Big Interview

Adapting and stabilising during Covid

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Since returning to telecoms in June 2020 as Ribbon Communication’s EVP and CFO, Miguel ‘Mick’ Lopez has had a lot to deal with. He talks to Saf Malik about how the company adapted and stabilised its operations during the pandemic.

Mick Lopez, executive vice president and chief financial officer at Ribbon Communication believes that networks are not in their infancy, but in their adolescence.

“More capacity, resiliency and security are required for the pipes needed to support the business models of the future,” he says.

Lopez believes the demand for and growth of technologies – including drones, driverless cars, metaverses, AI, smart buildings and cities built on the internet-ofthings – is changing the way telecoms businesses approach connectivity solutions in the wider ecosystem.

Lopez took on his role at Ribbon in June 2020 as he saw vast potential in the company due to its “storied” roots in companies such as Nortel, Sonus Networks, GENBAND and ECI.

“It was an amazing experience, as Ribbon had acquired ECI Telecom in February [2020 and] CEO Bruce McClelland joined in March,” he says.

Lopez, who has worked for companies such as Cisco, IBM, Harris and Aricent, said getting back into the telecoms industry was “like reuniting with friends at the old neighbourhood”. It was those experiences that led him back to the industry after a two-year stint as the CFO of sports manufacturer Vista Outdoor.

Although, he notes that he joined when the Covid-19 pandemic was in “full force”.

“We had to concurrently integrate the two companies, establish a new executive team, navigate economic turbulence, and transition our workforce to the work-from home environment.”

Adapt and stabilise

The first order of business was to adapt and stabilise the business in order to mitigate the impact of the pandemic, without losing sight of customers’ rapidly changing expectations.

“We centred our efforts on easing into the rapid acceleration in network evolution created by increased capacity demands caused by Covid,” Lopez says.

“To focus on our key telecom customers, we divested the Communications Platform as a Service [CPaaS] business, named Kandy, later in the year.”

The pace of network evolution was forced to accelerate during the pandemic, notes Lopez. “It’s becoming critical that operators learn to grow beyond just connectivity with cloud-based solutions and high-capacity fibre,” he says adding that operators must use their networks to define new services and solutions to establish value for their customers.

The CFO notes that Ribbon actually increased sales of its session border controllers during the initial phase of the pandemic, as voice traffic increased with the rise of remote work.

“On the other hand, it slowed Ribbon’s initial growth strategy for the ECI telecom acquisition, which was to geographically expand its IP optical products portfolio to our strong customer base in North America, which includes companies like Verizon, ATT, Rogers and more.”

While acquiring ECI immediately before the pandemic made matters challenging, Lopez believes it is now starting to see some wins, as it has a strong pipeline within the US and abroad.

Financials

Ribbon reported record growth and profits in the first half of 2021, as it helped its customers meet demand for increased bandwidth that was a response to the pandemic.

“In the second half of the year, however, we started to feel the effect of the global disruption to supply chains that have impacted industries worldwide,” says Lopez.

These disruptions hindered Ribbon’s ability to deliver products, increased the costs of components and added complications to transportation logistics.

However, the CFO notes that Ribbon is continuing to work hand-in-hand with its partners and suppliers to minimise disruption to the extent possible.

In the third quarter of 2022, Ribbon executed its IP routing and optical transport products strategy and saw its revenue increase by more than 20% year-on-year.

“We continue to anticipate a sequentially stronger fourth quarter in both our businesses, supported by increased backlog demand and new product lines,” Lopez says. “Our Cloud and Edge business provides customers with network transformation products to impel their adoption of digital infrastructure and services.”

He expects the company to restore growth as it continues to play a key role in carriers’ 5G strategies and ambitions for telco cloud.

Commitments

Lopez says Ribbon is committed to maintaining great customer service, network maintenance and good relationships with major telecoms companies. This is key to Ribbon’s customer value proposition, he says.

“We’re developing technologies that dramatically change the customer acquisition and service deployment model that needs to be rapidly addressed by service providers if they want to stay competitive.

“For example, we now enable Microsoft’s Operator Connect programme to provide SIP trunk connectivity for Teams deployment.”

Lopez adds that Ribbon plans to invest in its strategy to disrupt the industry with open optical networks, while taking equipment to the cloud.

This will be critical in supporting the backhaul requirements of operators’ 5G deployments moving forward.

“That high-capacity optical transport layer will prove to be instrumental in the success of operators’ increasingly service-defined networks as they look to capitalise on 5G, [internet-of-things] and Edge revenue opportunities in the B2B sector,” Lopez believes. “Ribbon is uniquely positioned as a trusted supplier with its leading-edge technology.