Telecommunications technology and the global internet has already seen several waves of change in the 21st century. The question on everyone’s minds now is: What’s next? We spoke with Stephanie Condrell, Head of Carrier Wholesale and Service Provider Partnerships, of China Telecom Americas (CTA) to hear what this industry insider sees on the horizon. Ms. Condrell has worked for China Telecom Americas for 15 years and in the broader global telecoms, data center and ISP industry for 33 years, giving her unique insights into the sector’s trajectory. Our discussion below has been edited for clarity and length.
Q: What are some of the major ways the telecom industry has changed during your tenure? How has China Telecom Americas pivoted to adapt to these changes?
A: Much has changed in our industry globally, and this change is most pronounced in China. Broadly speaking, consumers and businesses alike are demanding easy, convenient and fast ways to connect. This has led to massive bandwidth consumption and an explosion in virtualization. In turn, both traditional telecom operators and a new category of communications service provider has been prompted to create new offerings that put the technology stack into the cloud and drive innovative solutions to meet customer demand.
When I joined CTA in 2008, China had the most internet users in the world with 250+ million, and today that number now stands at over 1 billion. I’ve witnessed significant industry investments in fiber resources, data centers in an effort to increase broadband access across the country, making China the global leader in terms of installed telecommunication bandwidth by 2012. That year also marked the establishment of China Telecom’s Cloud Computing division, known as “CT Yun” which has become the largest among China’s cloud providers in terms of availability zones.
Outside of China, China Telecom is increasingly known for its Tier-1 global IP network coverage. As the world’s 10th largest carrier by revenue, China Telecom is a relatively new entrant in the market for global network services making investments in over 40 subsea cable systems and 250 Points of Presence (PoPs) just in the past 20 years.
Furthermore, China Telecom has evolved service offerings to help global carriers and service provider partners to not only leverage China Telecom for network capacity globally, but also for our expertise designing and deploying custom edge-to-cloud, edge-to-core connectivity options that help our customers extend their service offering to end-users with locations in China. CTA also provides immense value by offering billing, contracts, engineering, and customer service support teams here in the United States and 80+ countries around the world.
Q: The industry seems to be evolving even faster now. What is China Telecom doing to keep up?
A: That’s absolutely right. Over time, bandwidth resources have improved, but the rise of cloud services, 5G, OTT, Internet of Things, AI / Machine Learning, and Big Data applications have shifted the paradigm again.
Service providers and enterprises alike are investing more heavily in globally distributed networks to offer new applications and improved digital experiences which require transformation to more advanced infrastructure. Many carriers and service providers alike have embraced Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) and Software-Defined Networking (SDN) technologies to allow faster, easier procurement, provisioning and management of networks, and China Telecom is no different. China Telecom has collaborated on many open-source initiatives to help make networks more interoperable and intelligent.
Today, China Telecom operates a fully cloud-connected, multi-terabit, Tier 1 global IP network with a cloud fabric across 60 cloud exchanges leveraging APIs and NNIs with over 110 leading cloud providers and carrier partners that connect China to the global internet.
The next phase of our development is to improve customer experience by offering more automation in network management, as well as offering more access options like private 5G to satisfy the increase in network agility and resiliency. Best of all, our industry partners can leverage CT’s robust foundation in China, our global network resources, and extensive product portfolio to deliver services to their end-customers.
Q: What does the service provider landscape look like now in China?
A: A lot more competitive! However, the focus seems to always be on price, not necessarily on solutions that will work, and those that will work long term.
With over a billion internet users in China, bandwidth economics and service performance are always a factor in any conversation, especially as the IT industry shifts to application delivery over public internet. As such, many cloud service provider partners want more than just bandwidth. Increasingly, hyperscale cloud service provider customers are requesting management capabilities to make administrative changes on the carrier’s core network which is opening up many new conversations, particularly as market dynamics evolve and technologies like private 5G, multiple edge access compute (MEC) and network slicing gain prominence in China.
Nevertheless, over my tenure at China Telecom Americas, I’m amazed how quickly the company has evolved to make our network more accessible for global service providers to resell services to their customers in China. Not to say the solution for China will emulate the way things are done in the rest of world, but complex problems can be overcome by having conversations to fully understand all the solutions available to meet each customer’s unique needs.
This change in the conversations means we are working much more closely with carriers and cloud service provider partners on a project-by-project basis to develop custom, purpose-built solutions that are capable of meeting long-term, complex requirements. While the solutions may differ globally, ultimately our approach delivers a reliable quality of experience for our customers and their end-customers alike.
Q: With Global expansion and “all things internet” comes additional security concerns. How is CT addressing some of these concerns?
A: Many organizations, including China Telecom, have adopted Mutually Agreed Norms for Routing Security or “MANRS” to mitigate against Border Gateway Protocol (BGP) route leaks, outages, and hijacks in global network operations. By adopting MANRS frameworks, China Telecom Americas gives our customers and partners added confidence in our routing security so they can continue scaling and digitizing their operations.
We are proud to be the first Chinese service provider to join MANRS and have always strived to be a responsible operator of our internet resources. CT also works around the clock in every corner of the world with multiple global NOC teams to defend its network from attacks and protect its customers from threats while maintaining compliance with local cybersecurity regulations in every market we operate.
Q: How has the Covid-19 pandemic impacted China Telecom Americas?
A: People mistakenly believe that business is at a standstill in China due to the pandemic. However, I can assure you just the opposite – businesses have had to adapt and advance to meet a host of new digital demands.
With the migration to the remote workplace, eCommerce, and other online activities, the demand for reliable edge connectivity and technology solutions has exploded in the past two years in China. Furthermore, as China continues to re-open supply-chains and capacity is ramping back up, we are seeing a return to IT investment and increasing demand for services.
Many use-cases involve transforming certain legacy architectures to focus more on edge-to-core and edge-to-cloud network requirements that demand high performance compute, consistent quality of service with smaller data center footprints. In response, CT has invested heavily in building state-of-the-art green data centers, increasing interconnectivity options across Internet Exchange points (IXPs) and upgrading cable capacity to overcome shortfalls and price pressures in many APAC markets, not just in China.
Q: How should service providers who want to learn more about doing business in China engage with you?
A: Connect with us on LinkedIn, through our website, or look for us at upcoming events in 2023, such as PTC and ITW, so we can chat about your goals! We recognize that expanding into new markets can be overwhelming, costly, and time-consuming. If you are seeking to grow in China, we focus on easing those pain points by first taking a deep dive to understand what each of our clients are trying to accomplish. Then we leverage our tenure, knowledge, and local market expertise to devise solutions that utilize CT’s resources to help our service provider partners expand their portfolio to their end customers.
Our mission is to build relationships through transparency, knowledge, confidence, and trust. We pride ourselves on creating innovative technology solutions that generate new revenue opportunities and provide the best global communications experience for their end-user customers. We look forward to working together to keep businesses and people connected around the world!