
Taking the Nordic
approach to the global market
The ongoing differentiator for
TSIC – or 'mana’ as New Zealanders call
it – will be the strengthening of its customer-centric
approach across the company and "the human factor". Rickard
Backlin, TSIC’s vice president of brand and
marketing, who was also present at the interview concurs. "We
have a Nordic heritage. We are good to do business with.
We’re open and transparent and really want to
help. It’s our way of doing business. If I may
simplify – sometimes we’re a bit stupid.
We give away things for free but in the long run, it will
always pay back. This industry is about old friends and trust.
It’s not about the quickest deal.
It’s about long-term relationship," explains
It’s one of the
reasons why he believes Swedish or Nordic global corporations
– though small – have been so successful in
the global business.
"And then you employ a CEO from
an even smaller country," Ives chimes in. As a testament to its
customer centricity, the carrier claims that its churn figures
are almost negligible. "I can count on my hand the customers
who have left," he says, adding that the customers who left
have mainly been cost-focussed.
– a team of approximately 450 people globally
– is an advantage and where needed, Ives says he can
step in and make decisions quickly. 2016 will see the carrier
continue to inject new processes and systems to reduce delivery
lead times for its customers, including making it easier for
them to provision services. That means removing the unnecessary
tasks such as having to fill up pages of contracts each time a
customer orders new capacity and making it quicker to turn up
bandwidth when they want it.
"We are small enough to be
fast. We will always be focussed on customer centricity. We are
in a heavily commoditised business. We have to differentiate
and the only way we can do that is by having an exceptional
customer experience," concludes Ives.