Mark Amoss, BT international voice: Vibrant about voice
If revenues from voice services are ultimately doomed, someone forgot to tell Mark Amoss. Alex Hawkes talks to BT’s general manager of international voice sales and works.
Mark Amoss is that rare thing in the voice market: an ardent optimist. The head of BT’s international voice sales sees a vibrant and promising future where most see only gloom and despair. He loves the market that pretty much everyone else loves to hate: at every turn his conversation turns to the positive, his tone infectiously upbeat. That’s pretty remarkable for anyone trying to tease growth out of voice services - especially for someone who at the time of the interview was struggling with a back strain picked up from one too many long-haul business flights.
Faced with fierce competition, stalling growth and rapidly disappearing profit margins, many carriers have all but stopped investing in their TDM assets as they look to an IP future. Not so Amoss, whose focus is very much on the here and now. A keen big-game fisherman, Amoss thinks there’s a big prize still lurking just beneath the surface of the voice market and he’s determined to land it. “When HD voice comes out, jaws are really going to drop,” he predicts.
HD voice technology essentially blocks out background noise and uses voice-amplifying techniques to improve all-round sound quality. The technology is set to revolutionise the voice market, encouraging customers to make longer calls more frequently. Ahead of its competitors, BT has already successfully trialled the technology and plans to launch a new HD platform this summer. According to Amoss, it is, quite simply, one of the biggest fishes out there.
“I don’t think HD TV really lived up to the hype. But with HD voice, the difference between a normal SD call and a HD voice call is so fundamentally different that brains will really click into gear about how much of an extra enhancement to a service they can get.” Such is the quality of the service, claims Amoss, that it can even help soften foreign accents.
Inbetween the old and the new
Technology and innovation, Amoss vows, can still inject new life into voice services as carriers prepare the transition from TDM to IP. “I spend a lot of my time talking about the focus of IP, but it would be dismissive of me to not mention our TDM assets. We are spending a lot of capex and opex on IP moving forward in the future, but we, of course, have these large legacy networks that we will continue to do business on,” he says.
And for the time being at least, such legacy networks continue to be the voice market’s ‘cash cow’. Amoss points to BT increasing its number of IP-originated minutes to around 15-16% of its overall international voice traffic over the last 18 months. This is a figure, he says, that the company is happy with and which broadly represents where other Tier 1 carriers might also be at.
It is also a stark reminder that the crucial tipping point when the voice market finally yields to IP is still some way off.
A balancing act is therefore emerging between the voice networks of the past and those of the future. To manage that balance profitably, Amoss says, carriers must be flexible and nimble in bringing new products to the voice market. While each region and market has its own idiosyncrasies, one overall trend transcends geography:
“Bespoke solutions for different customers are becoming more of an industry norm. A few years ago, there wasn’t as much choice as there is now in terms of vendors and suppliers. This helps with both sourcing legacy TDM kits in various parts of the world, as well as supporting different types of IP. You have to be flexible with what you can offer a customer.”
By doing this, carriers such as BT can focus on introducing what Amoss likes to refer to as “different flavours of voice” over IP. Again, with that unswerving enthusiasm and energy that characterises much of his views of the continuing potential of voice, Amoss points to the increasing number of voice services that can run over the same interconnect and the opportunities they afford BT.
Getting yourself heard
Of all these opportunities, HD voice is clearly the one that has caught his imagination the most. And watching a demonstration of the service it’s easy to see why. It aims to tackle an all too familiar problem facing every mobile phone user on the planet; namely that of hearing yourself and the caller speak in a noisy environment.
Both an HD-ready handset and an HD-enabled network are required to operate an HD voice service. And for the carrier providing that service, it’s a case of matching the codecs between the inward and outward calls before handing over to the network terminator.
“Now the great news with HD voice is that if any one of those components isn’t there – so for example, the codecs don’t match or the HD-enabled network isn’t switched on – the call drops back to an SD voice service,” says Amoss. “In other words, it can only enhance the service for customers, it can’t make it worse as it drops back to the original quality.”
Crucially, HD has been shown to extend the duration of a call by an average of 12-16%. “Extending existing calls is one of the easiest ways to make a profit,” says Amoss. “From a network perspective, it also doesn’t involve any additional bandwidth as you are restricting the number of short duration calls you are trying to set up over the network. It will effectively limit the number of times users stop calls due to background noise and try again.”
Trials and tribulations
BT first conducted live demonstration of HD voice calls to customers across its platforms in November, which Amoss believes marked an industry first. The company then officially unveiled the capability at PTC in January. According to the GSA, there are now some 39 mobile operators worldwide able to support HD, and approximately 70 HD-enabled handsets on the consumer market, including the likes of the iPhone 4S.
“Other carriers will obviously make their own network investment decisions, but I think the industry is alive to the fact that HD voice has now arrived,” says Amoss.
While Amoss wouldn’t commit to what exact level of investment is required by carriers above purchasing HD-enabled kit, he does see HD voice offering a long-term profit as a premium service. “We haven’t at the moment put targets in place for our HD voice service, but in terms of increasing traffic from TDM to IP, we think it will help accelerate that amount,” he adds.
Amoss and BT will find out soon enough when the service commercially launches this summer, but even if it doesn’t take off with quite the velocity at which he expects, there is a principle of innovation at play here that chooses to rise above the perceived limitations of the current voice market. “It is incredibly crucial to have the ability to innovate and come up with new products and solutions,” says Amoss. “A lot of carriers will obviously be investing in new kit and networks through collaboration with existing suppliers, but I think that should be viewed independently to having your own research and development team.”
Amoss is referring in particular to BT’s main research facility located in the heart of Suffolk, UK, at Adastral Park. With a R&D team of 4,000 supported by eight other research labs worldwide, the scale of the operations signifies BT’s growing attention to technology as a potential game changer in the wholesale and wider telecoms market. “When you have your own in-house R&D, you are able to look towards the future for customers – be it retail or wholesale – with more confidence of delivering a better service. Patents also offer up new opportunities, as you are then able to earn royalties by selling the technology to other customers and carriers,” says Amoss.
It was within the company’s R&D facility that the platforms for BT’s HD voice service were designed, and Amoss has similar faith that the team will be able to repeat that success: “HD voice, SMS hubbing and GRX are all examples of different services that are going to be running over the same interconnect. For me, that means you have all these different services you can start selling and just who knows where in a few years time the technology will continue to take us,” he says.
BT Global Services
History: BT Global Services is the international arm of the UK’s BT Group. The company has operations across the world in a range of sectors and is a global leader in the provision of managed network IT services.
General Manager: Mark Amoss has been general manager of international voice sales and works at BT Global Services’ international voice business since 2011. Before this role, he led commercial management at BT Wholesale. He has 20+ years of experience in the telecoms industry, including finance and interconnect related management positions at Colt and Cable&Wireless.
Revenue: BT Global Services generated approximately £8 billion in revenue in 2011. 40% of BT Group’s 2011 external revenue came from BT Global Services.
Customers: BT Global Services’ customers include multinational corporations, domestic businesses and national and local government organisations worldwide. The majority of its global revenue comes from corporate customers.
Network: BT Global Services’ key assets include a global, all-IP 21CN, data centres, integration professionals and security experts. The company has 3,000 points of presence in more than 170 countries.
Products and services: BT Global Services offers networked IT services, Ethernet, fixed calls and lines, audio and videoconferencing, Wifi mobility, professional services and wholesale network capacity.