As telecoms voice moves even further into an era of ever-thinner margins and demands for greater quality, as well as an expanding range of solutions, a managed services approach makes complete sense. We were lucky enough to catch up with Georg Vranken, Head of Telco Communications at BICS, to get an insight into the challenges and potential of the voice market.
Disruptive.Asia: Georg, can you tell us what BICS does?
BICS makes global communication possible for people, applications and things. Think of us like the operators’ operator. We enable mobile networks to securely carry communications traffic like voice, data, and SMS between one another and between cloud service providers like AWS and Azure. And we do this on a huge scale – each year our network enables over five billion people to communicate, carrying more than 21 billion international minutes.
At the end-user level, we make it possible for friends and family to video call each other from anywhere in the world, and help businesses track connected assets on the move, deploy robotics in factories, set up remote contact centers to better serve customers: the list is endless! By connecting every person, application and thing, BICS is helping to create new opportunities that connect communities.
We’re always developing our business to meet the needs of operators and their customers, which has driven us to develop managed services offerings, such as BICS Managed Voice. The proliferation of data and the demand for connected experiences means a busy and challenging environment for operators. They must protect networks from fraud, prevent revenue leakage, awaken silent roamers, manage machine-to-machine connectivity, and embrace new cloud and IoT environments. BICS’ managed services offering helps to mitigate these challenges by taking care of the voice element so that operators can focus on other areas of their business.
We look after voice traffic routing, finding the best routes and the best quality in a transparent and cost-efficient way. We help save operators time and money, and they’re secure in the knowledge that they have the most experienced and knowledgeable team working on their behalf. We have so much in-house expertise and it’s easy for us to scale our teams up and down as needed to support operators. Operators have peace of mind, and their customers have outstanding service!
How long have you been doing this now? It seems a long time, at least in the telecoms world.
Yes, indeed. We have been going for over two decades now and have grown to become one of the largest global communications enablers. Over this time, we’ve witnessed the evolution of the telco landscape, and have adapted our business and offerings to reflect the changing needs of operators.
We’ve predicted and supported shifts like digitalization, the move to the cloud, IoT, and 5G and will continue to adapt to all the of the exciting developments coming along in telecoms in the future. Thanks to our heritage and approach we’re unique in being able to provide that critical bridge between traditional telco, digital service providers, IoT players and enterprise, carrying international voice, mobile data, messaging and IP traffic. We know that our customers value service and consultancy, as well as simplicity and more streamlined processes – including automation. Our managed voice services are part of this.
So why managed services, why aren’t operators doing it themselves?
Operators would have to deal with multiple suppliers and carriers in order to route their traffic depending on the destinations, with some focusing on certain countries and regions. From an operator’s perspective this can be very cumbersome: managing multiple suppliers, multiple destinations, quality of service, pricing, multiple complex technologies and so on. They’re also dealing with increasing – and increasingly varied – demands from customers on both the consumer and enterprise sides. Both require more tailored experiences and customized offerings, which operators must manage and deliver, often on a global scale.
We have hundreds of trusted, pre-existing relationships with operators and others, and a multi-lingual, experienced, global team who are experts in their fields. Our footprint spans more than 200 countries, meaning we can provide instantaneous reach with guaranteed quality of service. These are things that most operators simply do not have – that’s why they’re not able to get the same results when they do voice themselves.
BICS brings all that together, allowing operators to have one relationship so they can focus on core activities such as marketing and product development. It also allows operators to leverage BICS’ longstanding relationships to ensure QoS even in low volume destinations.
I believe you provide premium services as well. Can you tell us about these?
We do. Our premium VIP Quality of Service offering is an add-on to our core managed services offering, and involves a greater level of dedicated support. We deal with the complex issues, we guarantee fast response times, and we provide proactive monitoring and 24/7 customer support. This allows us to detect and address QoE issues before they impact the end user.
We even have a dedicated success manager for end-to-end customized support. It is very different from standard ticketing systems where you get automated responses. It really is a value-added service.
Have you seen greater challenges over the last year, particularly from the COVID pandemic?
The challenges have definitely been greater. For years, operators have been under pressure to increase profitability despite greater competition from OTTs and Voice over IP (VoIP) players. All of this, while simultaneously facing increasing levels of fraud. These challenges have intensified during the pandemic, with fraud surging, and consumers becoming increasingly reliant on OTT or VoIP players as a means of staying in touch with friends and family.
We also experienced the shift to remote working. This was a success for many office-based workers in large part due to apps like Zoom and Microsoft Teams. The hybrid working environment is the new norm, meaning these means of communication and collaboration are here to stay. This landscape means that it’s even more important for operators to optimize and protect revenues, avoid subscriber churn, and look at new areas of growth where they can drive revenues and deliver value for their end users.
Can I ask – straight out – why BICS?
I’m not going to shy away from saying it: BICS is undoubtedly the leading provider of high quality, international voice services for mobile operators. We can offer customized support and benefit from dedicated subject matter experts in each region. Our network connects all continents and more than 200 countries, and we have roaming and international connectivity to over 700 operators. We have over 700 direct routes and over 600 direct VoIP routes in 168 countries. Plus, our anti-fraud pedigree is unrivalled. Our FraudGuard solution crowdsources information from hundreds of operators, and has saved them over €2 billion.
Voice is a sector that many other players have left in recent years, despite it being a key component of any operator’s business! We know what our customers – and their end users – want. And that’s high quality, secure, accessible and cost-effective voice services. We understand the value of continued development of core services such as voice, where the optimization and protection of revenues for operators is crucial under ever-increasing market pressures.
Our approach to managed services isn’t a generic, off-the-shelf offering. Instead, we work with operators on a one-to-one basis and tailor our approach depending on their individual needs, existing voice business and what they want to achieve.
And because we are monitoring all traffic across our network in real time, we can resolve any issues in the fastest possible way, and proactively identify fraudulent activity. This is of course critical in protecting operators’ revenues, but more importantly, it allows operators to protect the people who matter most: their subscribers.
In what regions are you seeing the most change, the greatest opportunities and demand at the moment?
We are seeing the most change in terms of opportunities and demand in Asia, followed by the Middle East, then Africa. We also anticipate that we will see more opportunities in Europe evolve over the next few years, as regulations around voice place further pressure on margins.
What are your plans for the future, for the next 12 months, even 5 years?
This year and into next we’re preparing to meet the demand from operators to extend the high quality of service that we’re known for into areas such as A2P messaging. The importance of this was evident during the pandemic – e-commerce brands for instance relied on A2P messaging to verify payments, while gig economy and other digital service providers use this channel for ID verification for digital accounts. The boost that we saw during the pandemic is here to stay.
Over the next five years – and beyond – we’ll be developing means of offering managed services and support for all business lines. With our managed services offering we empower our customers to protect and grow their business. We’re enabling them to deliver excellent customer experiences while focusing on new growth areas for their business.
I don’t have a crystal ball so can’t predict exactly what communication will look like five years down the line. However, I know for certain that we’ll be continuing to create opportunities by connecting communities – and managed services will continue to play a role within that.