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.
Alexandru Cebotari, founder and CEO of AVO
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.
Monty Mobile – striving for innovation and excellence in the telecom industry
Founded in 1998 by Chairman Mountasser Hachem, Monty Mobile – a part of Monty Holding Group – is a globally renowned GSMA certified, open connectivity hub and roaming broker that reaches 120 countries. Alongside an ambitious CEO, with a wealth of experience in multiple business ventures, within the telecommunications industry, the company boasts an internationally placed board of directors, each with their own unique and impressive skill-set; placing Monty Mobile at the forefront of opportunities within the growing digital market.
Mountasser Hachem set up his first company – MediaTech Communications at the age of 30. Since then, Monty (as he likes to be called) has developed an exceptional reputation, inspiring his international team of employees to refer to him as ‘a one of a kind, CEO’. Other board members, include; Hassan Kabbani, former CEO of Middle Eastern telecoms giant, Zain; Biola Alabi, based in Nigeria, who was named a ‘Young Global Leader’ by the WEF (World Economic Forum) in 2012 and after a success of philanthropic enterprises is now CEO of her own Media and Entertainment Consultancy; Jean Jaques Pany, is based in France and has an MSc in Mechanical Engineering. Jean-Jaques is the former Vice President of Orange Europe and is now the President of a telecom investment company, which targets growth-based on innovation; Susanne Hannestad, specializes in FinTech and is Board Director for a number of international tech companies. She is now the CEO of FinTech Mundi, a global financial solutions consultancy that helps high-potential financial technology companies develop their ideas, commercialize their products and grow their businesses internationally; Joshua Smythwood, based in London, has over 18 years’ experience as a senior leader for various multi-national operators and telecom service providers.
Such a dynamic and well-established board, enables Monty Mobile to drive their mission in helping operators maximize their revenue, by offering a range of innovative solutions, developed by their team of experts. In the last decade, operators across the globe have seen a consistent decline in revenue as a result of OTT (Over the Top) services such as instant messaging, that bypass the operator, in spite of their critical need for network, in order to function.
The emergence of 5G and IoT has once again brought the role of operators and telcos to the forefront of the rapidly advancing digital world and connects them to many opportunities that could consolidate their role as key-players in the telecommunications sector. Furthermore, the current COVID-19 crisis has also placed operators on the global stage – to support and assist the worldwide pandemic. Monty Mobile provides solutions to help operators see an opportunity in every challenge. Now, more than ever, the world is in need of innovative communication and FinTech services that make daily procedures simpler, protect our safety and reach out to the world’s most vulnerable populations. With this in mind, Monty Mobile has developed a range of new services, which incorporate the above and aim to elevate and enhance the role of operators in the international digital revolution.
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