Sprint can help wholesale customers grow their business
Big Interview

Sprint can help wholesale customers grow their business

Sally O’Brien, head of global wholesale at Sprint talks to Natalie Bannerman on the company’s growing wholesale activities and her experiences as a prominent woman in telecoms

It’s time to get the word out – “wholesale’s in our DNA”, says Sally O’Brien, head of global wholesale at Sprint. 

Expanding on the company’s longstanding reputation as the fourth largest mobile network operator in the US, her goal is to shed light on Sprint’s burgeoning wholesale division and its suite of products and services.

With approximately 54 million subscribers, Sprint is well known for its wireless services but its origins were on the wireline side of the business, providing its customers with innovative wireline solutions for almost 40 years.

“Sprint has been in the wholesale business for 20+ years,” says O’Brien. “With our renewed focus on network expansion and product development, we have the high quality products to help our customers to grow their business.”

So what’s the plan? Well according to O’Brien, “it’s very much in line with the overall general strategy Sprint has for the enterprise and business side of the company” by providing converged solutions and “tapping into the infrastructure that we ourselves use as a company for wireless and wireline needs”, she adds. But this plan was in full swing well over a year ago with a number of changes having already taken place at Sprint to support this mission. 

“Eighteen months ago, Sprint formed a wireline business unit (with a focus on product development and bringing it all together) that interacts with our sales channel but owns the product development and the P&L for wireline,” explains O’Brien.

Combining wholesale branches

Earlier this year, however, she says that the biggest development took place with the combining of the various branches of the wireless wholesale business to create a brand new division focussed solely on the products that will sit within its portfolio.

“In May, we merged the domestic wholesale wireline team with the international wireline wholesale team and that’s what I’m now running,” continues O’Brien. “So I’m head of global wholesale of this combined entity and the strategy is to tap into what we already have as core competencies and enhance those products that we deliver to the market.

“I think we’re a natural complement to domestic and international wholesale providers in terms of the suite of products we bring and our target markets.”

Since then the company has seen considerable growth particularly in the area of network expansion. Sprint recently announced that it was partnering with One Summer St, the Boston based data facility, launching new points of presence within its facility as well as other major carrier hotels. 

“On the MPLS side we’ll have grown from 50 nodes to 220 by the end of this year and we now have more than 50 access partners, which is critical to our access agnostic strategy,” comments O’Brien. “The carrier hotel expansion (colocation) is part of that suite, which means the service customers need, whether its MPLS, dedicated internet access, IP transit or core network services, we can meet them either through a carrier hotel or through our closest node in the network.”

These plans also extend beyond the US, O’Brien tells Capacity: “We’ve also been adding nodes to our international network consistently each year and we now have 57 of our own nodes around the world – these are our own facilities with Sprint personnel and we reach over 155 countries.”

As for security, undoubtedly a mission-critical component to any wholesale business, O’Brien says: “We’re focussing on security as it relates to IP services and managed network services.” Lest we forget Sprint was one of the carriers who opted out of the international voice market in 2015, as a result it no longer offers services tied to that product, so its direction on security is justified.

Network virtualisation also has its place in the overall wholesale roadmap for Sprint. “We’re tapping into the SD-WAN offering that Sprint announced a few months ago in the enterprise space,” explains O’Brien. “We will be providing an SD-WAN version in the wholesale space next year. We see this as a very big complement to our core competencies, MPLS and dedicated internet.” 

Looking ahead she says the company plans “to add Ethernet layer 2 and fixed wireless services and overlaying all that is the use of SD-WAN services”.

And as an overall comment on the global SD-WAN landscape O’Brian says: “it’s really interesting to see that most companies are working with partners to deliver the solutions. This is another great example of the interdependencies of global communications companies”.

In the area of IoT, O’Brien indicates that Sprint was one of the early market entrants saying: “Sprint is already active in the wholesale space of IoT, so today we have a MVNO (mobile virtual network operator) team and a wholesale team that is focussed on IoT side of the business.”

O’Brien is also quick to recognise the growth potential in this emerging sector, as indicated by Sprint’s investment in that area of the business, saying: “I think we’ll have extra resources around that side of the business, because it’s so clear, there is growth in IoT”.

Women in telecoms

With over 25 years’ experience in the telecommunications industry it goes without saying that O’Brien is considered a veteran in her field. In keeping with the theme of advancing women in telecoms, we took the opportunity to question O’Brien on her personal experience as a woman working in this very male-dominated field. 

When questioned on whether she has ever faced any gender-based discrimination in her career she replied: “Way back then there were some great challenges to overcome for sure.” At a time before Sprint, she says: “There was definitely an undercurrent of inappropriate remarks, in front of large groups all in the guise of a jest.” But ever determined, O’Brien wasn’t deterred, instead she says: “I tried to overcome them largely with humour and in a way also making it clear that it wasn’t acceptable. In a large group setting you can’t do that, but you can in an individual office setting by just being direct and using humour.”

O’Brien was quick to recognise Sprint for its forward thinking in the area of gender discrimination, praising it for being what she believes is ahead of many companies on the subject and creating internal awareness and education of what is appropriate in the workplace. 

“Are there limitations? I think we could all look across the workforce and say: ‘should there be more women?’ Sure, but discrimination? No I have never seen that at Sprint,” adds O’Brien

Moving forward, the answer for Sprint’s head of global wholesale lies in a number of solutions. She for one, has created increased networking opportunities for the women that work with her saying: “Seeing what seems to be less women in the industry and yet without any tangible rationale behind it, so what has come to my mind is more networking opportunities. I’ve started a small informal group in the office to just start those conversations and to see if networking can encourage people.”

On a wider scale, mentoring will provide invaluable guidance, she says, and leadership needed to help more women progress and not just from female executives: “I definitely think more could be done in the area of mentoring of women, because I think networking is great, but mentoring gives you that guiding light. However, I don’t think mentoring for women should only be done by women, I think it should be done by both men and women that are at the executive levels. Because while of course there’s experience, talent and opportunity it’s probably that focus on an individual’s personal development that might make the difference in them getting a position.”

The tone of resilience and drive that underscores the entire conversation with her is most interesting. Rather than use her experiences as a woman as an excuse to give up, she asks: “Is this going to stop me?”, adding “the drive has to be inside of you, its relying on that strength wherever that comes from to persevere when you come upon obstacles of any nature”.

As my time with O’Brien draws to a close she wants us to remember two things from our conversation. For Sprint see wants their partners to know that “with our renewed focus on network expansion and product development, we have the high quality products to help our wholesale customers grow their business”.

As for newcomers trying to make their way in this industry, especially women, she says: “There’s a lot of opportunity out there and I would encourage people to look at the growth industries.” As a personal takeaway, she adds: “If there are obstacles, don’t get discouraged - look at the broader picture.” 

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