The next step

The next step

24 June 2020 | Melanie Mingas

Cover

Despite the traditional nuances usually seen between markets, GLF members have shared many of the same experiences during the Covid-19 pandemic. Entering a period of reflection, Telstra International CEO Oliver Camplin-Warner, tells Melanie Mingas about the lessons that are being learned.

On 23 January, China closed the borders surrounding the city of Wuhan – a place that, until this year, was relatively unknown outside of the country.

Back then the city’s mystery disease didn’t even have an official name – the WHO revealed that on 11 February – but by April entire continents were living under similar lockdown conditions… leaving people entirely dependent on phone and internet connections to carry out almost every day-to-day interaction.

“Without telecommunications none of that would have been possible,” says Oliver Camplin-Warner, CEO of Telstra International, one of 31 organisations comprising the Global Leaders’ Forum (GLF).

By March, Verizon had reported a 34% increase in VPN traffic, while gaming traffic increased 75%; Vodafone had seen a 50% rise in internet use in some European countries; and AT&T a 40% rise in mobile volumes, coupled with a 100% increase in Wifi calls.

Telstra, which is licensed to operate in 20 countries and has one of the largest submarine cable networks in Asia-Pacific, saw an average 50% increase in network traffic, a figure Camplin-Warner says is “staggering”, not just in terms of volume, but in its longtail distribution pattern.

“As an industry we often question and doubt the value we bring. It’s a question we have been asking ourselves for many months and years, but if anything the last few months really helped prove the value that we do deliver, and the difference we make around the world in terms of keeping the world working,” he says.

Telstra counts more than 1,600 employees outside of Australia who, like many employees across the industry, have been relied upon to keep networks ticking over.

Throughout the crisis the GLF’s member organisations have shared experiences and advice for handling the changing usage trends, and offered operational support to each other to cover for team members struck down by the virus.

Camplin-Warner praises them all as heroes – although he stresses the highest honours are reserved for “medical practitioners around the world who have been working through a very tough time” – however, the experience has inspired a period of reflection.

“There are still many countries around the world that are still very much feeling the brunt of Coronavirus, but as we start to move forwards into this new norm that everyone is referring to, we need to ask how we can even better prepare ourselves for future scenarios and events.”

The conversation has only just begun, but in terms of the GLF some of the partnerships that have emerged during the crisis could be “firmed up” moving forwards.

When it comes to the industry, Camplin-Warner says Covid-19 is accelerating its most pressing trends: capacity demands, digitalisation and security. Now top priorities for customers as well as service providers, the shift in power dynamic will likely define the operational blueprint for telcos for the foreseeable future.

“A lot of organisations were caught off guard, especially when countries went into shut down. A lot are looking at their operating models and [at Telstra] we are now advising a few of them in terms of how they can better set themselves up for success moving forward,” Camplin-Warner reports.

And in delivering those tools for success, Camplin-Warner says recent months have demonstrated the importance of agility.

“If I rewind maybe six months, when customers came to us to ask for upgrades or new capacity, that process would take days, weeks sometimes months in the more complex situations. Because of what we have delivered during the pandemic, our customer’s expectations have changed,” he says.

“That demand, expectation and dependency on having the capacity when you need it, is very much there now. There is a new level of agility and responsiveness that is being demanded and I think, as the GLF, that is something we need to turn our attention to,” he adds.

While the impending period of reflection will no doubt bring more proposals, much of what has happened over the last four months will be here for at least the mid-term – the shift to home working and use of collaborative tools, the longer hours of internet usage, and heightened emphasis on security. But, hopefully, not the virus.