Oct 022015
suspicious man watching for an interent scam

Another day, another corporate security breach (or six). This time telco T-Mobile has revealed up to 15 million customers’ data has been compromised.

Notable in this story is that T-Mobile are firmly putting the blame on credit monitoring company Experian.

For both companies this is extremely embarrassing with T-Mobile stating, “our vendors are contractually obligated to abide by stringent privacy and security practices, and we are extremely disappointed that hackers could access the Experian network.”

T-Mobile, like most telcos, sees a major opportunity in being a trusted provider of security services and this setback hurts them in a key market.

Experian on the other hand have shown their slack attitude to user data previously, having been caught selling consumer details to identity thieves.

That a company in such a privileged position as Experian can be constantly caught this way will almost certainly increase the push to see penalties for corporate data breaches start to get real teeth and the United States’ cavalier attitude to public privacy and online security will take another dent.

For T-Mobile and most other companies, the lesson is start and clear. Trust starts with your own contractors and business partners, it cannot be outsourced.

Oct 012015

“It’s a kid in a candy store opportunity,” says Telstra CTO Vish Nandlall on being asked what excites him about the telecommunications industry.

Nandlall was talking to Decoding the New Economy about the challenges facing telcos in an industry facing massive change as the once immensely profitable voice and text services are being displaced by less lucrative data products.

Previously we’ve spoken to Nandlall about the future of Australia’s incumbent telco in a competitive market and this interview was an opportunity to explore some of the broader opportunities in a radically changing market.

A data business

“While our business sounds complicated, we actually only do three things.” Nandlall observes about telecommunications companies, “we move data, we store data and we compete on data.”

“In the course of my lifetime in telecoms any two of those coming together meant a major shift. Today all three are converging.”

That convergence creates a range of challenges and opportunities, Nandlall believes. “When I look at what we see on the consumer side, I see the Internet of Things which really does promise a golden age of convenience.”

“Underpinning it all is going to be a massive transformation around data, the data insights suddenly become the thing that we’re going to need to differentiate our businesses from competitors in the industry.”

Differentiation through data

The differentiation of telecoms companies is going to lie in the software and data services being offered, Nandlall believes. “I don’t think telcos need to replicate Over The Top services,” he says in reference to services like Facebook or WhatsApp or Skype.

Nandlall sees the value for telcos in providing the next level of services in areas such as API management, content delivery and security. “We need to have new digital delivery systems,” he says, flagging software defined systems as being key to delivering to the new generation of telco services, “we can’t be restricted to fixed lines.”

Facing the skills shortage

The challenge facing telcos and all businesses is finding skilled workers, Nandlall observes. “Because change has been so rapid there has been a pipeline of students or workers being readily available.”

Nandlall sees initiatives like Cloud Foundry and Hadoop offering a means to address the skills shortage by standardising processes, reducing complexity and automating many of the tasks occupying today’s developers and technology workers.

This change also promises to speed up business as well and, combined with cloud services, changing the operating models of entire industries.

A new competitive advantage

For businesses without the scale of Telstra Nandlall has an important message, “I think we’ve hit a point in industry is where the competitive advantage is not just through some sustained differentiation,” he observes. “Today it’s about your ability to rapidly adopt new things.”

That rapid adoption is only going to accelerate, Nandlall believes, as the Internet of Things and wearable devices bring a whole new range of ways to collect and display information. For a kid fascinated with data, that’s a big candy store.

Apr 292015

Today Aussie incumbent telco Muru-D opening in Singapore.

Muru-D is loosely based on Telefonica’s Wayra incubators that the Spanish telco has set up across Europe and Latin America.

Wayra’s fortunes have been mixed recently with the incubators coming off badly in the company’s restructure last year and it’s interesting that Telstra are copying the model of opening in strategic neighbouring markets.

Complicating matters is Telstra’s Singapore based rival Singtel has its own chain of incubators Singtel Innov8. Singtel’s model is different in that they sponsor incubators, Sydney’s Fishburners for example, rather than set up their own Wayra or Muru-D style operations.

So Telstra’s moving into Singapore could be seen as another move by the Aussie incumbent to take on Singtel on it’s own home ground, something that will be assisted by the recent acquisition of PacNet.

Also notable is the Singaporean government’s support for Telstra’s with Kiren Kumar, Director of Infocomms & Media at the Singapore Economic Development Board, welcoming the launch as enhancing the city’s repuation as “the innovation capital of Asia”.

Telstra’s move is another showing how telcos are trying to move out of being utilities along with Telstra’s need to grow out of the domestic Australian market it now dominates.

For Telstra both moves are well outside the company’s historical expertise, it will be interesting to see how successful they are.

Apr 272015

“Communications are a life and death issue”, says Vish Nandlall the chief technology officer of Telstra. “You realise that when that pipe gets shut off people can die in the field.”

Nandlall’s experience in weapons technology led him to a life in the telecoms industry which bought him to Australia as he believes Telstra is one of the most innovative companies in the industry. How much this is due to Telstra dominating its domestic market is a discussion for another post.

Nandlall was speaking last week at a lunch for journalists and bloggers hosted by Telstra in Sydney. It was an opportunity for the company to introduce their CTO to the media following his joining the company last August and to publicise their push into health care services.

One of the areas Nandlall was particularly keen to push was how Telstra was looking at opening their platforms to third party developers as he sees the nine to ten million strong community as offering opportunities that even the best resourced telecoms company can’t access.

“How can I get telecom services into places where developers can access the information?” Nandlall asks.

His answer is to open the services through the Telstra Developer Site which at present is fairly Spartan although one expects it will become more impressive ahead of the I love APIs conference the company is sponsoring in Sydney this June.

Down the track Nandall sees the open systems assisting the company moving into the key growth areas for all telcos such as the Internet of Things, smart cities and the productivity growth applications in industry verticals.

The big opportunity the company sees is in health care where a fragmented industry struggles to corral disparate sources of information that touch almost every person. It though just one of the growth telcos are looking at in a dramatically changing marketplace.

For Nandlall the challenge is to grow Telstra beyond the domestic Australian telco market that it increasingly dominates as its competitors lose interest in the market and the nation’s ambitious but failed national broadband network slowly fades into irrelevance.

While Telstra is by no means facing any life or death issues, many of its customers could be. Nandlall and his fellow executives are hoping they can help them.

Apr 062015
old payphones in desrepair

Google are in talks with Hutchison Whampoa for the Hong Kong based conglomerate to provide global roaming for Google’s proposed mobile phone network reports the London Telegraph.

Hutchison, who recently agreed to buy UK operator O2 for £10.2 billion from Spain’s Telefonica, are one of the quiet global telecommunications players with services in East Asia, Europe and Australia. An international roaming agreement with Hutchison would give Google a substantial global headstart.

While the mobile phone angle is the obvious service for a global cellular network, another attraction for both Google and Hutchison is the Internet of Things. Being able to offer a worldwide machine to machine (M2M) data service fits very well into Google’s aspirations with products like Nest.

For the mobile phone operators, the prospect of Google entering their market can’t be comforting with the search engine giant having three times the stock market capitalisation of the world’s biggest telco, China Mobile.

It may well be however communications companies have little choice as the software companies start to take the telcos’ profits just as they have done with many other industries.

Should the story be true about Hutchison and Google being in talks it will probably be the start of a massive shift in the global communications industry and one that will see many national champions threatened.

Google’s global network ambitions could change the future of the Internet of Things industry.

Mar 062015

Today Australian incumbent telco announced a scheme to give customers access to their personal metadata being stored by the company.

In a post on the company’s Telstra Exchange blog the company’s Chief Risk Officer, Kate Hughes described how the service will work with a standard enquiry being free through the web portal with more complex queries attracting of fee of $25 or more.

The program is a response to the Australian Parliament’s controversial intention to introduce a mandatory data retention regime which will force telcos and ISPs to retain a record of customer’s connection information.

We believe that if the police can ask for information relating to you, you should be able to as well.

At present the scheme is quite labor intensive, a request for information involves a great deal of manual processing under the company’s current systems however Hughes is optimistic they will be able to deal with the workload.

“We haven’t yet built the system that will enable us to quickly get that data,” Hughes told this website in an interview after the announcement. “If you came to us today and asked for that dataset it wouldn’t be a simple request.”

The metadata opportunity

In some respects the metadata proposal is an opportunity for the company to comply with the requirement of the Australian Privacy Principles that were introduced last year where companies are obliged to disclose to their customers any personally identifiable information they hold.

For large organisations like Telstra this presents a problem as it’s difficult to know exactly what information every arm of the business has been collecting. Putting the data into a centralised web portal makes it easier to manage the requirements of various acts.

That Telstra is struggling with this task illustrates the problems the data retention proposals present to smaller companies with far fewer resources to gather, store and manage the information.

Unclear requirements

Another problem facing Hughes, Telstra and the entire Australian communications industry is no-one is quite clear exactly what data will be required under the act, the legislation proposed the minister can declare what information should be retained while the industry believes this should be hard coded into the act which will make it harder for governments to expand their powers.

What is clear is that regardless of what’s passed into law, technology is going to stay ahead of the legislators, “I do think though this will be very much a ‘point in time’ debate,” Hughes said. “Metadata will evolve more quickly than this legislation can probably keep pace with so I think we will find ourselves back here in two years.”

In many ways Australia’s metadata proposals illustrates the problems facing governments and businesses in managing data during an era where its growing exponentially, it may well turn out for telcos, consumers and government agencies that ultimately less is more.

Feb 182015

Yesterday Australian incumbent telco Telstra took the media on a tour of its showpiece  Customer Insights Centre in downtown Sydney.

The company is justifiably proud of the facility that includes  a 300 person auditorium, broadcast quality TV studio, a restaurant, workshop and collaboration spaces.

Welcoming visitors is the centre’s Insight Ring, a nine metre circle-shaped platform that surrounds guests with digital insights mined from Telstra’s information services. Leading off the reception area are a range of displays showcasing the company’s products and capabilities including wearable technologies, 3D printing and Ged The Robot.

Marking the centre as a modern facility the display spaces where Telstra and its partners can show off technologies to industry bodies and prospective clients.

Ged, the Telstra robot

Ged, the Telstra robot

The previous space two floors higher in the building was beginning to show its age after seven years and the fixed displays of technology in the older facility dated the centre, something that’s a disadvantage in an industry changing as quickly as telecommunications.

In the new centre, the demonstration facility is largely screen based so displays can quickly be adapted to show off the technologies aimed at whichever industry they are pitching.

The fast moving technology world

The software driven demonstration centre


Andy Bateman, Director of Segment Marketing at Telstra, who lead the tour was proud to show off the current display that had been set up to showcase the company’s banking products.


Bateman described how the facility can be quickly altered to suit the needs of specific demonstrations, this was a degree of flexibility missing in the PayPal innovation center in San Jose, which is more comprehensive in its displays but requires a major fit out to change anything.

Venture capital investor Marc Andreessen stated that software will eat the world, Telstra’s Customer Insights Centre illustrates this starkly.

However software doesn’t always have the upper hand, just opposite the Telstra centre is the Sydney City Apple Store. In some ways, the two facilities opposite each other illustrate one of the big technological and market battles of this decade.

View of the Apple Store from the Telstra Centre

View of the Apple Store from the Telstra Centre

For most businesses, software will define the future way of working but for the smart hardware vendors will still be making good money.