Based on your many years of experience in the subsea cable industry, what are some of the most prevalent trends? What disruptive trends might affect your operations in the future?
The industry has seen a move away from Carrier Consortia towards smaller private consortium models, with one or two carriers. A number of ‘traditional’ system investors have moved to an asset light model, especially those based in Europe, where hyper-competition in home markets has forced a re-focus. On technology, open systems with more fibre pairs per cable (following a fibre pair investment unit model) are now the norm – they are simple to establish, straightforward to operate and allow quick decision making and flexibility. These changes support our move into offering professional services that range from the planning and design phase of a new cable project, to being the landing party through to operating the cable system to a fully outsourced model on behalf of the investors.
You recently stated that different elements in the supply chain have had different levels of innovation. What new opportunities in technology today would you like to utilize the most?
By way of example, repeater housing design has remained static for a few decades, with the exception of some new contender designs; more innovation is needed to create larger bodies with more compact amplification designs. Also, vessel service life and relative infrequent new building has meant that we largely use the same techniques as ever for laying the cable; accuracy is better, but apart from surveying (with autonomous vessels) the model is still highly weather and people dependent.
The forecasted annual traffic growth for the Trans-Atlantic market in 2020 is an impressive 50%. How does Aqua Comms plan to capitalize on this growth?
Aqua Comms owns/operates two strong Atlantic routes; AEC-1 and AEC-2, we have started the process of enabling AEC-3 (more details to come throughout next year) and have plans in place for a possible AEC-4. The huge growth rates and general market growth support a small number of independent players in this sector and we strive to be the best in both efficiency, route diversity and quality in the North Atlantic market.
In an earlier virtual roundtable, Aqua Comms directly addressed the challenges affecting telecoms during the coronavirus pandemic. Can you brief us on the main content of the roundtable? What alternative solutions have you proposed to cope in these challenging times?
Aqua Comms established from the outset as an organization able to operate efficiently in a multi-remote scenario. Our model combines the decades and decades of experience of our executive and management teams, with flexibility and efficiency of automation, outsourcing and remote management enablers. We designed an organization and processes that support this, with no dependency on physical location, time zone or specific human resource. This meant our response to the pandemic was just another simple step in this model – we did have a headquarters office, but less than 50% of the company worked there weekly. All our team have home-office capability and we have a wide range of tools to ensure connectivity and connected-ness internally within our team, with our support partners in technology and remote activity roles and with our customers and partners. We were able to expedite orders and deliver multiple terabits of capacity during the main lockdown period in record time to service urgent market needs using this remote-capable, efficient operating model.
How has COVID-19 affected the subsea cable industry in general? What is the economic impact of delays in deployment?
For projects in final implementation stages (cable in ships, being laid) delays have been minimal with some inevitable disruption due to quarantine routines which has affected crew changeovers. For projects in manufacturing stages, these seem to have seen delays due to factories closing during harsh lockdown periods but are maybe only delayed by a few months. Projects which are in the early phases have made some progress, but physical location visits and planning for shore activity has obviously been affected. The unknowns are the projects that are aiming to get to a contractual close – typically these involve many multi-faceted whole group meetings, which have not been easy to hold virtually, to bring all factors to a conclusion so we may expect a quarter delay in this area. By and large, the industry and our sub-sector seem to have fared very much better than many other sectors (transport, leisure, hospitality, etc.) because internet access is all the more crucial in a remote world, as caused by the pandemic.
Your North Atlantic loop offers an array of diverse services between the US and Northern Europe. Can you tell us more about the services offered with the loop and the benefits that each service yields?
The North Atlantic Loop offers connectivity services, typically 10G and 100G wavelengths, with 400G waves on the horizon, between multiple locations in the US and Northern Europe. This includes core routes such as New York to London, New York to Dublin but also now connecting New York and New Jersey to Denmark, as well connecting Ireland to the UK and Denmark on new, diverse and unique routes. These routes support the major data centre and traffic hubs across the US, the UK, Ireland and the Nordics, all of which are seeing significant growth from the content, cloud and carrier businesses.
Aqua Comms has maintained a presence in recent industry events – as seen from your participation in Subsea World. What significant insights have you gained and how did you apply them?
As previously mentioned, it’s been gratifying to see that many of our colleagues in other companies are also coping with a remote world well, our sector is generally buoyant based on a realization that connectivity is even more important in a pandemic. It’s been interesting to see different approaches – some companies who have enormous headcount, generally focused in many large offices, have completely reversed their policies and expect homeworking to be the new normal for them – others are aiming to go back towards an office environment more quickly. These changes and policies need to be supported as a cultural transition, as the physical set-up often dictates how things are done culturally in such cases. Because we established ourselves with the goal of being multi-country, a remote working enterprise with a flat structure and rapid decision lines, we have that cultural trait embedded in our core. One other change likely is that our cooperative culture – enabling many parties to come together to build these large infrastructure projects – is also going to have to modify because the reliance on physically meeting each other a few times a year in far-off destinations is certainly suspended for the next half-year or so (still), and may never return to the way it was in the past. The longer we operate (and cooperate) successfully in a remote model, the less likely that the past model will return to the same extent.
Your flagship product is FOCUS – Fibre Optics Cables Under the Sea. How has your product developed over the years? In what ways do you expect to see it grow in the future?
This strapline is more our philosophy, than a product in itself. Fiber Optic Cables Under the Sea. It signifies that we choose to focus on a specific segment/layer of the telecommunications industry – that of undersea fibre optic cables, connecting countries. We don’t focus on terrestrial fibre infrastructure, we only obtain what we need from others, to connect the sea landings to the major cities and distribution hubs. We don’t sell any IP services, telephony services or services below a pure transport capacity. We believe in being the very best at the very specific thing that we choose to do and never competing with our customers.
What are the implications of having Aqua Comms now directly available at 1025Connect’s colocation facility?
We have had presence at 1025 for a couple of years as a pass-through location on our backhaul towards New York. As major users start to move away from Manhattan as a service location, we have augmented and substantiated our presence there, given its proximity to multiple cable landings, no MRC cross-connect model and carrier-neutral status.
What are the implications of installing SMART cables? Do you think they are the future?
The SMART cable initiative is intended to gather some basic situational data from telecommunciations cable systems (temp and pressure at amplifier housings), along with derived information (vibrational analysis due to subsea earthquakes/sea level changes) inherent in the optical signals and structure of the cable to provide long-term measurement of such items for the scientific and governmental institutes. This enables one to better understand ocean parameters, enabling better prediction and notification of major events (tsunami/earthquakes) and better modelling of our changing climate and oceanic activity. As with any new technology in submarine, this will require demonstrator projects (some of which have started), development and standardization of new sensors and adoption of the requirement by the operator and developer community.
Many predict that the future of Subsea cable deployment will be taken over by tech giants such as Facebook and Google. What are your thoughts on this projection? And what would that mean for Aqua Comms?
Throughout my career it has been apparent that the people who need submarine cables most are the people who then get together to develop and build them. It was voice cables in the 80-90’s, so the PTTs were the dominant force in building. Later in the 90’s, it was for data and internet, and private companies consolidated and aggregated demand to build systems. Then, larger ISPs (L3, GX, etc.) also built their own private cables whilst the PTT/Carrier consortia lessened. The 2010-20’s sees large private companies building for their own needs (same as during the 2000’s) but alongside some private developers (like ourselves) who aggregate smaller demands together with those carriers with large infrastructures. So my answer would be that those with the biggest need for capacity will always look to build at an infrastructure level for best cost, and there will always be space for those, like Aqua Comms, who choose to FOCUS on serving the needs of the rest of the market.
Michel Robert, CEO of Epsilon
Tell us about your partnership with Aviatrix to provide the latest multi-cloud networking service?
We recently partnered with Aviatrix to deliver our own multi-cloud solution. It’s an end-to-end multi-cloud service running on Epsilon’s global network with the automation, operational visibility and control that enterprises need to simplify cloud networking.
Epsilon Cloud Networking addresses the real challenges in enterprise networking within and across the clouds. We’ve combined our expertise in global connectivity with Aviatrix’s cloud orchestration platform to deliver an end-to-end multi-cloud service, and we’re confident in delivering a best-in-class cloud networking solution for our customers.
This year we’re really focusing on our partner strategy. We already have a strong ecosystem of networks, cloud service providers and internet exchange partners stretching across 260+ points of presence (PoPs) in 41 cities globally. We are looking to enhance our services by working with great technical partners, like Aviatrix, to enhance our interconnection services. There are not many companies out there that can offer their customers the comprehensive end-to-end solutions like we do, with rapid responsiveness and one point of contact.
How can Epsilon customers benefit?
Our solution makes multi-cloud networking simple for enterprises. Epsilon Cloud Networking leverages a multi-cloud network architecture with a common network data and operational control plane. Through point and click workflows and infrastructure as code automation, enterprises using the multi-cloud service no longer need to undertake the complex and manual processes of native cloud networking. The service provides everything an enterprise needs to transform their cloud networking through a single relationship.
Our solution really accelerates cloud network deployments to support the pace of business and application owners, which is a key benefit for customers. Our customers can move faster to meet demands at the click of a button. This provides full visibility across the clouds, simplifies their cloud network operations and can identify and resolve problems rapidly.
Security and troubleshooting are also a big part of the solution. Our managed service provider and enterprise customers can easily solve multi-cloud networking, security and troubleshooting issues. The multi-cloud network architecture has a common network data and operational control plane that gives them the full control they need.
What kind of challenges do you hope to overcome with this new multi-cloud service?
More and more enterprise IT organisations are using public cloud to support business transformation. The pandemic has really increased the pace of transformation for many companies, and enterprises are facing challenges including limited visibility, lack of network control and skill gaps, when connecting applications and data in the cloud.
A lot of enterprises don’t achieve expected return on investment (ROI) in cloud because of operational and network complexity. While many enterprises have started application migrations to the cloud, cost management remains an issue. On top of this, many cloud providers don’t provide the tools for operational visibility, control or security. Our new multi-cloud solution seeks to help businesses tackle these challenges more effectively.
It makes cloud networking simple for enterprises, with everything they need to transform their cloud networking through a single relationship with Epsilon.
Is the multi-cloud environment suitable for all enterprises?
Yes. In general, all industries have adopted the cloud, but individual companies will have to assess which applications are the most suitable to migrate to cloud platforms depending on types of the business applications and data, security and compliance requirements.
Our multi-cloud networking solution can be used by all kinds of enterprises across verticals, from technology to automotive, manufacturing or hospitality. Any enterprise looking to benefit from a multi-cloud environment can simplify their journey by using our solution. We provide connectivity from the last mile locations all the way to the cloud.
Talk us through Epsilon’s Network as a Service (NaaS) strategy? How will it play a role in the enterprise market in 2021?
Infiny currently offers three powerful networking solutions: Interconnection between leading data centres, direct connection to cloud providers and access to the world’s largest internet exchanges. We also have an Access solution for connecting branch offices, on-prem data centres and partner locations around the world to the Epsilon network and its cloud networking and interconnection services.
Infiny makes it much simpler for businesses of all kinds to meet their connectivity needs in one place, by removing the need to manage multiple vendor relationships. As the networking ecosystem gets more and more complex, I think businesses will be looking out for the simplest and fastest way to connect globally, which we’re able to do.
I believe in 2021, we’ll see drive towards platform-centric connectivity such as NaaS. These platforms deliver global connectivity using a self-service model, allowing the customers to buy and manage their network services on-demand.
By building solutions through partnerships, we can deliver best-of-breed solutions to our customers, more quickly and more scalable than if we had built the solution ourselves. Rather than competing against specialists in certain fields, we believe in partnering with some of these companies to offer the best possible solutions to our customers.
Partnerships are a big part of our business strategy. Our differentiator is that we can offer our customers the best-in-class solutions with high levels of responsiveness and flexibility. A huge part of that comes from partnering with top companies across different tech sectors, which can provide us with the tools we need to serve even more of our customers’ needs.
Our goal is to enable businesses to connect to the global cloud infrastructure they need in a simple and powerful way. We’re excited to announce more partnerships that we’ve got planned for the near future, which will enhance our offering further.
The pandemic has undoubtedly accelerated the pace of transformation. To what extent will digital workspace growth push cloud adoption and spending?
2020 was definitely a year of transformation. With a surge in the number of people working from home, there’s been huge demand for digital workspace solutions. As a result, cloud adoption and spending has increased dramatically, and it’s looking like this will continue in 2021. Remote working will start to become the new normal as businesses of all kinds have realised this year that productivity can continue even without having teams in an office all the time. It will definitely be interesting to see how this accelerates cloud transformation in 2021 – I think we’ll continue to see growth, but at a steadier pace than 2020.
How does the new networking service enable customers to meet their security needs?
Our Cloud Networking solution provides enterprises with added security for distributed cloud environments. To get into the details, it offers advance security features including multi-cloud network segmentation, high-performance encryption, firewall insertion, CloudWAN, secure user access, secure site-to-cloud and ingress and egress. We provide all the tools that enterprises and managed service providers need to secure their customers’ cloud deployments and benefit from a multi-cloud environment, via our private network.
What are some of the unique challenges we face with cloud adoption?
Cloud adoption isn’t always straightforward, especially when enterprises are trying to connect within and between multiple different clouds and regions. Some of these challenges include skills gaps, limited visibility, lack of network control and operational complexity. Not all enterprises are experts in cloud, so without an expert partner it can be difficult to really unlock the potential of their cloud environments.
Many enterprises have invested large amounts of resources in building business applications within a public cloud environment but end up neglecting the connectivity underlay. Any application performance will ultimately be underpinned by the network it’s delivered on. Enterprises are needing more than basic connectivity from the standard internet connections, and that can be a challenge without the right partner.
How will 5G rollout take cloud computing to the next level?
5G will be an alternative access technology for connecting the end users. It will contribute towards making a whole load of technologies more efficient, including cloud computing. With the rollout of 5G accelerating in 2021, cloud computing is really going to go to the next level. 5G can provide speeds 100x higher and capacity 100x more than 4G, on top of much lower latencies. This is going to transform customer experiences and improve business operations too.
I’m excited to see the impact of 5G on cloud-based applications and services, and just how much faster it will be to move data between locations. With better efficiencies come the opportunity to spend more time innovating too, so 5G could really be the key to new innovation in cloud native business and consumer applications that we don’t even know about yet.
Mohanned Alosta, CEO of Libyana Telecom
How has Libyana handled the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic? What were the main challenges? And how were they met?
The COVID-19 pandemic has deeply impacted the entire world, we, at Libyana, faced challenging issues on both the service providing and operation sides; however, we find ourselves in the right direction facing all of them.
On the service side, the lockdown naturally boosted network traffic, we were ready for this specifically since Libyana started network expansion in 2019, and continuously till this day, to ensure service quality for our customers. Our network expands simultaneously with users’ demand, maintaining the best user experience and enhancing it.
On the management side, our main focus centers on protecting our employees and partners aiming to minimize the risk of infection, by restructuring our operations throughout 2020, keeping only 30 percent of employees working from the office, with the remaining team working remotely.
At the same time, we utilized all solutions such as ERP, Online Dealer, Online Meeting to keep the business running normally regardless of all these circumstances. This proved to be an experience full of lessons learnt which will help us achieve our digital transformation plans.
In 2019, Libyana partnered with Expertise France to boost the local startup scene. Can you tell us more about this initiative? And what other efforts have been made to push startups forward?
Libyana gives special attention to innovation and entrepreneurship as a part of its social responsibility; the initiative with Expertise France aims to establish a first-of-its-kind center, which includes a business incubator and accelerator, called FabLab. In addition, we launched a new project, called Stream, offering all sorts of services and training to support entrepreneurs and MSMEs in Libya.
Stream provides training and support both technical and financial to 101 participants from 10 different cities through 7 programs over the course of 15 months. Through this project, 21 idea holders have managed to successfully transform their ideas into startups, while 76 percent of the startups that previously participated in the program stated that they experienced an increase in revenue following enrollment allowing for the creation of 126 jobs.
How are you planning to accelerate the company’s growth in 2021?
As the main telecom operator in Libya with all circumstances currently facing us and the telecoms industry, it is a big challenge for Libyana to keep stable growth in 2021.
First, as all online traffic increases due to lockdowns, we will focus on maintaining our network expansion and optimization efforts in an all-level capacity, capability, and stability, to be ready for any sudden traffic increase.
Second, we will continue our digital transformation journey for both our subscriber services and company operations, to improve the user experience and company efficiency during and after the pandemic.
Due to the effect of the on-going worldwide economic depression by the coronavirus, ARPU degradation is expected, thus, we are building more digital services to provide diverse service offerings to our subscribers.
With the African continent being heavily reliant on FinTech, are there any plans for Libyana to jump into the financial services sector?
As part of Libyana’s vision of enhancing our customers’ lives by connecting people in every way shape or form, we are planning to enter the FinTech sector by offering several solutions such as mobile money and online payments, which are part of our digital transformation strategy. The financial sector in Libya faces several issues, which is why our aim is to fill this gap and connect all Libyans on the financial scope as we do in telecommunications.
With 5G being the talk of the town in the telecoms industry, can you tell us about Libyana’s 5G efforts within the country?
Libyana is ready to embrace 5G, where the current network supports 5G evolution smoothly. Currently, we are analyzing the best business models for 5G and its application for Libya’s needs, as we are aiming to provide excellent service experiences and best service value to all Libyans.
Are there plans for the company to expand outside of Libya?
Currently, we are working for more cooperation with global operators to improve the subscriber roaming experience. For the time being, expanding into other markets is not considered a top priority on our list since times are still fragile due to the economic recession and the COVID-19 situation, but we continue to keep eyes on the global situation and all opportunities around us.
As technological advancements such as 5G, IoT, AI, AR, VR, and the like are starting to hit the mainstream, which one interests you the most? Why?
Both 5G and IoT are our highest priority, where the demand for M2M and massive data has drastically increased. A massive country such as Libya, which mainly leans on its oil and gas industry, needs to discover new opportunities in order to be ready for the 4th Industrial revolution.
Cybersecurity has become a must for all ICT/tech companies, especially during the COVID-era. How has Libyana strengthened its defenses against cybercriminals?
Cybersecurity is one of the highest priorities for us at Libyana, as we have three lines of defense:
- The first line is all employees implement self-control over the cybersecurity of products such as strong cypher, VPN, identity authentication, and so on.
- The second line is identifying and protecting all the service units against any cybersecurity risks to systems, assets, data, and capabilities to ensure delivery of critical infrastructure services.
- The third line is a Detect and Respond mechanism, implemented appropriately into our activities to identify the occurrence of a cyber breach and take action on it immediately.
What is your stance regarding the ban on Huawei in some countries?
We understand the decision of some operators to exclude Huawei, however, its worthy to note that the ban has caused an interruption within Huawei’s supply chain. This has made the Chinese telco enter “survival mode,” which makes it face uncertain risks within its network operations and evolution, especially to operators that exclusively purchase equipment from Huawei.
Huawei is considered a titan in the telcoms world due to its strong comprehensive strengths, which is why we, at Libyana, have constructed parts of our network with Huawei equipment. In parallel, we can only hope that the company resolves its disputes with the United States as fast as possible to avoid the operating risk of its customers, and to protect investments and maintain competitiveness in the 5G era.
How did Libyana weather the storm during years of war and a struggling local economy?
Nowadays, telecoms is considered one of the most important sectors in Libya, keeping our customers connected regardless of the current fractured society, providing services to the whole country during all crises.
In case of any force majeure, we do our best to solve issues immediately guaranteeing civilians the communication they need. As the ceasefire agreement was signed earlier this year, it is expected that next year the satiation in Libya will hopefully become better and Libyana will continue its work to provide stable services.
We do not only consider ourselves as a telecom operator, but more of a basic society service provider; thus, regardless of what happens, Libyana’s main target is to always guarantee high-quality service to our subscribers while maintaining our contribution to the country.
Joe Fizor, TBI Lead Solutions Engineer and Tech Guru
How will 5G impact enterprise mobility in 2021?
5G will be a source of additional redundancy and diversity to company networks, providing much higher bandwidth and throughput. From a mobile perspective, 5G will allow several variations that need to be considered, such as 5G narrowband which will be great for IoT devices. End users looking for high performance and the ability to work remotely will need to focus on the wideband offerings which will have the higher speeds, low latency and high-capacity consumers have come to expect when hearing 5G.
How will remote work evolve in the coming year? How can businesses prepare for that change?
As many businesses continue to have an ongoing, larger remote workforce, we will see businesses running a cost analysis of price per square foot of office space versus the price of SD-WAN and/or business grade connections to remote users. Security has to be at the forefront too – we are no longer protected by the four walls of the office, but rather facing a diverse set of users on known and unknown devices. Focusing on Zero-Trust security architectures will continue to be critical. With the introduction of SASE as a newer framework, we will continue to see providers push identity access management (IAM), single sign-on (SSO), multi-factor authentication (MFA), etc. to secure remote users. Additionally, as we continue the shift to remote work, businesses will need to balance their approach to gaining visibility into users/applications while not overstepping and straining their users through micro-management. The ability to enact “big brother” roles may prove too tempting for many. Unfortunately, we may not like it as end users, but visibility and analytics will continue to grow and be a top priority.
Growth in 5G mobility requires greater security measures in parallel. What can a company do from now?
Though mobility security is difficult, we cannot rely on the expensive firewall deployed on the edge of the network, sitting in the office that no one has entered in 9 months. Businesses need to understand the options regarding mobile device management (MDM), endpoint security, identity access management (IAM), and single sign-on (SSO)/Multi-factor authentication (MFA). Through MDM, companies can secure and remotely wipe devices if lost or stolen, push applications to ensure users have the tools they need, setup containers for business applications if the device is personal and go as far as expense management. This will help secure devices, but companies can go further with IAM and endpoint security to limit access based on location, device type, time of day, etc. Also, keep in mind that the security measures everyone needs to consider with 5G are no different from 4G LTE. Now there is more speed, more capacity, and more damage that could be done through malicious attacks. For example, DDoS attacks can – and have – stemmed from IoT devices. So, if you consider the high performance increases we will see with 5G, now with far greater bandwidth, many could be setting themselves up to witness some truly gigantic attacks.
When training/retraining a remote team (in preparation for 2021), what should be at the top of the agenda?
Top of the agenda for training should be discussing and reviewing business approved tools, applications as well as devices, along with security awareness training. If the business does not approve of a BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) policy, then that needs reinforcement. Remote users can lead to nightmare scenarios for IT professionals and implementing policies to minimize attack vectors is critical. Communicating this to remote teams is just as critical, and educating them on how to stop phishing attacks, best practices when sharing information, keeping devices updated, and leveraging strong passwords will help strengthen every companies’ security posture.
What challenges/risks are the remote workforce likely to face in the coming year? How to mitigate these risks?
The remote workforce overall is an easy target for many attackers. Businesses and their employees need to be on the lookout for fraudulent emails and increased phishing attacks. Unsecure Wi-Fi connections can lead to man in the middle attacks, connectivity issues, and unknown third-party applications. The best advice I can give is to stay diligent. Check who is sending emails/attachments. If a request seems strange. . . pick up the phone and call to confirm the request. It really boils down to the same security framework we use on the network – Zero Trust. Assume nothing is safe and use caution in all aspects of work and personal life.
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