Big Interview

Telstra – the bridge from Asia to the US

Nicholas Collins - Telstra 2021 16.9 (1).jpg

Natalie Bannerman speaks to president of Telstra Americas Nicholas Collins about the company’s planned expansion and how it is putting people and customers at the heart of the process.

Charged with Telstra’s operations across the US and now Canada, Nicholas Collins, president of Telstra Americas, is leveraging those 25 years of Telstra’s experience in the region to position the business as the number one go-to for that all-important Asia-to-US connectivity.

The past 18 months have been particularly transformative for the business – as it has for the rest of the world – fundamentally changing the way it does business and, in turn, the needs of the enterprise.

“The changes we see from our customers are really around this concept of work,” says Collins. “But one of the most profound things we are seeing is a refocusing of priorities on things like network connectivity, and the pace of digitisation.”

As for other telcos, the start of the global lockdown brought with it unprecedented demand in traffic right across the Telstra network, but thanks to its continued investment it was well placed to meet that initial surge. But as these demands have matured, more focus has been put on the concept of hybrid working and how that becomes a sustainable model.

“Hybrid working has huge implications for things like network security, which, as we know, is top of CIOs’ lists at the moment,” he adds.

Part of the solution resides in the company’s adaptive networks portfolio, which Collins says “delivers enterprises great scalable, secure intelligent infrastructure”.

For all its negatives, Collins believes that the pandemic has renewed the concept of digital transformation in ways that probably didn’t exist before the pandemic.

“Years of transformation have been condensed into just a few months and I think that is pretty profound,” he says. “You could probably argue that the business case for digital transformation has become much more compelling as a result of the pandemic. It is focusing leadership attention and investment dollars – and I think it is rallying organisations around this concept.”

Surely, all this attention on the infrastructure will lead to increased investment in the space? For Collins, however, this was – and continues to be – a part of the Telstra roadmap.

“Telstra continues to invest in infrastructure – always has, always will,” he explains. “If anything, through the pandemic we showed how important connectivity is, and how important the investment in networks is to support that demand.”

In addition to continuing to invest in and develop core network products and services that meet the demands of its customers, Telstra has network resiliency as a top priority, Collins says.

“A lot of our customers talk to us about having truly resilient infrastructure, particularly around subsea cables, because to them it’s a clear anchor to their business continuity plans,” he says.

The company also took a proactive investment approach during the pandemic, bringing forward some of its capital investment plans for 2021 back into 2020.

“This allowed us to accelerate some of those investments, or at least be a little bit faster than we had originally envisaged, all to support our customers,” Collins says.

Zeroing in on the Americas region, he adds that “how we serve North American organisations to connect them across the Asia-Pacific region is absolutely our strategic focus here. As such, trans-Pacific subsea capacity becomes really important and that’s probably one of our key leadership propositions for the market.”

Over the past 12 months, he says, Telstra Americas has added around one and a half terabytes of digital transpacific capacity. In addition, investments in such systems as Southern Cross NEXT are going to be coming online over the next 12 months.

If that wasn’t enough, the company expanded its point-of-presence infrastructure across the Americas with additional capacity in new locations in Hillsboro, Oregon, and in Los Angeles, into Canada with plans to expand its presence into Ashburn, Virginia.

“Sport is back, and we have been making a number of investments across our global media network as part of our strategy.”

Telstra’s recent expansion into Canada saw the company establish a beachhead in Toronto, with staff, offices and a point of presence. It is now gearing up to to serve Canadian-headquartered businesses.Speaking on this development, Collins explains that Canada is a market of interest.

“Canada has always been one of those markets our customers have asked us about,” he says. “Canada is an interesting market right now for a number of different reasons. Outside of the US, Asia is Canada’s largest trading region.Our presence in the Asia-Pacific market is strong, and we are seeing strong trade between those two regions, which Telstra can play a part in connecting.”

In other news, Telstra Americas has seen its share of strategic hires recently, including Mikoto Anzai overseeing partnerships and Noah Drake in charge of its customer solutions.

“Mikoto’s appointment is all about us accelerating our programme of work around building these partnerships, but also about developing into these partnerships, because we feel that the strength of these relationships will contribute to our growth across this region,” says Collins.

Drake’s appointment, he says, is all about “bringing the full value of Telstra’s products, services and partnerships together to create outcomes for our customers”.

As conversation turns to rural connectivity, a sticking point for many telcos globally, it seems that satellite connectivity, the touted saviour of rural connectivity deployments, is central to Telstra’s plans and may also hold some interesting applications outside of these types of deployments.

“Satellite is one of those areas that is core to Telstra. We see it as complementing our subsea networks, our terrestrial networks and our wireless networks. We see LEO technology as more extensive than just rural connectivity. The applications and the use cases for it are going to be far more broad-ranging than that.”

As technology evolves, there are opportunities for satellite innovations in the fields of 5G, edge computing and IoT, to name a few. But above all, partnerships with these satellite companies will become the norm as “the concept of partnerships between the service of the traditional telcos and the LEO operators is one we are going to have to figure out”.

One similar relationship is that of the OTTs/content players, which see them becoming increasingly important operators in the space because of their growing development of subsea cable systems.

“It is just another illustration that the telcos and the OTTs as well as others in the space, like those in private equity, need to come together through partnerships and collaboration,” he says.

At the helm of Telstra’s expansion and growth strategy, Collins’ plans over the next 12 months boil down to those key areas such as market growth, network investment, broadening its media offering and its adaptive networks portfolio. But all of them are anchored in delivering the best in customer experience by standing out for being known as a “trusted provider, easy to deal with, and highly responsive”.

But the glue that really brings all of this together is human resources. Collins says HR is “critically important for us right now”.

While thinking about Telstra’s future and delivery on these priorities, “although technology is wondrous, it’s nothing without having the right people.”