Building an industrial strength platform

Building an industrial strength platform Dominic Smith talks to Colin Windsor, COO/CIO at Truphone, about breaking down the boundaries between traditional networks and creating a mobile service without country borders.

DS: Hi Colin, and welcome to the Cerillion Blog. Can you tell me a bit about you and your role at Truphone?

CW: I’m the COO/CIO of Truphone, so I look after the part of the organisation that does all the technology delivery and runs the operations. On a day to day basis I’m focused on the roadmap of what we’re delivering; how we are doing from an operational point of view; and then strategy, where are we going and what are we doing to enable us on the journey.

DS: And what makes Truphone unique?                                             

CW: Think of it like this…when you use your mobile and you make a call in the UK you don’t worry about what it will cost. When you go to America, or Australia you might start worrying about it. In fact, anywhere you travel, you might start worrying about it. What Truphone is asking is: why is that? Why do you worry about using you mobile phone around the world? The actual answer is there is no logical reason why you should worry about it. The only reason you do worry about it is the way the industry has been created, based on national geographic boundaries. For the time, 30 years ago, that was quite logical, but it’s now a very different market.

What Truphone is doing, is saying that these geographic boundaries are no longer relevant. You can actually now create a global mobile phone company, and what you do is you integrate that at the infrastructure level, you integrate at the radio level and basically unite radio around the world. Once you do that, you have a whole range of different propositions you can offer.

Our focus is very much on the B2B market of international travellers and we offer a unique range of services that no one else can deliver.

DS: When did Truphone start?

CW: Truphone has been around for about 8 years now, but I divide this into two phases. There was the R&D phase, which was probably the first five years of its life – because creating a global mobile network is actually technically quite complicated. The second phase would be the last three years when we’ve built out an industrial strength platform to deliver that service in 8 countries around the world – the Truphone Zone, which comprises Australia, Germany, Hong Kong, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain, USA and the UK.

DS: As a global mobile provider, who do you see as your competitors?

CW: Logically, if you approach a company to sell them a mobile service they are used to buying in a certain way based on the market norm. When we go to them, it’s a fundamentally different proposition, it’s a global proposition. They aren’t used to looking at that, so who are our competitors? I don’t think we have any.

Let me give you some interesting examples. On our service we can provide eight telephone numbers on one SIM – one number for each country. You tell me who else in the world can provide that? On our service we can offer you a shared data plan across the board. I can say “I don’t care where you are, use data in any of these countries”. Do any other mobile operators provide that service? And when you talk about a global service - who else can you go to that can offer you customer service in all those countries? For example, if your phone breaks in America, who else can give you a new phone, fully provisioned? Nobody.
So it’s very interesting when someone says “what is the competitive landscape?” because one of our challenges frankly is that there isn’t a competitor out there. Therefore, when you’re in front of a customer and you’re in front of procurement especially, they look at you and think “how do I compare you against everyone else?” It’s a very interesting difference.

DS: So who are your customers and why do they buy Truphone?

CW: It tends to be executives who travel internationally; if you’re in two or more of our countries it is a to-die-for proposition. So these are the companies we’re targeting. We break them down into what we call the ‘big’ companies, like the large investment banks that we are quite attuned to, or you get those who are more technology focused.

So, for example, four of the top five investment banks use our service. We also count the Caterham F1 team amongst our customers. Why? Because they travel the world; they need to internationally communicate. They have headquarters in the UK and they need to stay in constant contact. So anyone who has a need for international travel will find the Truphone service useful.

Obviously global data usage is becoming more and more interesting because of smartphones and iPads etc. But what we’re seeing is people want to buy a whole package across the world that says “just make it easy for me wherever I go”. One of things we offer is the ‘One Contract for the World’ - fundamentally why should you do contracts in every country? Just have one contract, for the world.

DS: What challenges do you face in the current market?

CW: The challenge we have more than most is that we are disrupting the market. Therefore every conversation we have starts with a) Who are you? and b) What do you do? When you start talking to someone about what you do it takes them a little while to twig why you are different, and then it’s “why has nobody done this before?” The answer to that is that it is very difficult to build this proposition and very complicated to make it happen, but we’ve done it.

Breaking down national boundaries is also a big challenge, not least because the regulatory landscape is unique in every territory. But from a technology point of view, that is how we build our service. What we’ve done and focus a lot of effort and time on is the architecture of what we’re building, because we’ve integrated eight MNOs in about two and a half years, and that is moving some! Most businesses don’t get to launch an MVNO in two years but we’ve done eight of them in two and a half and that’s pretty fast.

To do that, we’ve built this integration infrastructure, because if you say “what do we really do?” we integrate MNOs together into one proposition and we’ve built the architecture to do that. We work on the basis of build it once and then re-use it time and time again. For example B-number shielding is required in Holland and Germany. We built this once and have re-used it in another place. And the more countries we do, the more able we are to fulfil lots of different needs with these building blocks.

DS: How does all this translate into your BSS / OSS strategy?

CW: If you are delivering a global service that has to be the same around the world, then the same products have to be available across the world. So there’s one golden rule - one system for the world. What I’m very strict on is countries will not do their own thing. That makes us very different from, for example, a Vodafone with 32 MNOs which are all independent operating companies who come together under a Vodafone umbrella. Actually, we have this very interesting synergistic relationship with our countries – they have to use us, in that we are both dependant on each other. Therefore our relationship is very different.
The other thing about Truphone is that we were born ‘global’. That’s a very different proposition. It wasn’t intended to be in once place and then to grow out; from day zero we were intended to be a global company and that has made us think a lot differently.

DS: Cerillion and Truphone have been working together since 2012. How has that relationship developed, and what are Cerillion doing to help you?

CW: I consider Cerillion to be one of our core strategic partners. If you’d asked me two and a half years ago should it be Cerillion, or should it be ‘X’ or ‘Y’, I couldn’t have told you. So why did we choose Cerillion? Well people said that the functionality was good. But what I look for in a supplier is cultural fit: Can you react quickly? Can you come and listen to us? Can you come and talk to us about what we’re trying to do? Can you try and fix our problems with us? I genuinely feel Cerillion have been the partner who does come and listen, and does want to work with us.

But what makes the relationship strategic, is where Cerillion have said: well you want this, and we’re prepared to invest in building it because it will help us too – that is what I call a strategic partner. Furthermore, we’re both in London and when you’re doing something this complicated, you want to be close to the people doing the work.

As you may be aware, we’ve just come out with Truphone World which is basically 66 countries in a bundle and is a unique proposition. From a systems point of view, we implemented that end-to-end in about two and a half months – that is pretty fast.
I look back on the last two and a half years with amazement at what we’ve built in the timeframe because it is genuinely disruptive to the industry. It’s re-writing the way you think about mobile phone companies and Cerillion have been a key part of that.

DS: How do you see the future? What are the challenges and opportunities for Truphone moving forwards?

CW: There is a desire to go into additional countries. We have a list of approximately twenty plus countries that we are prioritising. And when you add a new country it expands your footprint significantly because the connection from that country to every other country has a multiplying effect, so there’s a huge potential for what we’ve built.

The interesting thing for Truphone is the world of potential. We have primarily focused on the B2B market with direct sales. We do have a B2C pre-pay proposition but this hasn’t been a priority so far. We’re now looking to develop our sales channels to grow the B2C segment and reach the SME communities, and this includes how we sell the proposition online. So there’s still a world of opportunity we can go after.

The question for us is which of these do we do and in what order? We’ve built this infrastructure, now we need to exploit it by bringing on board new markets.

DS: What do you think about all the industry hype around things like Big Data, VoLTE, NFV, SDN, Cloud, etc?

CW: Delivering a great mobile service around the world has got to be table stakes. When you roam, most people do not get a good service because of the way the network is constructed. What we’ve done is re-write the way you build a network with six data centres around the world. This means that our service proposition, i.e. the fact that your voice quality will be better, your data speeds will be higher, your latency will be lower and your costs will be lower, basically means it’s a ‘level up’ service.

So if you want to stream music in America, and you want to use a cloud service, why shouldn’t you? You tell me how many people are going to do that on a traditional mobile network? So our view of life is that people can talk about lots of buzzwords, but actually what we’ve built is about getting the right service to people across the world, at a lower cost and with an increased level of service. That is where customers really benefit.

DS: So you’re creating value in the network, where most network operators are losing value in the network?

CW: Correct. Look at me now, my mobile phone, connected via Bluetooth, listening to Google music whilst travelling down the M4 – it’s fantastic. When I go to America with my phone, hire a car that happens to have Bluetooth, why shouldn’t I be able to stream Google music on the highway there? The only thing that’s stopping me is the way the industry’s been created. The fact that you have a great service at home, you should be able to have that service everywhere, and that’s exactly what Truphone provides.

DS: Colin, thank you very much for your time and sharing your experiences with our readers.