Groundhog Day

At the end of Y2K I became an illegal alien.

We’d successfully sold the Motorola business unit, but the new owners didn’t want to sponsor my L1 work visa, so there I was, stranded in Rhode Island, with the clock ticking… 

The serendipitous solution presented itself with an opportunity for a telecoms service provider called IDN, or Inter-Digital Networks. As Marketing Director for IDN, the future looked bright… although by the time I’d landed back with all my goods and chattels, IDN had rebranded to the perhaps more familiar name of Neos Networks.

So, a brand new job and a brand new brand. What were we going to do with this?

The dilemma Neos had was that their business model didn’t provide the investors with the return that they were looking for, and neither did it offer them a way to exit, either by floating or selling. Neos had a London metro network, and sold some SDH. That was pretty much it.

We needed a different business model, and I needed a new car. After much research I ordered through a leasing company an Audi A4 Quattro.

We needed to scale, but to scale up, we needed a national network. The trouble with this was that we’d be very late to market with a data services network – or more precisely with the necessary four networks we’d have to build:

  • An optical underlay network
  • A layer 2 frame relay network
  • A layer 2 ATM network
  • A layer 3 IP network

And all of these would need their own OSS and BSS ecosystems. And all of this came with a pretty huge price tag. Which was all very well as long as there was significant differentiation for us as we were at least 10 years behind all of our potential future competitors, all of which had a proven track record of delivering these services to a demanding and sceptical market.

The order for my Audio Quattro got knocked back as Audi decided to do a model refresh and there would be a bit of a delay, and the car was finally delivered a few months later.

The Solution

Our late entry to the data network services market was in fact fortuitous, precisely because we didn’t have to struggle with the financial consequences of having sunk an awful lot of money into:

  • An optical underlay network
  • A layer 2 frame relay network
  • A layer 2 ATM network
  • A layer 3 IP network

Technology came to our rescue. We realised that the innovation of Metro Ethernet networks could be scaled up to provide a national network, and, when combined with the then recently launched optical LAN Extension Services (LES) tail circuits from BT, would provide a complete end-to-end “optical Ethernet” solution.

The result would be for us a “fully delayed” network, with no legacy technology to complicate either the technical solution or the business case. We could very cost effectively build a national network that offered MPLS and VPLS Ethernet services with bandwidth price point we knew would make our competitors’ eyes water.

And because this new network was entirely Ethernet-based, and so cost-effective, we could provide bandwidth at any speed on 1Mbps increments, from 1Mbps to 1000Mbps. To facilitate this, we provided a “bandwidth dial” on our website that our customers could use to easily turn their bandwidth up and back down again. Not only did we offer fantastic flexibility, the network performance stats were off the chart. We called this Liquidbandwidth™, created a cool logo and thereby a sub-brand, and watched the market react.

This was radical stuff in telecoms back in 2001. 18 months later we’d signed up 59 LiquidBandwidth™ Ethernet customers, with on-net users averaging 92Mbps per order and off-net customers 54Mbps.

We were so successful, we delivered the exit our investors wanted by way of a trade sale to SSE, the energy company.

Back to the future

In Autumn 2015 I became unemployed.

After sucessfully selling Neos to SSE, for a number of years I went freelancing and freewheeling. I raised a small fortune for a webTV venture in a bid to become an internet millionaire, but we didn’t make it. I spent a lot of time in Paris and developed a deep appreciation of the art of the patisserie.

In 2015, I successfully completed a brand refresh for a small IT services company, driving their page rank from the deepest of dark depths to the sunny uplands of sunlit Google visbility. The project ended and there I was with freshly printed P45 in hand, with the clock ticking...

The serendipitous solution presented itself with an opportunity for a telecoms service provider called SSE Enterprise Telecoms. Nigel Pitcher, my old sparing partner from Neos’ No1 competitor Fibrenet, and now SSE Enterprise Telecoms’ Marketing Director, suggested we meet for coffee, cakes and a chat.

And here I am, back at Neos, I mean SSE Enterprise Telecoms, surely the very definition of karma. Some old Neos hands are still here, which is lovely, and it’s interesting to see what SSE Enterprise Telecoms have made of things since I was last here. Our network is larger, much larger, as is the size of our customer base, our revenues and market share. What was sexy and new has become passé and established. Ethernet services are de rigour, everyone offers them.

But here’s the thing. Our investor, our parent company, SSE is a £14 billion market capitalised, A+ credit rated and FTSE top 35 listed energy company, that sees us as being a high growth engine for SSE Group and is prepared to invest to enable that growth.

But to really grow we need to enter a new market, and that means creating new services. And for that we need a different business model, and I need a new car. After much research I ordered through a leasing company an Audi A3 Quattro.

Today most of our revenue comes from the wholesale market. We offer dark fibre, lit fibre and fantastic Layer 2 Ethernet services, using MPLS and VPLS, building on what we started all those years ago at Neos. Even so, that’s pretty much it.

How are we going to create new services and what will our new business model be? We believe technology will come to our rescue.

The buzz in telecoms this time around is all about Network Function Virtualisation (NFV) and Software Defined Networks (SDN). We realise that virtualised networks with workflow automation will enable us to create unimaginably exciting new flexible services, that are easily turn-upable and downable.

Unlike many service providers, our network is still really clean. It doesn’t have an eclectic legacy of conflicting technologies, a patchwork quilt of various vendors, a jumbled bundle of BSS and OSS infrastructure. We believe we can cost-effectively build a whole new style of telecoms service provider, with the emphasis very much on service and customer experience.

This is radical stuff in telecoms, as telecoms completes its transition to commodity IT-based services.

Oh -  the way - I got an email the other day from the car leasing company. My order got knocked back by Audi as they decided to do a model refresh