EXA Infrastructure: happy to excel at being predictable
Martijn Blanken, CEO of network player EXA Infrastructure, explains how EXA’s flavour of disruption is all about keeping it simple.
Two years ago, EXA Infrastructure burst onto the scene as a digital infrastructure platform connecting Europe and North America, armed with subsea, terrestrial and data centre assets.
The firm came into existence when US-based private-equity firm I Squared Capital, which focuses on global infrastructure investments, bought assets previously owned by GTT Communications. Gaining more than 100,000 route kilometres of fibre across 300 cities, it gave the freshly formed company a vast reach to begin its new journey.
Acting as a senior advisor to I Squared Capital at the time, Martijn Blanken took up the reins at EXA as CEO, ready to lead it into its next phase of growth. Since launching in September 2021, the company has sought to disrupt the market – but not in the traditional way. Rather than seeking to innovate by moving into multiple new areas, EXA has a laser-focused strategy, placing its attention on just a small number of core strengths at which it can excel.
“I’m passionate about leading a company that’s exceptional in just one subcomponent of the market –the data-centre-to-data-centre connectivity space,” explains Blanken. “We provide infrastructure, transmission and network-colocation services. The way we disrupt the market is by being exceptional at the core things we do, and we’re very good at them compared with companies that have to spread their capital and people across many different activities.”
No sore toes
A further big advantage of this approach, says Blanken, is that it keeps the company in its own clear space in the market and avoids potentially treading on the toes of others by overlapping with the business areas of potential partners like over-the-top (OTT) players.
“One of the main reasons I moved to take on this role is because I firmly believe that being focused on just a part of the industry will enable you to be a lot more successful,” he says. And he has a significant depth of experience to take the company forward, having held leading positions at the likes of Telstra and KPN during a career spanning more than 25 years. This year, Blanken featured in the Capacity Power 100 rankings, an index listing 100 of the most influential people in the wholesale carrier and ICT communities.
Under his guidance, EXA has forged onwards in its bid to lead the way in providing reliable, resilient connectivity between data centres. Since its launch, the company has committed more than €300 million to a whole range of projects aimed at boosting and building out its network, which has now grown to 142,000 kilometres in length.
This has included substantial investments in projects including the Trans Adriatic Express (TAE), a joint venture that EXA runs with the Trans Adriatic Pipeline, providing a new low-latency route between Turkey and France via a gas pipeline. In addition, the company has invested in the wider Balkans region, including Greece and the island of Crete, Turkey, Albania, Bulgaria, Serbia, Croatia and Slovenia.
Among the investment initiatives, further projects have included cable upgrades and new subsea routes connecting London to Brussels, Amsterdam, Frankfurt and Paris, as well as various new routes linking up locations in Portugal, France, Spain and Italy. On top of that, EXA has put in place more than 20 new carrier-neutral data-centre connections and has invested significantly to make its network 400G-ready and respond to its customers’ growing capacity requirements.
Blanken adds that the company also keeps its eyes open for acquisition opportunities if they make sense, such as its recent purchase of Croatian telco Unitel. “There’s a lot of money that has been invested in this industry, but many players are still subscale and face rising interest rates,” he says. “It becomes more and more difficult for smaller players to survive, so I expect there will be a decent amount of consolidation in the market – and EXA will play its part in that.”
In growing both organically and inorganically, Blanken says key opportunities present themselves outside the traditional locations, in areas like Southern and Eastern Europe, with expansion in up-and-coming markets also helping OTT players to bring their workloads closer to customers all over the continent.
Going forward, EXA plans to keep its laser-guided focus on what it does best as it maintains its geographical attention across Europe, the Atlantic and the north-eastern coast of North America.
He emphasises how essential this infrastructure is in all aspects of the world today. “It plays a crucial role not just in the digital economy, but also in the overall global economy,” says Blanken. “We’re the guys behind the scenes who make the plumbing work – and without the plumbing, there is no internet. It’s a fulfilling role to play in the overall telco ecosystem.”
And if doing the basics extremely well is not considered exciting, Blanken is more than happy with that. “We’re proud to be a boring company,” he says. “We’re excited being a predictable, reliable provider of high-quality, diverse and economically attractive data-centre connectivity.”