Brian Fitzpatrick, Vodafone Carrier Services: Starting from the top

21 October 2013 |

In his first in-depth interview since taking the reins at Vodafone Carrier Services this May, Brian Fitzpatrick exclusively reveals what one of the largest and most powerful mobile operators on the planet is doing in wholesale.

It is the most valuable brand operating in telecoms today, the second-largest mobile operator in the world and since the $1 billion acquisition of CWW in 2012, one of the most talked-about companies in wholesale.

It was fitting therefore that Vodafone waited until this May to launch Carrier Services in full view of the global carrier community at International Telecoms Week (ITW). The industry knew it had just witnessed the entrance of a new player capable of competing with the very-largest names in the business.

"Vodafone is far more than just a mobile operator these days. In aggregate minutes alone, we are the second-largest carrier in the world. By revenues we are fourth or fifth," says Brian Fitzpatrick, CEO of Vodafone Carrier Services. "So overnight, we are a substantial startup carrier organisation that can bring a tremendous amount of quality and value to the carrier marketplace."

Inevitably, everyone in wholesale is watching to see what Vodafone Carrier Services will do next. Its arrival did more than simply bring additional competition to the market. Vodafone previously operated as a series of independent mobile entities across the world, often supported by the international capacity of other carriers.

Now that Vodafone is in possession of its own international cable network, an air of uncertainty hangs over those carriers previously providing services to the company. "It does provide us with a great deal of opportunity to optimise our supplier base," hints Fitzpatrick.

So what does this mean for the business relationship between Vodafone and its suppliers?

"I have personally met with our top suppliers and had very open discussions with them. And in almost every case, I have articulated what I firmly believe to be the case, which is that in the months to come, we will be shifting traffic around our network differently and more efficiently," says Fitzpatrick. "I think where some suppliers will experience a decrease, they will also have a tremendous opportunity to increase traffic somewhere else in the world."

Its longstanding suppliers have responded encouragingly to this news, according to Fitzpatrick. He feels there is a great opportunity for carriers to reposition the relationship between themselves and Vodafone in a positive way.

The value of relationships
In Fitzpatrick, Vodafone and its partners have a man with a deep knowledge of wholesale. His insistence on personally meeting with key partners and suppliers since he took the role in May demonstrates a key understanding that this is a relationship-based industry.

"Wholesale is one of those very-large global industries that remains a niche market. It is based on relationships, and if you have established relationships in this sector, they can bring a lot of value to growing a business," he suggests. 

With a career spanning 25 years, including senior executive roles at BT Wholesale, TeleGlobe (acquired by Tata Communications in 2005) and Frontier Communications (acquired by Global Crossing in 1999), Fitzpatrick certainly brings that particular value to Vodafone.

Vodafone Carrier Services sits under the Group Enterprise division, which is headed by former CWW CEO Nick Jeffrey. A member of Vodafone's executive committee since April 2013, Jeffrey also comes from a wholesale background.

"He ran the carrier side of CWW quite a few years back and so understands exactly what I do for a living, which is somewhat unique, as in some cases carrier isn't as well known a side of the business as it might be," says Fitzpatrick. "Right from day one, Nick and I have had a very strong level of collaboration, as we both speak the same language when it comes to what we are trying to do."

Simply getting to know Vodafone as a global organisation has been a huge undertaking for Fitzpatrick since May. The group owns and operates networks in 29 countries worldwide, and the move to act as one collective entity in regards to carrier services – rather than a series of separate operating companies worldwide – has demanded deep analysis of individual markets. Take South Africa, for instance, where the group's entity, Vodacom, has established both a large mobile and wholesale presence.

"Those services have historically been provided through Vodacom and will continue to be, but now those relevant individuals that are located within Vodacom are also more closely linked to the services group worldwide that I represent," says Fitzpatrick.

If this sounds complicated, the overall goal is delightfully simple.

"For the first time, our distribution channel – which is made up of approximately 150 sales people throughout the world – can now proactively sell the capabilities of each of those operating companies as well. So, for example, a sales person in our New York office could sell a US carrier access capabilities to South Africa or Portugal."

By breaking down barriers internally, Vodafone wants to send a clear message to the market: "We are one company. One family. One network," says Fitzpatrick. "That way it gives all the power to the salespeople – wherever they are located in the world – to take this massive portfolio to the market. They now represent one of the largest footprints in the world."

Vertical thinking
There is no doubt, however, that the Vodafone brand can still stand for something very different from one market to the next. Whereas in western Europe, which Fitzpatrick identifies as the company's strongest foothold, Vodafone is very well known to its customers from a mobile, voice and data perspective, the same cannot be said in Asia.

"If you talk to our customers in Hong Kong, Beijing or Singapore, we are predominantly a data company, because these are historically CWW relationships," he says.

This has led Fitzpatrick to make three separate trips to Asia over the last four months, as he attempts to educate customers there about the company's wider portfolio of services. At the same time, Vodafone has made a very clear statement with how it intends to position other service areas. M2M and cloud hosting, for instance, sit alongside rather than under Carrier Services in the Group Enterprise division.

"It brings a level of clarity internally and externally that I think is needed," says Fitzpatrick. "Inside Group Enterprise, we have the two go-to-market distribution channels, which are the Carrier Services and Enterprise teams, then two product specialty teams for cloud hosting and M2M."

It means if Fitzpatrick's team finds itself engaged in a discussion about M2M, it can leverage the "real-time expertise and intense knowledge" of Vodafone M2M.

"I think that vertical approach has really helped us. Because no matter which carrier in the world wants to speak to me, the individuals that I have access to and can bring to that conversation are hands-down some of the best in M2M," says Fitzpatrick.

Life on the road
His new role at Vodafone Carrier Services has demanded a phenomenal amount of travel over the last few months. Yet Fitzpatrick likes to hit the road in his spare time, through his love of off-road and dirt motorcycling. In 2009, he even competed in a gruelling 2,000km race along the east coast of Africa.

Asked how he likes to unwind after a long day in the office, Fitzpatrick is momentarily and uncharacteristically lost for words. Downtime does not appear to be on the mind of the CEO, and will not be any time soon, judging by his ambitions for Vodafone Carrier Services. Out of the 29 countries Vodafone operates in, Fitzpatrick identifies 10 or 12 where the company possesses a fixed-line network second only to the incumbent, as well as an extremely deep access network.

"We have not proactively marketed this in the past, but we do have plans underway to be much more aggressive with those services to other carriers around the world, because we believe we can provide an excellent level of service to them at a very economic position, compared to the incumbent," Fitzpatrick says.

He cites India as an example of where the company owns hundreds of thousands of kilometres of fibre – a very deep network that it has yet to perhaps fully explore as a wholesale asset. The opportunities being explored in the carrier and enterprise space seem to indicate that Vodafone as an organisation wants to be perceived more as a full service provider than a mobile operator.

"We have one of the strongest brands in the world, which is without doubt firstly associated with mobility," admits Fitzpatrick. "But what we are starting to see and feel now is that we are getting a new label – that we are a much broader organisation, especially in the enterprise space."

He feels it may be several years yet until the Vodafone brand is associated with carrier, but that the wholesale industry has already strongly acknowledged its presence in the market.

"The most successful carriers in the world are the ones that have scale, and it is irrefutable the amount of scale that Vodafone has and can have," he says. "To me, it makes perfect sense that this company will be a success."