Ben Vos, Sprint Nextel: The sky's the limit for wholesale cloud

16 October 2012 | Gareth Willmer


Sprint Nextel has demonstrated its commitment to wholesale with the launch of its Wholesale Cloud Services this May. Ben Vos, VP of wholesale business operations at Sprint Nextel, explains to Gareth Willmer why he believes this is the most dynamic segment of telecoms to be working in right now.

"Wholesale has traditionally been viewed as the place where good products go to die,” says Ben Vos, vice president of wholesale business operations at Sprint Nextel. “But this is absolutely not the case now and it’s an invigorating growth area.”

And Vos appears to be a man that practices what he preaches. His sense of dynamism and belief that a variety of great opportunities have opened up in the segment is reflected in a number of new wholesale services that Sprint has launched in the market, including its Wholesale Cloud Services offering debuted in May. “We’re really putting our core focus on wholesale and making it the main focus of the company,” says Vos.

With a long and varied history at Sprint, Ben Vos has a plethora of experience to draw on to help sow the seeds for Sprint’s wholesale future. During his 24 years with the company, Vos has held a number of executive positions in technology development, sales support and network services.

This background has enabled him to gain a comprehensive overview of company and market dynamics, invaluable knowledge that Vos has been able to transfer to the wholesale sector since moving into that arena just over three years ago. “I’ve had exposure to a lot of different pieces of the business through these experiences,” he says.

In his role as vice president of wholesale business operations, Vos has taken the reins of the operational engine that supports all wholesale lines of business – cable, wireless and wireline. Diversity is once again reflected strongly in this role, with Vos overseeing a wide area of responsibilities.

Of his move into wholesale, Vos says he was most excited about the segment’s growth potential: “Wholesale represented a chance to take on a broader set of responsibilities,” he says.“It’s a very entrepreneurial place to be and ties in nicely with my network and technology background.”

Cashing in on the cloud

Cloud services have become a standard topic of conversation with carriers and Vos is hugely enthusiastic about the prospects for wholesale cloud: “You can look at anybody’s analyst report. This is absolutely a real revenue opportunity that will substantially grow.”

He points to predictions that revenues from cloud services will double within five years, with market intelligence firm IDC last year forecasting US$45.5 billion in global revenues from public IT cloud services in 2013. IDC also predicts that nearly 50% of such revenues will come from the US alone in 2015 and that the country will dominate overall spending in this area until then.

“The cloud is something that’s a bit unique and this makes it interesting in looking for new business models. It can be very complementary to the rest of the company’s products and is a piece of the business that everyone’s talking about,” says Vos.

He adds that carriers entering this arena need to have a dedicated approach to the market: “Any carrier entertaining becoming a wholesaler of cloud services must be prepared to make a commitment of time, money and human capital in order to launch and sustain a cloud programme.”

Sprint Wholesale Cloud Services offers platform services, enablement applications and support to resellers that focus on small and mid-size businesses (SMBs). It provides products in the areas of software-as-a-service (SaaS) and communications-as-a-service (CaaS), designed to enable customers to speed up time to market by reducing the number of contracts they need to manage, aggregate software offerings and ultimately grow revenues and cut costs.

The service is also designed to allow customers to launch cloud more rapidly and at a lower cost than if they launched it themselves. Target customers are value-added resellers, business service providers, ILECs, CLECs, MVNOs and small MSOs.

Vos says using the cloud to service wholesale partners is a great way of solidifying relationships with existing providers, as well as signing up new ones.Drilling down to the product level, he expects email, security collaboration and conferencing to be particularly popular wholesale cloud services. He adds, however, that “each customer we deal with will have reasonably individual needs, so we need to have a diverse offering”.

First to focus on SaaS

Sprint has looked to distiniguish its wholesale cloud offering from rival US carriers by focussing on SaaS.“If you look at other carriers, very few are offering this and most are focussing on infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS),” he says.

He says that while US carriers are exploring other areas, only one other is focussed on SaaS: Cincinnati Bell, which is a much smaller, regionally-focussed carrier. “We thought [this] was the area that was most fragmented, but represented the best opportunity for us,” adds Vos.

Competition between US carriers is certainly heating up in the cloud space. Vos cites Verizon’s move to integrate IaaS into its larger wholesale offering following last year’s purchase of Terremark, a global provider of managed IT infrastructure and cloud services, as particularly notable. He also points to CenturyLink’s purchase of cloud provider Savvis and says he expects the company to implement a comprehensive wholesale penetration strategy, including IaaS and SaaS, next year.

Vos also expects AT&T to make moves in a similar direction. “I fully expect them to acquire their way into the wholesale cloud marketplace,” he says.

He anticipates further consolidation in the wholesale cloud arena as the larger players buy their way into the market rather than develop capabilities in-house. But he is keen to emphasise that these acquisitions are largely on the platform-as-a-service (PaaS) and IaaS sides. “No one has made the push into SaaS quite in the way Sprint has,” he says. He adds that Sprint’s wholesale division also plans later to pursue other avenues like IaaS, which is already offered direct to non-wholesale customers.

Targeting SMEs

Vos believes that wholesale cloud services can prove a cost-effective and efficient model to help SMEs become more competitive. “Not a lot of people have cracked the code in the SME market,” says Vos. “There is a great opportunity for Sprint to do this.”

He says wholesale customers have previously needed “to cobble their own solution together from various providers of software delivery programmes and applications. Sprint is unique in the market, being a one-stop shop for all things cloud for wholesalers”. He adds that it helps to have substantial opportunities in the existing reseller base, which consists of technology providers that SMBs already trust.

Vos says Sprint’s particular service makes it possible for partners to get a branded cloud services portal up and running within two or three months: “It’s a cost-effective route to go swiftly into the business. We can help them take the complexity out, so they don’t miss the wave of opportunity emerging with the cloud.”

In the future, Vos says partners could choose to bring cloud services more in-house and Sprint is happy to help them with the transition. If they already have their own investment in certain parts of the cloud, the company will also help them add to their portfolio.

“If they’re at ground zero, we’re happy to develop a more comprehensive offering,” says Vos. “There are lots of folks who don’t have any investment in this area that are looking to us to be a partner of choice.”

Partnership models

Vos agrees that this type of wholesale cloud service taps into the growing openness in the industry towards outsourcing and partnerships, which offer carriers a way to get ahead of the game.

“The market is more and more about partnerships and delivering the most comprehensive set of solutions. It fits well with the business model of a highly collaborative approach.”

As a further illustration, Sprint’s new Full Service Enablement Model for MVNOs similarly follows the trend for partnerships and the creation of more of a one-stop shop to meet a variety of needs.

Sprint is hoping to discover other new wholesale models that will help further enhance partnerships. This is embodied in its union with New Ventures, a fresh Sprint unit that will focus on unlocking possibilities for wholesale customers and offering them value-added services from the company’s portfolio.

Vos stresses “education” as one of the key words and challenges in promoting the benefits of partnerships, including the wholesale cloud model. “One of the main challenges is that there is a lot of education that needs to happen. We’re all excited about what that means, but not everyone is on the same page. The sweet spot for us is striving to take the complexity out of things.”

He adds that back-office integration can be a challenge, and that partnering with a wholesale provider “is one of the most efficient ways to facilitate the integration of the cloud platform with the reseller’s billing, receivables and commissioning systems.”

“We’re putting a lot of focus on researching the market opportunities and resource mix we have as a company. We can’t be all things to all people, but we can be a great partner,” he says.