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Exclusive Interviews

Richard Brandon, VP of Marketing at RtBrick

Inside Telecom Staff

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Richard Brandon - InsideTelecom Interview

RtBrick has recently announced the availability of its Broadband Network Gateway (BNG) software. RtBrick’s BNG is the first use-case for its FullStack routing software, which runs on merchant-silicon hardware, transforming it into carrier IP/MPLS infrastructure.

Mr. Richard Brandon, VP of Marketing at RtBrick talks us through their new software for disaggregated networks.

Tell us about your network architecture, what are the main features?

Unlike traditional network equipment, our architecture uses a ‘disaggregated’ system, which in simple terms means, our network software is independent from its underlying hardware. For many years the only way to deliver the levels of throughput required by the Internet was to build monolithic routing systems using custom silicon and optimize the software around it. But our architecture uses a ‘cloud-native’ approach, with software running on off-the-shelf low-cost hardware.

What are the benefits of the Broadband Network Gateway?

Because our BNG (Broadband Network Gateway) can run on off-the-shelf hardware, per port costs are a fraction of those of traditional systems. A choice of software suppliers will make it faster for operators to deliver new features and services. And open standards and Web2.0 tools make the whole system easier to automate and to operate at larger scale without increasing staff.

Tell us about the switch from traditional broadband networking to Cloud Networks.

Any hardware changes?

The shift toward a cloud-native approach is probably the biggest change we’ve seen in carrier networks since the arrival of the Internet. In terms of the hardware, this is due to adoption of merchant silicon. Silicon vendors now have the equivalent capabilities on their high-volume, low-cost networking chips that the traditional system vendors use on the line cards in their systems.

This merchant silicon is being used to build a new category of powerful low-cost ‘bare-metal’ switches, often constructed on the same outsourced assembly lines that manufacture the traditional vendors’ router systems.

Do customers need to shift anything in their usage of services?

For end-users, the change in service infrastructure should be transparent – other than new services that are developed faster and cost less.

And how can companies make the switch seamless?

There are many benefits of a cloud-native approach, but they will require the adoption of new skills and Web 2.0 tools. Most of the carriers we speak to are already committed to this journey.

Can you see telcos releasing services and software similar to Facebook, Google and Netflix in the future?

Telcos will have the flexibility to deliver whatever services they like, whether that’s video or cloud services, but the biggest similarities between the telcos and the cloud-natives will be the way they deliver them. For example, they can drop a new service onto their platforms with relative ease – like adding Facebook Chat for 2 billion existing users. These are things that have seemed unattainable in the telco space – until now, that is. The telcos have seen how the giant ‘cloud-natives’ have found new ways to operate their businesses and now they can emulate them.

With telcos required to give legal accessibility, might this be a privacy concern for people using such software or would each have their own privacy policy?

We need to distinguish between ‘the cloud’ and a ‘cloud-native’ approach. The cloud implies shared resources, which can have privacy challenges. A ‘cloud-native’ approach can still use dedicated infrastructure for a single operator, which in turn provides services for many private subscribers. There are also essential legal requirements that need to be provided across their subscriber services, such as providing Lawful Intercept for intelligence agencies.

Tell us more about the modularity of the system. Would the modules interact seamlessly from one protocol to another, and how can that help telecom companies?

We’ve taken an approach to our software that is native to cloud IT environments, with each use-case getting its own unique code-version, built from discrete blocks and delivered as a software container running on a Linux operating system. The code isn’t bloated with features that aren’t needed. This also allows us to upgrade or add each feature independently, in sub-milliseconds, with no service disruption. And you can test individual microservices in isolation, rather than having to test the whole system as a ‘black box’.

Can a telco switch to cloud 100%? Are there any drawbacks or pain points in doing so?

A greenfield telco could certainly apply a cloud-native approach to its entire operation, but in practice, most operators have to consider their legacy service portfolio. The nature of the legacy systems is that they ended up having to support a superset of all possible features, even though many are rarely, or never, used by each carrier. This makes them expensive to build and operate. We’d suggest this switch as an opportunity to rationalize legacy portfolios and focus the benefits of the cloud approach on the services which generate the bulk of the traffic.

What are some service potentials that telcos can tap into with this technology?

The vast majority of traffic – and cost – in most telco networks is driven from large volumes of high-speed but relatively simple services. For many carriers, the place to start is their consumer broadband services, which generate the bulk of the traffic, but the same approach can be applied to their enterprise and wholesale service portfolios.

The software comes with ‘single-pane-of-glass’ Web2.0 Management System, including a zero-touch-provisioning system.  Can you tell us about the advantages of these systems?

They eliminate human error through automation, reduce operating costs and save you re-inventing the wheel – as many powerful tools have already been developed. Simply power-on your bare metal switches and they will self-register, download the correct software image, discover their topology and all microservices self-start. You can glue this into your existing OSS using REST and RPC interfaces, such as gNMI (Google Network Management Interface).

What does it mean for telcos to be able to operate on web-scale?

Rather than try to build an unattainable flawless system, a web-scale approach focuses on self-healing systems. Our composable code and single state database makes it easier to contain risk. For example, we can isolate different routing universes (such as public and enterprise networks), watchdogs can detect issues and redeploy software if needed, and it’s inherently simpler to control.

What are the implications of using merchant-silicon hardware?

Taking advantage of merchant silicon in bare-metal switches, and disaggregating the hardware from the software, brings some huge benefits to carriers:

  • Lower cost hardware – per port costs are a fraction of traditional vendors’ systems
  • You can swap and change software without throwing away or even upgrading the hardware
  • You break the hardwiring between platforms and services, enabling easier re-use of common hardware across any service

Can you tell us about the IoT implications of this merging of hardware and software?

The explosion of IoT devices means even more traffic generated and even more distributed networks. For a telco, this means more cost. It seems unlikely telcos will be able to match this with an equivalent increase in revenue, so they must find a way to deliver more broadband capacity at a lower unit cost. Disaggregating the software and hardware will cut their network costs by at least half.

What else could be achieved with the scalability and agility of the systems?

Network disaggregation has only been possible because of the advances in performance of standard merchant silicon, which will increase even more over time. In addition, the same architectures that scale-out the huge cloud-native data centers can also be applied to telco Central Offices, with spine and leaf switching architectures scaling to support huge numbers of subscribers.

So far, how are your initial trials going with mobile operators? What are the main challenges you are facing, and how do you plan to overcome them?

Our initial trials are with fixed broadband operators, including some of the largest in the world. This bring challenges of scale, rich service feature sets and robustness. But RtbRick is staffed with some of the world’s best telco engineering experience, and we’re reusing established and hardened telco protocols where it makes sense, like BGP and MPLS routing.

What are some of the benefits of moving towards a more cloud-native business?

There are two main advantages: Cost, both purchase cost and operations, and service agility. It is much faster to deploy and test new services and infrastructure than has ever been possible before.

What is the significance of being validated on several bare-metal switch platforms?

It gives the customer a new degree of choice, which helps drive down costs even further. They can reuse their hardware across any service, rather than deploy one platform for each service. And they can mix and match the best hardware platform for their use-case with the best software on the market, rather than having to compromise between the two.

What are some of the biggest obstacles you are currently facing regarding deployment?

Probably our biggest obstacle is our own ability to cope with the level of activity and interest in the market. We’re already working on some huge projects and we have to prioritize new features accordingly.

Are there any risks that operators might face when implementing the Broadband Network Gateway?

It’s important not to simply replicate everything that exists in the existing network and service feature set. Trying to build a ‘superset’ of all features on day-one will be self-defeating. We’d suggest solving ninety per cent of the problem with a cloud-native approach and leaving the niche 10% of services running on existing platforms.

How fast can operators deploy your solution, and how fast can they expect to see actual results?

No major telco will do this without a thorough trial, testing and implementation plan. That’s going to take more than a year from start to finish, which is why it’s important to start now. Cost savings are immediate from day-one of going live.

What plans are on the horizon for RtBrick?

We have plenty to keep us busy in fixing the access network, which is where we see the major pain point in telco networks today. But we have lots of ideas about how we could apply our technology on other areas of the network in the near future.

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Exclusive Interviews

Mazen A. Dohaji, Vice President (iMETA) at LogRhythm

Inside Telecom Staff

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LogRhytm

As technological advancements have skyrocketed, and the switch to digital is on the rise, cybersecurity will play a vital role in the transformation ahead. 

As governments all over the world invest in smart city initiatives, the role of cybersecurity has been elevated to protect the fabric of society from cybercriminals looking to wreak havoc across the board. 

One of the main players on the front line of cybersecurity is LogRhythm, a U.S.-based cybersecurity firm. The company recently launched tools for adopting the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s Essential Cybersecurity Controls (ECC). Its predefined reports and use cases enable organisations to accelerate compliance with the KSA’s ECC and support Saudi Vision 2030.

Inside Telecom sat down with LogRhythm’s Vice President of iMETA, Mazen A. Dohaji, to find out more about the company’s activities and the current cybersecurity landscape.

Could you walk us through the cybersecurity services that LogRhythm has and will provide to KSA? 

The Essential Cybersecurity Controls (ECC) were launched in 2018 by the National Cybersecurity Authority (NCA) in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) as part of the Saudi Vision 2030 strategic framework. Since then, we’ve been developing reporting capabilities and compliance use cases that make it easy and efficient to comply with the KSA ECC. 

Our NextGen SIEM platform enables organizations to meet many ECC guidelines by collecting, managing, and analysing log data. With out-of-the box automation, our system meets the minimum cybersecurity requirements for information and technology assets operating within the KSA. 

We understand that organizations may be at different points of compliance maturity, so the KSA-ECC module gives organizations the flexibility to realize value at any point along that maturity scale. As their business grows, our advanced functionalities such as NetMon, TrueIdentity SysMon, threat research content, and case management will enhance prebuilt content to better support organizations’ compliance efforts.

Will the services offered be provided to both the Kingdom’s private and public sectors?

Our reporting capabilities and compliance use cases are designed to serve both the private and public sector. At the same time, we have a key focus on the public sector and that is a large opportunity for LogRhythm in KSA. 

The objective of the ECC is to establish best practice in cybersecurity at a national level, covering critical infrastructure, high priority sectors and government services. All government-run agencies and departments within the Kingdom must comply with the ECC, and any privately run organizations looking to do business with public sector organizations must also comply. 

What matters is that any organisation can easily demonstrate their compliance with the ECC when they’re audited. 

Can you give us examples of how your services will shield KSA from cyberattacks?

An organization in the KSA can proactively monitor their IT environment and recognize any suspicious or problematic activity. This includes right down to the endpoint. 

Our SIEM platform has helped to improve many organizations by allowing them to provide widely diverse log sources, correlate them, and then easily create rules around alerting them about cyberattacks. By integrating all products into a single system for analysts, we make it easier and more efficient for organizations to block attacks and save time in the process.

It is about enabling organizations to be proactive with cyberattacks and giving them visibility and control over their IT environment.   

As 5G rollout begins, how will LogRhythm capitalize on the next generation network to enhance services, products and capabilities?

I think the evolution of 5G will create new opportunities and challenges for enterprises. We’ll see growing deployments of IoT that are underpinned with 5G and that means new and diverse attack surfaces. The combination of 5G and IoT will make security a priority for a growing number of organizations and they will need to rethink their approach. 

At its core, it’s about creating a secure foundation for innovation and maximizing the potential of 5G and IoT. That’s a journey that many organizations are on already, but 5G will accelerate investments in IT security and the development of IT security strategies.     

With smart cities on the horizon, such as the Kingdom’s plans to build Neom Smart City, what can governments do to ensure the safety of these advanced Internet-powered cities?

The KSA has been proactive in its approach to cybersecurity. It has recognized that cybersecurity is critical to the growth and development of its digital economy and that extends to smart cities. 

For smart cities around the world to not only survive but thrive, governments need to make sure they are providing reliable, wireless connectivity throughout. However, it needs to be done in a safe and secure way. 

Governments need to maximize their security intelligence by gaining visibility into all parts of their network, whilst simplifying the Security Operation Center (SOC) experience so their analysts can respond to threats faster. With new technology, governments can save resources, increase the value of their investments, choose scalable and flexible deployment options and create road maps to advance their cybersecurity journeys.  

Can you please breakdown automation in cybersecurity and its benefits?

Automated incident response tools handle sensitive customer data, preventing attackers from gaining access to potentially damaging information, and causing reputational detriment and distrust. 

Inefficient communication and lack of resources increase the risk of damaging threats slipping through the cracks. With automated incident response tools you can guarantee that all prescribed steps are taken, and in the same order, ensuring nothing is missed. However, if your organization maintains an informal SOC and has limited resources, you may be facing delays in responding to incidents or threats could be going unnoticed. Using incident response tools can save time which can be directed to more pressing workflows and alerts can be handled by fewer people.

With constant change in the industry and an increasing landscape of cyberthreats, security teams have a lot on their plate. It takes longer to separate real threats from the false alarms and the amount of time spent on routine data gathering increases Mean Time to Detection (MTTD) and Mean Time to Respond (MTTR). Using automation incident responses can limit the exposure of false alarms, enabling analysts to pay more attention to critical threats and increase the aggregation of data, putting the relevant details in front of the right people.

Not having an efficient plan in place can easily cause panic when things go wrong. Automating IR not only allows for the decision-making process to be expedited in the event of an attack, but also ensures that the right decision-makers are clearly outlined which minimizes overlap. With more visibility and elimination of blind spots, you will not only improve your security operations efficiencies, your team can operate with much more confidence when securing the organization’s data.

Does LogRhythm have any plans to expand its services beyond Saudi Arabia, and into the GCC as a whole?

We serve organizations across India, the Middle East, Turkey and Africa, which we call iMETA. This is the region that I cover. While these markets are quite diverse, they share similar cybersecurity challenges. Across the Middle East, we’re active with both channel partners in markets like the UAE and Egypt while serving direct customers that span iMETA. This is a dynamic and growing region that understands the value of robust cybersecurity and with local markets that have big ambitions for their digital economies. 

What sets LogRhythm apart from its competitors?

We are a world leader in NextGen SIEM. We empower organizations across six continents to successfully reduce risk by rapidly detecting, responding to and neutralizing damaging cyberthreats. 

Our platform combines user and entity behavior analytics (UEBA), network traffic and behavior analytics (NTBA) and security automation and orchestration (SAO) in a single end-to-end solution. We are also the only provider to earn the Gartner Peer Insights’ Customer Choice for SIEM designation four years in a row.

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CEOs

Kevin Taylor MBE – Indigo Telecom Group Chairman

Inside Telecom Staff

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Kevin Taylor MBE - Indigo Telecom Group Chairman

This year has been a rollercoaster ride for industries far and wide, the most notable being the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on economies, governments, and companies alike.

For many, financial numbers and results dipped, projects were cancelled, and investments stopped dead in their tracks as the world’s population took refuge in their homes.

While most of the world were hitting the breaks, the telecom industry went into overdrive, as they took to the frontlines to maintain networks and connectivity streams, enabling the world to remain connected.

It wasn’t an easy feat, but telcos were able to steer the ship in the right direction by realigning their capex investment, focusing on immediate network expansion and managing their frontline engineering capability.

Inside Telecom sat down with the Chairman of Indigo Telecom Group, Kevin Taylor MBE, to find out more about the inner workings of the business and how Indigo remains steadfast despite the challenges ahead.

Indigo has been providing network and infrastructure to clients since 2009, currently operating in over 90 countries. Tell us more about your global expansion plan? 

Obviously, we have a strong presence within the UK and throughout the EU; our acquisition of a incredible design company called 4site, last December, has given us a number of positives such as strengthening our design capabilities across the mobile and network spaces, and that has given us two things:

  • It gave us a huge boost within Ireland by winning the national broadband to roll out fibre across the rural communities.
  • It gave us the capability to have a stronger fibre and wireless design rollout within the UK, which so far, has proven to be very successful.

The 4site acquisition gave us the ability to focus on an end to end design, build and support capability across mobile/5G, optical/fixed and broadband networks and data centres. This new three by three model allows us to offer end to end solutions across all the hottest and most current technologies in our industry.

So, our ability to meet our Customer demands are moving in the right direction…as an example, customers might ask for the following…5G design and build? YES, Broadband build? YES, Mobile Data centres/IOT? YES, Optical and Fixed Line Support? YES, our three by three model covers all the basis in the industry which means we are very busy.

In addition, we will be looking to strengthen our presence across Germany, the Netherlands, France, and Austria. The next expansion on our list in Europe will be Spain, Italy, and Denmark.

Away from Europe, although we have a presence in Hong Kong and Singapore, however expansion has been delayed due to travel limitations, which has been difficult amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

In parallel, we plan on opening in the United States sometime early next year and expanding with our Customer demand. It is exciting times but as a company we are passionate about moving at pace despite Covid-19.

How do you plan on accelerating business growth?

I’m a big believer that momentum in a business is essential for success, our customer demand is up 6X, our portfolio is expanding, our strategy is working, and our customers are supporting us.  It has allowed us to build on the positives we’ve garnered, hire new people and continue as a business making a difference.

The reasons why people like to buy from Indigo Telecom Group is widely due to our genuine desire to make a real success of what we’re doing for our customers, by exceeding customer service and delivery expectations.

Operationally, we focus our efforts toward offering a strong customer experience, by putting a high level of priority to improve their value streams within their very own businesses.

Guaranteeing the service model is of great importance to us, and that’s been reflected in our work, as our service levels have been 99.99 to 100 percent efficient for a long time now, even with the challenges presented to us since the pandemic began.

Other things that we’re looking to improve are expanding our three-by-three services model, reinvigorating our data centers to extend their capabilities to become more proactive, bringing in some digitization to allow more automation in the business, and creating an end-to-end service catalogue across all of our portfolio to make sure we are ticking all the right boxes.

Thus, our primary aim is to ensure we have excellent tightening operational principles within the business, increasing customer engagement, measuring customer response, strengthening our partner management, and lastly, making acquisitions where appropriate to accelerate our business.

I’m a person that believes in bottom-up strategies, rather than top-down strategies. Companies should involve the talent of their employees across the business to help define the strategy. This in our case has enabled them to feel part of the change within the company.

The 2019 acquisition of 4site in Ireland allowed Indigo to roll out new design capabilities across the UK and Europe. What gains have you made from the acquisition?

Our acquisition of 4site, in real and measured terms, has helped us add the wireless and fibre design aspect to our build and support capabilities, while enhancing our go-to market strategy as well as expanding the scope of services to our customers.

In parallel, our pipeline has gone up 6x from an acquisition perspective, while securing higher win rates than where we started, so in less than a year, the transformation to our business has been fantastic.

Indigo’s services portfolio is constantly evolving to meet the needs of your growing customer base. What areas of operations interest you most right now?

Here we must look at our most compelling areas, while looking at our engineering talent and capabilities in order for us to hit the sweet spot for us and our customers.

Although funds in the industry that are coming in are both on the telco and investment side, each investment needs implementation talent and it’s our job to provide this as well as deliver our capabilities on time while moving incredibly fast in many key aspects such as broadband, fixed, optical networks and next generation data centres.

There’s also the rise of the Internet of Things (IoT) and everything that comes along with it, which will rapidly develop with the rollout of 5G; in addition, there’s also edge computing, tower companies expansion and technology manufacturers launching better and faster infrastructure.

How does Indigo set itself apart from other telecom engineering companies?

Well you must consider that every major company in this business has a history within it, we have an engineering one, and I think our effective sales channel and the quality of engineering  is what sets us apart from the competition.

And to maintain that edge, we really need to understand the need to do everything right and effectively first time and every time; this is our company culture, and we are also keen to offer the younger generation an opportunity they deserve within this industry, which is a massive thing for me personally, and now we’ve done just that by filling some of these roles in the 100 positions we have hired over the last five months.

We provide full training support; we have just launched an apprenticeship scheme and on-the-job training is provided across our organisation.

With all of this bundled together, it allows us to offer quality, opportunity, and experience to these engineers, noting that some of them have become redundant or have struggled elsewhere during the COVID-19 era.

What projects are you working on and how is the prospect of 5G shaping the future of your operations?

5G is going to be very interesting going forward, especially from both B2B and B2C perspectives. Thus, the most integral part in moving forward is connecting with the right partners.

For a few years we have been supporting our customers by designing and upgrading our customers’ infrastructure to be ready for 5G.

We have also put a large focus on enhancing our build capabilities, which is a huge positive for us to be able to offer support to our customers. We’re aiming toward staying at the leading edge of technology and enhancing and growing our knowledge.

Will 5G rollout be prioritized toward businesses and enterprises first? Or will the rollout happen for both businesses and consumers equally?

I think there’s going to be a massive upside on the B2B transaction applications front, and segmentation of those applications. However, consumers will always want and seek the latest technology especially the younger demographic; we’re already seeing this via the increasing demand of 5G-powered smartphones.

Businesses will be looking at the benefits of 5G for enterprise, so I think the demand and priorities are going to be met equally. Especially since it’s going to support remote connectivity, like IoT, AI, VR, AR etc.

How can telecoms manage the mobile data explosion?

The most important thing is keeping our knowledge as up to date as possible and doing this by maintaining our engineering focus and depth. As I previously mentioned, we just hired 100 engineers, and pretty soon we’re going to be looking for another 100, and then another 100, training them all effectively to have the right skills necessary for what’s to come will be key to our success.

How have you coped with the changing demands brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic? What measures have you put in place to ensure the efficient running of network infrastructure at this time?

The whole world went into shock the first few months. I think when we went into lockdown, nobody really understood what Covid-19 meant, and projects were cancelled left, right, and center.

However, the support of critical industry must keep going regardless of all the problems associated with Covid-19, especially with the massive importance of connectivity, for hospitals, businesses and, consumers alike.

We must keep the communications world operational.

At the beginning – apart from the critical projects – things slowed down for months or so, and then suddenly investments started again; telecommunications companies needed to scale up their networks due to people’s heavy usage of video conferencing technology, gaming,  multimedia and many other applications.

Usage has been going through the roof… we have all played a part in keeping everyone connected.  The increased usage of data around the globe has meant the telecoms industry has been rushing to invest in increasing the size of their networks.

In parallel, since the beginning of the summer, the pandemic has accelerated new technologies, which is why there are big amounts of investments going into our industry, and from that, we as a company, have grown tremendously, and hopefully we will continue to build on that growth.

On the ground, our engineers haven’t stopped, they have been on the frontlines with the right PPE and support, and I think they’ve done an absolutely brilliant and amazing job at keeping all of our customers happy. They together with all other key workers across many industries are my heroes.

Initially, in the back office, our employees have worked from home, and now we’ve implemented a rotation schedule for them that’s been in place for the past 4 to 5 months, which has kept morale strong.

One point of interest, our millennial staff are desperate to get back to the office, wanting to work from the office and work within a space that puts them in the right mindset to reach their full potential; thus, with the new rotation model, they’re happy to be back.

Is your business strategy keeping pace with the market? What challenges are you facing now?

First and foremost is keeping the momentum in the business, being aware of that and finding the right strategy to keep moving forward. In addition, one of our main challenges is hiring the right talent, continuing putting our customers first.

All while having fun within this strange new reality.

You have over 25 years of experience in telecoms. What excites and perturbs you about the industry today?

Every spring and autumn, there’s a new fashion in the world of telecoms and technology, and what excites me the most is keeping up with that fashion. An example of this can be seen when the first contactless solution in the transportation industry first surfaced in Hong Kong in 1997. I was a part of that – it was new and fashionable.

Whatever the next generation of fashion may be, I want to be part of it, and I think the most current one is 5G.

There are more changes that are happening today in technology than I’ve witnessed in my entire career, and I started back when we had shared mainframes, but to me, it’s all about what’s coming next.

Secondly, I’m very big on diversity; during my tenure in Asia-Middle East-Africa, I was the first in placing woman CEOs to lead businesses both in China and Japan. The selection was done because they were the best candidates at the time of interview by a country mile, but it culturally turned heads. I enjoyed that.

I also want to ensure that everyone has an equal opportunity within this industry. For example, when I was Chairman of the British Chamber in Hong Kong, I worked with six big companies – among them banks, technology companies and utility companies – where we brought together youngsters who were on vocational training, they had fantastic ability but lacked the personal financial circumstances to go to university.

We rotated a number of individuals around each of the six companies to give them work experience while enacting a “if you like them, you hire them” policy, it was a tremendous success. People who would have never had the chance to work for companies due to a lack of qualifications, were offered the opportunity because of their capabilities.

It’s the human element as well as the need to give future generations every opportunity, that really excites me the most. I believe we all have a moral obligation in life, this keeps me energized every day.

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CEOs

Alexandru Cebotari, founder and CEO of AVO

Karim Hussami

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Interview with AVO app CEO Alexandru Cebotari
People depend heavily on roaming services when traveling from one country to another. Tell us about how you started the app in 2014?

I was working for a company as an out-staff telecom engineer and working for international projects in Romania, Saudi Arabia, Cote d’Ivoire, Mozambique and others. During those trips, I used to buy local SIM cards for cheap internet connection, but immediately faced a problem related to receiving incoming calls on my home mobile number, thus having to use two phones. Even so, all calls were expensive because of roaming.

At this point came the idea to build a mobile app which will keep my regular mobile number alive while I’m using a local data SIM. Holding that idea, I went to the Startup Weekend event, and won second place. Afterwards, we participated at Yandex Startup Camp in Moscow launching the first app version. Then we participated in Startupbootcamp in Copenhagen, and things took off.

Now, our service is available for subscribers in 20+ countries, and we continue to expand and to offer new services. Recently we launched the AVO SIMFREE app, which provides data roaming at low prices, avoiding buying local SIM or carrying 3/4G Wi-Fi routers.

AVO app doesn’t only get you cheap outgoing calls but ones that are free of charge, how?

To be clear, the AVO app provides free incoming calls from regular numbers and free calls from AVO to AVO users. All outgoing calls to regular numbers are charged.

“Your number will be available for calls even if you put a different SIM in your phone.” How does the app manage to keep one number after replacing it with another?

It’s pretty simple, before replacing the regular SIM from the phone, the customer sets up call forwarding to our local gateway, and when an incoming call comes through, we deliver it to the AVO app over a VoIP connection. That way and after exchanging home SIM card with a local one for data, all incoming calls are diverted to the app. It’s not mandatory to use local SIM; it will work perfectly over any Wi-Fi connection. 

For each category – Base, Tourist, Business and Expat – there is a different offer with a different price and duration for each country, can you explain the benefits of each roaming package?

We designed our packages based on the fragmentation of our users. The main factors behind splitting the categories were the time of the trip and the average call consumption made by different categories. For example, the package Base is used by short-term travelers with low call consumption; meanwhile, the Business package is used by frequent business travelers for which staying in touch over regular calls are very important. 

How is privacy protected when the data is shared and exchanged between users?

We don’t have too much data to be shared between users. But for a few existing scenarios, we are using best privacy practices and GDPR recommendations.  

Should the users’ contacts have AVO as well, to be able to connect with them?

No, this is the beauty of the app. An AVO user could call and be called by anyone. He can receive calls even from a landline and make outgoing calls to any international landline or mobile number. You don’t have to invite anyone to the app to be able to have a call. The most appreciated feature is incoming calls from any phone or phone network.

How long will it take for messages to be included in your service?

At this point, we don’t see the customer needs to add a messaging feature in the app. There are so many on the market and creating one more is not adding value for our users and us.

Can you tell us about the feedback regarding the app so far?

As with any app, we have different types of feedback, positive and negative. And we appreciate constructive criticism which helps us better understand the needs of our customers and make improvements to our app. One of the main issues we see now is the call forwarding setup required for the incoming calls. But we are already working on this.

What is the difference between the actual roaming costs worldwide and the rates you offer?

For calls, the difference is huge. For a US subscriber, the cost of the call for roaming is about $0.20-0.25 per minute depending on destination and home mobile carriers. With AVO app, incoming calls are free and outgoing calls are for $0.08 per minute. And the same goes to all other markets where our service is available.

What challenges have you faced with the expansion of your app?

The main challenge is marketing. Telecom is a highly competitive market, and we have to be creative in how to engage and retain our customers. The second biggest challenge is the partnership with telecoms. We would love to have more integrated services and to become a bridge between regular and VoIP call technologies. Still, very often, mobile carriers refuse to collaborate because they are concerned we will jeopardize their roaming business.  

Tell us about your business plans and future goals? 

As I told you at the very beginning, we just launched the AVO SIMFREE app as a costless solution for mobile data while traveling. We will work on a consolidated solution which will provide customers with the full roaming service including data, voice calls and SMS. Our next goal is to reach one million customers and to expand in Asia and Africa.

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