Big Interview

Telstra: Enabling Connectivity


Capacity’s Jason McGee-Abe caught up with Oliver Camplin-Warner, head of Telstra International, to hear how the carrier is increasingly helping to boost connectivity in today’s fast-paced digital age.

Camplin-Warner, who joined Telstra just over seven years ago, took over the reins of the international business last year after Ellie Sweeney departed the role of executive director of global international sales. Sweeney subsequently became COO at Vocus Communications in March 2019 and Camplin-Warner has really hit the ground running.

He previously led Telstra Enterprise’s major accounts team and the firm’s government sales team. His first role was in operations, where he led a team of about 2,500 technicians and a similar number of contractors.

The former IBM man tells me that the international business is one of the company’s “critical growth areas” and it’s clear that he’s relishing the work across 20 countries around the world. “Telstra International enables so many things around the world, whether that be Stock Exchanges, banks, individuals on social media, manufacturers, or people sitting on their sofas at home watching TV,” he says.

“What we enable day in and day out makes me so proud. I’ve got one of the best jobs in the world and I talk with real pride about working in telecommunications.” And he certainly does. He also believes that some people in the industry take the carrier and wholesale function for granted, stating: “We don’t blow our trumpet as loudly as we should in regards to the integral work we do.” Speaking to me from his Hong Kong office, this sentiment is clear as the family man describes a recent occasion when he saw a lady visually communicate through sign language to two other people via her phone. “It’s amazing to think that we help to make that call possible.”

Camplin-Warner has full P&L accountability of the international business, which is in effect everything outside of Australia. Telstra’s international business is an AUD $1.8 billion one, operating in 20 countries and working with around 1,000 customers. It sits under the enterprise business, which has revenues in excess of AUD $3 billion per annum.

Telstra International has over 40,000km of cable, access to over 2,000 points of presence (PoPs), and owns and operates the largest intra-Asian subsea network.

“My focus today is on how Telstra can help its customers quench their hunger and real thirst for capacity,” Camplin-Warner tells me. “Whether that be for the financial or manufacturing sectors, the thirst for capacity is relentless. The demand that we’re seeing around the world is second to none, hence why Telstra has invested heavily.”

It’s invested heavily expanding its network in strategic areas where it’s seen huge demand from its customers. Significant investments have been made over the past 12 months, especially expanding its stronghold in Asia to Asia-Pacific through subsea projects.

Indigo is one such system that Telstra has invested heavily in. The splicing for the new 36Tbps data superhighway completed earlier this year and the cable network has gone live. “The development of the Indigo cable system strengthens the link between our Australian network and the fast-growing Southeast Asian markets and will deliver our customers faster connectivity and dramatically improved reliability,” he says.

“Our vast subsea network is a key part of our international growth strategy and we will continue to invest in additional capacity to meet our customers’ increasing demand for data and maintain our network leadership in the Asia-Pacific region.”

Telstra has also invested in the 10,000km FASTER and New Cross Pacific subsea cables, while acquiring a 25% stake in the $350 million Southern Cross NEXT cable.

“Other than adding extra capacity, we’ve also been strongly focused on getting more value out of our network,” he says. “One such project has seen Telstra work very closely with Infinera to boost its network services for customers with a significant increase in fibre capacity to its subsea infrastructure using Infinera’s Infinite Capacity Engine 4 (ICE4). I enquire whether this will be rolled out globally as it is currently only being deployed across Asia-Pacific. “We will look to do it at some point as part of our capacity planning but we must ensure that the demand is there before doing so,” Camplin-Warner tells me.

Always On is one of Telstra’s key differentiators. “We’ve had it in the marketplace for some time now and when a cable has been taken out, the ability to leverage our extensive network to quickly switch data to an alternative route has been so key. Previously it was a rather manual exercise taking many hours to get the engineer on site to switch it over. Now, through that’s down to minutes.”

Looking at virtualisation, agility and flexibility, the company offers the Telstra Programmable Network (TPN) to its customers. It has gained huge traction and came about via the Pacnet acquisition.

“TPN is a leading digital platform for enterprise network services built on software-defined networking (SDN)”, Camplin-Warner says, adding that it is transforming the networking experience. “The TPN ecosystem is a very clever piece of technology with many different use cases. Customers can log in themselves and provision a certain amount of capacity for a day or even an hour if they want. Use cases vary but it could be because of it being peak time or there’s an event taking place. Customers see how much it’ll cost and can allocate capacity almost instantly.”

The acquisition not only almost doubled the size of its international business but gave Telstra a head start with SDN via the Pacnet Enabled Network (PEN) SDN platform, which was renamed to the TPN.

This SDN-driven technology was just one of the strategic imperatives of buying Pacnet. The other was Telstra’s ownership of a very significant business, called Pacnet Business Solutions China (PBS). It was the first and is now the largest foreign-owned IPVPN provider in China.

“Pacnet gave us significant scale. We are now the leader in Asia-Pacific networking and carry about a third of the internet traffic in Asia,” he says. Telstra is the leader in terms of US-to-Asia connectivity and it works with all the big OTTs, financial services companies and IT service providers, and all the carriers.

“TPN has given us burstable bandwidth that enables someone to buy capacity by the minute, hour, week, as much or as little as wanted on-demand through a portal,” he says.

At the end of 2018, a partnership between the TPN and Equinix Cloud Exchange Fabric was formed, unlocking access to more than 70 cloud services from 62 providers in eight markets.

“It was a world-first partnership to allow customers to attain access to Equinix facilities around the world,” Camplin-Warner says. “So linking Equinix’s capabilities and sites around the world into TPN has been a game-changer and we’re getting great traction with it. TPN is probably leading the market today.”

More and more computing workloads are being pulled into the cloud. Once being in the cloud was simply about flexibility and lower costs – now it is about finding the right cloud, for the right workload, at the right time, with the right security. Leapfrogging bottlenecks and the other shortcomings of traditional networks is likewise crucial to the success of any multi-cloud strategy. This is where SDN has come into play, enabling networks to move beyond being a ‘black box’ to offering flexibility and transparency that can be switched on via APIs.

China is a key market for Telstra and Camplin-Warner admits that it is one the markets that is growing the strongest in his portfolio. “We’ve been in China since 1989 and are one of the only foreign telcos that are present in the market today.”

Telstra has over 200 staff in China now, alongside 47 PoPs and five data centres. “The growth that we’re seeing is spectacular,” he adds. The company is running very significant networks for big-scale IPVPNs and big multinationals that are selecting Telstra, as they want a partner that really understands China – but also they perhaps want to use a non-local player to assist them.

In terms of investment, there is significant amounts. Camplin-Warner discloses that Telstra is adding new data centres and increasing the number of sales and technical roles on the ground to keep up with the growth that it’s seeing. Camplin-Warner states the growth they’re witnessing is “very, very significant”.

While Telstra is certainly the envy of many of its competitors when looking at the sheer volume and scale of its network investment, it is not just a commodity business or capacity game to Camplin-Warner. In him, the carrier has found a rare commodity. Someone who is truly passionate and strives to bring out the very best in Telstra for all its customers.