New exclusive interview with VuBlog. Providing his contribution to a reflection on the telecommunications business this time is Romain Boulet, General Manager for Evox Trading. The focus of the discussion is the role that Africa is being called upon to play in the near future of international TLC; a strategic position that stems from it being a highly populated continent with great potential for economic growth. Boulet also takes on the topic of the specificity of the operations of an organisation like Evox Trading, founded just a few years ago and called on to operate in an extremely complex market.
A study done by Ericsson and Ernst & Young identified 5 successful strategies for the most efficient, and productive telecommunications companies: experience, simplification, smart asset, organisational capacity and cooperation.
Studying the winning strategies
The 5 key operating principles in the study by Ericsson and Ernst & Young that telecommunications companies can use to get the best return on their capital investment are the winning strategies for success in terms of efficiency.
Experience and simplification
The first feature is the so-called “experience centric” approach, focussed on Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), which allow understanding of “what” customers are asking for, “when” and “how”. The results obtained in this phase can be used to complete the organisational structure and thus to build new OSS (Operations Support System) and BBS (Business Support System) systems. Another distinctive feature of an efficient telecom is that of simplification, meaning the ability to reduce as much as possible the elements of complexity in order to lower costs and increase revenue. The principle can be applied through a series of actions such as automating key processes, standardising non-critical activities, slimming down the portfolio of offerings, products and services, modernising support systems and facilitating interactions with customers.
Organisation and cooperation
Then there is what is called the “smart asset”, which allows a company to centre on its own asset and share knowledge and resources. Just as important is the organisational capacity to increase income and reduce costs using synergies and sharing knowledge between departments and divisions; the so-called “organisational leverage”. Finally, the most efficient Telco focus on cooperation, signing agreements to strengthen themselves in terms of innovation and reduce the interval between the time that a product or service is designed and when it is effectively put on the market.
Steve Song, author of the “Many Possibilities” blog dedicated to telecommunications in Africa, has published the 2015 report on the state of TLC infrastructure in the continent. The aim is to fill an information void on the subject with the collection of data and its interpretation.
The Many Possibilities report
Many Possibilities is a blog on the telecommunications sector in Africa. For the second consecutive year the author has attempted to collect, in a summary report, all available data on the development of TLC infrastructure in Africa, as at 31 December 2015. The result is an in-depth study of seven paragraphs packed with data, supported by detailed tables. It presents an overview of the current state of the various networks: submarine cables, land backbone systems, metropolitan networks and Wi-Fi. To conclude there is a section dedicated to the operators in the field, noting that the TLC sector is increasingly opening up to the presence of players from other similar sectors, such as the technological giant Google, or players from the energy sector.
Land and submarine networks
The data emerging from the report on the development of undersea and land data networks are very interesting. There was considerable activity regarding undersea cables in 2015. Between updates of existing routes and starting new projects, the African network has seen an increase in capacity of tens of terabits. The trend reveals the growing optimism of the entire sector.
In parallel, the increase has also affected the land backbone system, with projects in 19 countries, for total investments amounting to 730 million dollars. In addition, the sector is growing significantly in China, which is taking on a leadership role. 29
For Togo the digital divide is still a major obstacle on the road to development. The country has rates of Internet, broadband and mobile penetration among the lowest in the region (West Africa). Broadband is an illusion for almost the entire population: mobile connections are the preserve of 4.1% of the population, landlines only 0.1%.
The International Telecommunications Union, in its report “The State of Broadband”, pointed out that to date the government of Togo does not yet have a strategy for the development of broadband, but it is in the planning phase.
VueTel Italia is launching Campus TLC, a project aimed at young university students. The purpose of the project is to bring them closer to the telecommunications sector and the professional opportunities that it offers. The online platform has a wealth of information including news, events, advice for job hunting and successful case studies.
Campus TLC: university, training, work and sport
The Campus TLC project is composed of four areas, which are each represented by a section on the website: university, professional training, work and sport. These four key words represent each student’s present and future, and demonstrate the commitment that VueTel Italia wants to make to the students. This corporate social responsibility programme fits perfectly with the company’s values. Ever since its founding, it has chosen to focus on young talented professionals, who are supported through international training courses and career paths.
University is one of the best places for companies and future professionals to meet. Colleges and companies must have as much dialogue as possible in order to connect young people with the world of work. In order to achieve this, VueTel Italia has decided to engage with universities, promoting orientation events and seminars. There is not much awareness about the telecommunications sector in terms of employment. However, as a growing industry it offers great opportunities. On the Campus TLC website sections devoted to training and work, students can find in-depth news, advice and updates about job hunting and work opportunities (at VueTel Italia and elsewhere).
Finally, the metaphor of the sport section is intended to convey the values that are useful in the professional sphere: perseverance, loyalty, a sense of responsibility, the ability to deal with difficulties and teamwork. VueTel Italia has decided to highlight the pairing between work and sport by supporting the CUS Roma Rugby project, as a partner of the Senior squad and jersey sponsor of the Under 18s squad.
The first event is on 21 April at La Sapienza University
The first training event of the Campus TLC project will be held on the 5th of May at the Faculty of Economics of the La Sapienza University of Rome, with which the company is partnering. Participants will be able to talk directly with the management of VueTel Italia, and some of them will also be offered the opportunity to do a work placement at the company, organised as a serious professional training course.
SAT3 WASC is one of the cables with which VueTel Italia has built networks and through which data services travel. It is a strategic infrastructure that travels along the entire West Africa coast, connecting it with Europe.
SAT3 WASC, from Portugal to South Africa
It starts at Sesimbra in Portugal and finishes at Melkbosstrand in South Africa. And on the way, along more than 14,000 km, SAT3 WASC stops in 10 other places, in 9 different nations: Chipiona (Spain), Alta Vista (Canary Islands – Spain), Dakar (Senegal), Abidjan (Ivory Coast), Accra (Ghana), Cotonou (Benin), Lagos (Nigeria), Douala (Cameroon), Libreville (Gabon), Cacuaco (Angola). This geographic information helps in understanding the strategic importance of a fibre optic cable that runs vertically along the coast of the African continent – a promising telecommunications market – serving the entire western coast.
In the second half of 2014, SAT3 WASC was subjected to an upgrade, entrusted to Alcatel Lucent, to maintain its high standards. As a result of the restyling, its scope was increased to 920 Gigabits north of Ghana and 800 Gigabits south of Ghana.
The connection with SAFE
This infrastructure, which entered into service in April 2002, was a real turning point in Internet traffic between Europe and Africa. It was the first connection between the two continents. Moreover, SAT3 WASC was made even more important by its intersection with another digital “corridor”: the SAFE cable, which from South Africa travels to Asia, winding along 13,500 km. Thus, the SAT3 WASC SAFE complex, is capable of carrying data traffic from Europe to Malaysia. Considered in its entirety, this structure involves 36 different countries, and its implementation has cost more than 600 million dollars.
The Portuguese junction, where SAT3/WASC meets SeaMeWe3, is no less central, again travelling toward Asia but passing through the Mediterranean Sea.
Fulvio Picecchi, CTO of the Business Data Unit at VueTel Italia talks about the Chief Technology Officer’s role and activities in a telecommunications company. A strategic professional role with a changing profile.
CTO, an evolving role
According to a “textbook” definition, the CTO (Chief Technology Officer) is the person responsible for assessing, selecting and monitoring the most useful technologies for the production process in a company. It is a role that appears to be very technical.
“Certainly the technical skills related to the sector in which the company operates are fundamental”, explains Fulvio Picecchi, CTO Data of VueTel Italia, “but the Chief Technology Officer’s management responsibilities are becoming increasingly important”. Therefore, it is a role for a real manager who must be able to coordinate the relevant team,set up and implement development projects. “He/she is often involved in the technical details of daily operations,” he continues, “but in the future the operational activities will be carried out increasingly by engineers, leaving supervision to the CTO.”
People are central
“People are central to my work,” underlines Picecchi. “All the activities that I carry out on a daily basis are reported to and shared with the department.” The point of reference is the team that makes up the Business Data Unit of the Company, a team that he describes as “small but highly qualified”. “The strategic choice is clear: to have few people in key roles and invest in their training and development, both personal and professional. The Technical Data Department Team is constantly and continuously learning.”
Building from scratch
Fulvio Picecchi, Chief Technology Officer Data, is managing a fundamental moment in VueTel Italia’s recent history: the establishment of the business unit he heads. In fact, in 2015 the Company chose to expand its services, adding data services to the voice services already provided.
“Starting a new BU has been a demanding job,” says the manager. “We have designed the new network based on the best practices available and many years of experience in the field. We have implemented the first nodes of the new network in London and Marseilles, covering all aspects. Lastly, I have personally concluded the contracts with the first customers.”
However, also in this field, human resources are central: “One of the most important investments that VueTel Italia has made with the opening the new BU,” concludes Picecchi, “is the investment in personnel.”
EASSy is a fibre optic cable that connects Sudan with South Africa. It is strategic telecommunications infrastructure that serves sub-Saharan Africa and connects the continent to the rest of the world.
10,000 km of optical fibre cables that flank the entire East coast of the African continent, connecting Sudan with South Africa and passing, en route, 7 other landing points in as many countries: Mozambique, Madagascar, the Union of the Comoros, Tanzania, Kenya, Somalia and Djibouti. The EASSy (Eastern Africa Submarine System) cable entered into service on the 30th of July 2010 and has cost about 230 million dollars, financed largely by the World Bank and the Development Bank of Southern Africa. Today the structure is managed by a consortium of 17 telecommunications operators, mostly African (92%). Its capacity (10 terabits per second) and “2 fibre-pair” configuration make it one of the most efficient cables serving the area. In addition, Alcatel Lucent has upgraded it continuously.
EASSy is fundamental infrastructure for Africa, above all because of the area covered and its technical characteristics. In fact, the cable was specifically designed to serve sub-Saharan Africa, an area the whole telecommunications world is focused on because it has been showing strong growth potential for some years. Moreover, EASSy in its journey from north to south crosses the path of other strategic routes (both terrestrial and submarine). On one hand this makes it possible to reach inland African countries and, on the other hand, to connect the continent to the outside world.
The Mediterranean is the world’s main telecommunications hub.
Sicily in particular has five submarine communications cable landing stations. Today there are 18 submarine communications cables with landing points in this region that come from the Middle East, Asia, North Africa and North America. The main station is at Mazara del Vallo where 9 cables have landing points, followed by Catania (5), Palermo (2), Pozzallo and Trapani (1). Sicily has always been a geographical meeting point between West and East, but the lack of terrestrial cables to connect the submarine cables with the most important European backbone cabling systems such as Frankfurt, London and Paris has been the main obstacle to Sicily establishing itself and taking full advantage of its potential, together with the absence of free competition.
This situation has clearly favoured the emergence of other international data traffic hubs such as Marseilles, which is the most strategic and best served hub in the Mediterranean. In fact, several data centres in competition with each other have been established in Marseilles. Investment in networks connecting the communications cable stations has been significant and has involved most of the international operators, such as Telecom Egypt, the American company Verizon and the Indian company Tata. The success of Marseilles is linked to a number of factors the most important of which is that Marseilles is a true open system, a technological centre of excellence where telecommunication companies compete freely.
There are also other countries on the southern shores of the Mediterranean that could provide opportunities for the creation of new technological centres of excellence and for the development of new infrastructure projects in the Mediterranean area. Libya, for example, before the explosion of the Arab spring in February 2011, with the Libyan telecommunications company L.P.T.I.C. was developing an ambitious project to connect sub-Saharan Africa with the Mediterranean area. In this perspective, the new Mediterranean Darnah (now under the control of the so-called Islamic State) cable-landing station was realized, the Tripoli station enlarged and the Tobruk station is being realized. In the south of the Sahara desert the terrestrial backbone cabling system to Niger and Sudan, connecting both the Horn of Africa and West Africa, are being completed. This project could be resumed once the country returns to peace, which we hope will very soon.
But things could change in Italy too.
In Sicily the Open Hub Med project is being established with the objective of creating a neutral technological platform in Carini (Palermo), open to telecommunications operators worldwide, which is fully integrated with all major submarine cables that cross the Mediterranean and the terrestrial cables that, from Palermo, run the entire length of Italy, reaching the main telecommunications hubs in Europe and the world. The initiative is not in competition with Marseilles. In fact, it would like to complement and operate in close synergy with Marseilles, with the goal of offering telecommunications companies diversified routes and improvements in terms of quality and overall competitiveness. The next few years will be decisive for evaluating the attractiveness of this project and the effective competitiveness of the Italian market.
CEO – VueTel Italia
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