Operating the world’s largest wholly owned and most advanced subsea fiber network, and carrying over 25% of the world’s internet routes and 70% of all mobile operator networks, Tata Communications has proven to be a leading digital infrastructure provider. With its wholly owned subsidiary Tata Communications Transformation Services, it is contributing to the digital transformation of Africa, helping the continent overcome the challenges that it might face.

In an interview with Telecom Review, Vaneet Mehta, Head of Middle East, Central Asia & Africa region at Tata communications, highlights the company’s main fields of work, innovations, and its contributions to a smarter Africa.

Tata communications is a digital infrastructure provider. What services and solutions does your portfolio encompasses exactly?

Tata Communications is a leading digital infrastructure provider. We leverage our capabilities and global reach to drive the digital transformation of multi-national enterprises and communications service providers.

Today, we are the digital infrastructure provider of choice, delivering integrated managed services and solutions (including connectivity, collaboration, security, mobility and IoT) through cloud-based, internet-powered and user-determined delivery models for our customers globally.

Through our network, cloud, mobility, IoT, collaboration and security services, Tata Communications carries around 30% of the world’s internet routes and connects businesses to 60% of the world’s cloud giants and 4 out of 5 mobile subscribers. Tata Communications’ capabilities are underpinned by its global network, which is the world’s largest wholly owned subsea fiber backbone and a Tier-1 IP network.

How long has Tata Communications been present in Africa? How would you describe your role in the continent?

Tata Communications has been present in Africa since over a decade. We had our own license in South Africa under the brand Neotel, which was the country’s second largest telecommunications service provider. We sold our stake in Neotel to Liquid Telecom in 2016.

We have 3 major hubs in Africa i.e. East Africa hub, headquartered out of Kenya, West & North Africa hub, headquartered out of Morocco and South Africa hub, headquartered out of Johannesburg. We are a major player in the African sub-continent with submarine cable assets along the East and West coasts, with around 18 POPs across various countries in Africa i.e. Nigeria, Ghana, Mauritius, Algeria, Uganda, Tanzania, Angola etc. We have our regional IP Node in Kenya and South Africa and we have plans to establish another IP Node in West Africa to cater to the growing internet needs of this region.

Over the years, we have built strong partnerships and associations in the Middle East & Africa region and we are recognized for our core network strength (IPLC, MPLS, Ethernet), our Global SIP trunking solutions (GSIP), Unified communications and collaboration solutions (UCC), Mobility and Internet of Things (IOT), Cyber Security Services and our IZO Cloud/IZO-SDWAN/IZO-WAN offering. Recently, we have also been working on offering Network-as-a-service platform which is built for software developers.

As a digital infrastructure provider, we play the role of a strong enabler in the digital transformation of enterprises and we do this in Africa and globally.

What role do you play in African businesses’ digital transformation journey?

Africa is evolving at a much faster pace than many other large economies, with enterprises leap-frogging to adopt next-gen technologies thereby creating a niche space for Tata Communications to play a pivotal role in the digital transformation journey of these enterprises.

African enterprises are looking for new age technology and communications services spanning storage, compute, UCC, IoT and more. They need a service provider that can take a consultative approach to enable them to capitalize on the many opportunities that these disruptive technologies can bring.

Crucially, enterprises want transformation to happen quickly. But the breakneck speed of technology innovation means that the latest technology advancements represent uncharted territory for not only many enterprises, but many service providers too.

Hence the need for global challengers like Tata Communications is much appreciated by all segments of the industries in the region as we’re in a unique position to be able to combine our global capabilities and experience along with our deep understanding of the African market. Our existing suite of services plus our market-aligned roadmap of services resonate well with the enterprises in Africa.

In your opinion, what are the gaps that are still in the way of Africa’s digital transformation?

According to research published by McKinsey, despite the fact that digital technologies are now omnipresent in everyday life, industries are less than 40% digitized on average. This is very much a global challenge.

For Africa, we need to start at the foundational level of core connectivity where investments need to increase in order to build strong connectivity systems through new submarine cables or building terrestrial networks within Africa. Connectivity is foundation of any enterprise today who is looking to transform digitally and the same for any start-up.

Enterprises in these regions also need to be agile and adaptable as they set up and execute a digital strategy that is best suited for the needs. For this, they need access to digital systems and services along with access to robust cyber-security service providers, enabling companies to migrate to new digital systems seamlessly and in a secure manner. We, at Tata Communications, have addressed these challenges since our operation and we bring in our rich global experience and our complete suite of services to enable and see through the digital transformation journey with our customers.

Additionally, technology – both understanding of it and deployment of it - is just one part of the challenge. The bigger challenge is finding the right talent to understand and execute your digital strategy. I find that skills continue to remain an overlooked challenge. It’s critical to find the right talent to meet the new and rapidly changing demands of technology. People are at the heart of any successful digital strategy and hence, it’s important to find the right talent or equip employees with the right trainings and right skills to seize the massive opportunity that these technologies offer.

In your opinion, how can Africa become “smart”? How can Tata Communications contribute to that?

Tata Communications, through its wholly owned subsidiary, Tata Communications Transformation Services, is already a leader and major contributor in transforming Africa through the Smart Africa initiative (www.smartafrica.org).

Our vision is to transform Africa into a Single Digital Market. We already have 25+ African countries and leading telcos and private organisations as a part of this initiative. Tata Communications is a main driver of this Smart Africa initiative and we are proud to work with various government bodies, large private companies in our combined endeavor to make Africa smart, secure, digital and global.

We work with a lot of partners and local players in South Africa to offer new cutting edge offerings. Recently, we teamed up with South Africa-based IT services firm Dreamtime Technologies to roll out an IoT-supporting network throughout Africa. Through this partnership, we aim to build and distribute a new cloud-based virtual mobile network for telecommunications and connected technology companies operating in the continent. It will allow them to make IoT deployments across a range of industry verticals, including healthcare, transport, mining, agriculture, banking, and retail.

In the field of IoT, Tata boasts its own IoT platform MOVE. Can you explain more about it? How are you applying it in Africa?

Tata Communications MOVE is all about enabling ‘things’ to be ‘born connected’, i.e. connect seamlessly, securely and cost-effectively across country borders.

Our MOVE platform provides a network independent, cross-border cellular connectivity that enterprises and MNOs need to deliver transformational international IoT services. This means that an IoT device or thing - for example, a connected car manufactured and fitted with sim in Japan can seamlessly connect when started in Amsterdam. We enable this seamlessly and cost-effectively because we have relationships with 600 mobile network operators worldwide, and are able to tap into their networks to connect all vehicles with Tata Communications’ MOVE platform. This is not just about cost though – it’s also about reliability and user experience - Tata Communications’ MOVE is underpinned by our global IP network, which carriers around 30% of the world’s Internet routes and connects businesses to 60% of the world’s biggest clouds.

Within just two years of the launch of our IoT MOVE platform, we have secured large customers across industry verticals, including the top 3 airlines in the world and several regional airlines as well, giving us a strong footing in the aviation sector. We serve large banks in Africa and our biggest success story is with a huge multilateral development finance institution in the region. We are in discussions with a leading airline in Africa for our IoT / SIM Connect offering to help the airline cut cost on their data roaming, offer seamless connectivity and communications access to their crew/pilots/customers through our unique offering and derive drastically improved quality of service.

Some markets in Africa are rapidly adopting IoT especially in the Agriculture sector and Tata Communications is working with leading service providers in these markets to serve the end-customer requirements with several use cases replicated from our global success and with extensive learnings from our home market in India where we have rolled out the first IoT – dedicated network for India using LoRaWAN technology.

How can companies benefit from your IZO platform for a smooth cloud enablement?

The IZO™ platform, backed by our robust fiber network, gives customers access to a one-stop source for all their global communications and IT infrastructure needs.  

Customers globally are looking for flexible solutions. They need cloud operations and services that can scale up as per need, they’re looking for usage agility with ease of migration, the option of global delivery on-demand as well as the ability to manage a multi-cloud environment. We’ve been working with enterprises since two decades and we understand these requirements very well.

Tata Communications’ IZO™ cloud enablement platform is an ecosystem of cloud providers, regional Internet service providers, and SD-WAN technology providers. It includes the IZO™ Internet WAN service that gives businesses the reliability, flexibility and predictability of a private network with the global reach and scalability of the Internet, through collaboration with different ISPs. The IZO™ Private Connect service, and its global interconnect agreements with Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure & Office 365, Google Cloud, Alibaba, Salesforce, IBM, Oracle, and SAP, connects businesses across network, cloud services and data centers over MPLS and Ethernet through one single provider globally. IZO™ Hybrid WAN powerfully integrates IZO™ Internet WAN and Global MPLS VPN with innovative application management tools and security services to bring greater flexibility and resilience to business networking.

The IZO™ platform is perfect because it is a fully integrated and managed enterprise cloud solution which provides the advanced automation and orchestration that customers need to transform their IT environments.

What are Tata Communications’ goals for the remainder of 2019 and for 2020?

Through 2019 and 2020, Tata Communications will continue to work with large enterprises and service providers to provide digital infrastructure services. We are committed to the African region and have plans for building core connectivity nodes for IP, MPLS and IOT, upgrade our cable systems along the East and West coasts and expand our network. We continue to be focused on developing more partnerships in selected countries (around 13 countries to start with) and becoming a partner of choice for large and medium enterprises.

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