An Interview with Oliver Camplin-Warner, head of Telstra International

Editor’s note: At ITW, I had the pleasure of sitting down with Oliver Camplin-Warner, Head of Telstra International.  We not only talked about Telstra’s network and recent announcements, such as the launching of services on the INDIGO submarine cable, but also the role that the telecommunications industry plays in improving people’s lives.  The following are Oliver’s comments.

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Oliver Camplin-Warner: I’ve been with Telstra for seven years and with Telstra International for the last 12 months.  Before that I was based in Australia and I had a couple of roles.  One was in the sales side where I looked after government customers for Telstra Australia and the largest enterprise customers as well.  Before that I was on the operations side and I led the field technicians – the 5,000 technicians across Australia working their magic day in and day out.  Before Telstra, I was with IBM for 11 years. 

As we sit here at ITW, I think that while it’s great to talk about the new technology and the new investments that we’re making, etc., sometimes, as an industry, we lose sight of the impact we’re have on a daily basis. 

Something I’ve really been thinking about since joining Telstra International is the difference we make in people’s daily lives.  This one time when I was in Hong Kong, I was on the bus going home.  It had been a long day and I sat on the bus next to this lady.  She got out her phone, and I remember it vividly, she placed it on her lap and fired up a video conversation with a lady who was cooking and a lady who was sitting on the sofa.  And then there was this magical moment when she started signing – she was deaf.  And the lady who was cooking started signing back to her, the lady on the sofa was also signing. 

I just sat there and I thought, “Wow!”  Without Telstra and our industry, that would just not be possible.  Ten years, 20 years ago, that lady would have gotten on the bus, gone home, and just sat there, right?  I shared that story with my team the next day at work and you could see them all of a sudden sitting up tall.  It was like “Oh, that’s what we do.”  We’re making a real difference across the world and in whether it be individuals like that lady, or stock exchanges, or with streaming video, etc.  Without what we do, none of that would be possible. 

When we go to speak to customers, sometimes they get lost as to what we actually do.  I think at times our industry is almost something people can’t relate to.  We’ve spent a huge amount of time focusing on purpose.  We’re quite excited about shaking things up a little bit. 

That starting point is the anchor around our purpose, and I think that’s been the real call-to-action for the team.  We have over 3,000 people now at Telstra International in over 20 countries around the world.  We’re still investing heavily in our network.  We’ve made a number of significant investments this year.  It’s been quite a year starting off with PTC and carrying it through to ITW.  INDIGO was obviously a significant investment that we made and we’re thrilled to announce that it is now live.  What that gives to us is the quickest route from Singapore through to Melbourne and Sydney.  It leverages our fiber across Australia.  We’re seeing fantastic interest and great demand there.  At about the same time we made an announcement about and how we’re making a 25% investment in Southern Cross.  That’s still subject to regulatory sign-off.  So we’re really looking to take our stronghold in Asia to Asia-Pacific.  If you look at our strategy in the past, it has very much been about investing in Asia.  Today, over 30% of Internet traffic in Asia is carried on our network.  That was through the Pacnet and other acquisitions.  Now we’re looking to take that to Asia-Pacific.  There’s the Southern Cross investment, but we’ve made further investments in FASTER and NCP as well.  We’ve made big investments in terms of capacity. 

We’ve also invested in Infinera’s ICE-4 technology so we can get extra capacity in our existing networks.  We rolled it out initially just across Asia, but now we’re rolling out across our network globally.  It just gives so much more capacity.  If you were to ask me what key themes that I’m seeing in the industry today, when I speak to our customers, without doubt the first would be the thirst for demand.  At times it just blows you away with how much they are looking to acquire.  Second is virtualization.  Third is security.  And the fourth is China.  We have a very strong presence in China.  We have over 200 people there and a growing footprint including five data centers and 49 PoPs.  There are a lot of debates about China.  I think the role Telstra has is that we have a history there.  We’re seeing customers coming to us as China experts and seeking our advice on how to enter and operate there.  That’s a part of our business that we’re very proud of and seeing strong double-digit growth.  We’re excited about the future there. 

We’re also very proud of our “Always-On” service.  We’ve all seen what happens in this day and age when our customers are without services.  It’s the end of the world.  With “Always-On,” when one of our routes is taken out by a natural disaster, an anchor, or whatever it might be, it allows us to re-route the traffic to another path.  And because of the amount of redundancy we have, especially in the Asia-Pacific region, we can very quickly re-route it to an alternate path.  Until recently, that took about eight hours.  The engineer would have to go in and make some changes and then it would be on the alternate path.  That is all fully automated now.  So now it happens literally in seconds – straight over to a new path.  In terms of disruption, there is none.  It’s as if nothing happened.  That’s something that the finance sector and the OTTs are very, very hot on at the moment and it’s getting a lot of traction. 

One of the real skills of our industry is the whole capacity planning thing.  When we’re making these investments, they’re very significant.  They need board sign-off, etc.  If you make the wrong decision you can be pouring a lot of money down the drain.  We work very closely with our customers and the OTTs.  We have very strong partnerships with the OTTs.  We’ve very much taken a partnership approach with them.  We work with governments around the world as well.  We work with many different bodies to try to get the capacity planning thing right.  I think so far we’ve done a good job with that.  This focus of moving from an Asia strategy to an Asia-Pacific strategy is really paying off. 

With the OTTs, it comes down to a cultural fit.  I think Telstra’s culture is one I really love.  It’s very Australian – fast-moving, agile, young.  We’ve found this beautiful fit culturally and it just lends to a very strategic partnership based conversation.  There are some areas where we compete, but I think largely we’ve gone about it the right way.  The team has embraced it.  We leverage each other’s strengths now.  And we’re doing some great things together.