TTI's Mehmet Toros: Growing partnerships and enhancing cooperation
Mehmet Toros took over as CEO of Türk Telekom International (TTI) Group from Cengiz Oztelcan in November 2016, who left after four years in the role. Jason McGee-Abe interviewed him for Capacity about his first few months in the role and TTI’s strategic priorities in 2017.
When asked what the main areas of focus have been in the first few months in the new role, Toros’ immediate response is: ‘SEA-ME-WE-5’. We are speaking one week before the SEA-ME-WE-5 project launch celebration event in Istanbul, which TTI is organising. TTI is one of 19 SEA-ME-WE-5 consortium members, and the cable is set to strengthen its unique terrestrial network between three continents.
“Our main focus is to increase the number of partnerships, enhance cooperation and gain new customers in our region,” he says. “We are focusing heavily on SEA-ME-WE-5, the subsea fibre-optic cable system, and enhancing our customer base in geographies such as the CIS region, the Middle East and Africa.” The latter he says is an emerging market which is of particular interest to TTI, especially in Eastern Africa.
At the end of 2016, construction of the hotly anticipated 20,000km SEA-ME-WE-5 subsea cable running between Marseille and Singapore, connecting 17 countries across three continents, completed. TTI is one of the consortium members of the cable offering 100Gbps DWDM technology and capacity of 24Tbps on three fibre pairs. The consortium claims that it was built to offer a low-latency connection across the route and to deal with bandwidth demand between Europe and Asia that has quadrupled. Toros is pleased that the RFS date was met and the system is operational and ready for commercial use.
The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) has helped to fund Turkey’s investment in the new high-tech fibre-optic subsea cable system by providing a $50 million loan to Türk Telekom Group.
The financing provided TTI with the ability to lay cables under the sea and to build a branching unit in Marmaris on the Mediterranean coast, in Muğla Province, south-western Turkey. Branching units are used in submarine cable systems to provide traffic and power routing between the trunk and branch cables.
The mega internet infrastructure project is set to serve as a brand new platform for the future telecommunications business in Turkey and for the region. It can help build a stronger digital industry in the country and attract high-tech companies, content providers and the major players in the digital economy.
The system is set to bolster Turkey’s infrastructure as the country’s growing economy needs greater connectivity and ever-stronger ties with Europe, the US and Asia. Turkey has experienced a steep increase in internet use over the last couple of years and demand is also growing due to the popularity of video streaming and HD video. The increased capacity for data traffic will result in higher quality of internet connections in Turkey and the neighbouring countries.
“We have strong cross-border connectivity with certain neighbour countries, which we’re constantly enhancing,” says Toros. “Most of the countries and operators in Central Asia and the Middle East are getting IP transit services from Western Europe, which can result in delays in their services, but we’re committed to enhancing capacity services, and there is a strong focus on improving IP transit services for our business partners and customers.” It’s a long-term plan TTI has embarked on.
Geographically, Istanbul is the only transcontinental city in the world located on two continents and as such TTI has a critical role to play transiting traffic for operators in a region in which it is continually enhancing its backbone. “We are looking into new opportunities with some different types of subsea cable systems, specifically in the Black Sea region and on the other side of the Eastern Mediterranean sea,” added Toros. Istanbul is fast establishing itself as a key regional hub for data and voice exchange.
Interconnecting MPLS networks has further enhanced TTI’s presence and reach domestically and internationally, Toros says, adding that TTI and its mother company are fully committed to further investing in making the backbone even greater.
The demand for capacity services and IP transit is booming in the region and also in the Middle East. The Iranian market is opening up post the relaxation of sanctions and Cisco helping to restore and rebuild the Iraqi national backbone, a multi-layer IP and optical network spanning the long terrestrial route from Iraq to Turkey, is testament to this surge. At Capacity Eurasia 2015, TTI signed a partnership agreement with Palestinian telco Paltel. The move saw the two companies interconnect their MPLS networks, helping to extend network coverage to their enterprise customers.
Strengthening Digital Silk Road ties
TTI has signed a number of memorandum of understanding (MoU) agreements with Asian operators in recent years and is fully behind the ongoing campaign to enhance the Digital Silk Road. “The Digital Silk Road is one of the most important projects in Asia today, connecting the Asian operators with Europe,” says Toros, who believes the truest routes in the region stem from submarines. “But we do believe that there must be terrestrial back-ups for the South Asian and Central Asian countries.”
In mid-2016, an MoU with PCCW Global was signed to explore service portfolio and geographic synergies between the two leading telecommunications companies, which will be found by leveraging TTI’s broad geographic reach to bring PCCW Global’s suite of cyber and broadcast capabilities to its customers.
PCCW Global stated that it was delighted to have entered into this MoU to explore “mutually beneficial business opportunities” for the two companies, adding that TTI has a track record for seamless connectivity and unique coverage from Western Europe through the Middle East and onward to Asia.
An MoU was also signed with China Telecom Europe in 2014 looking to collaborate on providing telecoms and IT services to Chinese enterprises operating in Turkey and the surrounding Central and Eastern Europe regions.
TTI’s evolving journey
“As you know, Türk Telekom made a couple of acquisitions up to 2011, with the last one being TTI at the beginning of 2011,” explains Toros, who has been in the industry for more than 28 years and with the carrier since 2003. “It was a great achievement and was the right move by Türk Telekom Group.”
TTI has invested heavily to stay competitive in a region with an increasing amount of competition amongst carriers and wholesale operators. “To differentiate ourselves amongst the wholesalers and the carriers,” Toros divulges, “we’ll be creating some value-added services and corporate/enterprise services”.
Toros explains that mobile and fixed-line applications and services are such areas which can be evolved. “Türk Telekom Mobile in Belgium, which serves the mobile applications and services in that market, has now been transferred from Türk Telekom’s mother company to TTI. By adding this kind of experience, we are going to enhance our business and the services we offer.”
“Before the end of this year, we will conduct a survey in Europe in order to look into increasing our presence with retail services, and we should hopefully have added, to the agreement of our shareholders, more business to TTI before the end of the year as well,” says Toros.
“We also have a consultancy division within TTI, which cooperates with operators in different geographies in Asia and Africa, which will become an additional business stream for TTI.”
TTI’s target is to “increase the voice termination and increase the mobile and fixed voice businesses in Turkey,” says Toros, but “due to the internet usage increasing exponentially in Turkey, along with social media subscriptions, our data business is getting much more valuable and important for us to focus on evolving”.