June 2007 | Sujata Agrawal

Best way to connect

One of the youngest companies in the global telecommunications industry, VSNL International (Europe) has deployed the very latest technologies, equipment and cable systems to provide superior services to its customers

It is headquartered in Singapore and its network spans across four continents, with over 200,000km of terrestrial network fibre and undersea cable — offering the greatest diversity for connectivity services to India. This extensive undersea and satellite network capabilities have made it the world’s largest wholesale carrier of voice. VSNL International is a multinational corporation and a 100 per cent subsidiary of VSNL in India, bringing in 60 per cent of VSNL’s revenues and accounting for over 25 percent of its employees.

In Europe, VSNL International is present in eleven countries: Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Norway, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Spain and the UK. It also has representative offices in Ireland and Bulgaria. VSNL International’s European operations are structured in two verticals, data (HQ in London) and voice (HQ in Spain), and address different market segments — wholesale carriers, service providers and large enterprise that have connectivity requirements mainly into India.

Claude SassoulasData is in demand
On the enterprise side, the customers are mainly the Fortune 500 companies that have a significant presence in India. “India is still our sweet spot and UK is the biggest market for us on the enterprise side, simply because of the historical trade relationship between India and the UK,” says Claude Sassoulas, managing director, Europe Data Services. Many large corporate outfits like Barclays, HSBC and Deutsche Bank have a large back-office presence in India and the company is addressing their growing bandwidth requirements.

They have one data centre each in Stratford (the heart of the network in Europe), Highbridge in Somerset and Hunmanby in Yorkshire, and two cable systems landing in the UK — the Atlantic system from the US which lands in Somerset and a cable that connects Holland to the UK, and lands in Yorkshire.

Primarily offering connectivity and transmission services, the company is now moving towards value-added services such as hosting, storage, messaging and a contact centre in the UK. “Our focus is on expanding business geographically on the basis of customer requirements. We are in the process of moving from being India-centric to addressing more global requirements for our customers; selling connectivity from Europe to other parts of the world — to Asia and the US,” says Mr Sassoulas.

Gene PradasWeighing in on voice
On the voice side, 11 commercial offices handle over 50 countries. “We are a wholesale provider for the international voice traffic of national carriers,” says Gene Pradas, who heads the voice business and operates from Madrid in Spain.

With just 30 employees, Mr Pradas has managed to build up an impressive customer base in the last three years. Primary customers include BT, Cable & Wireless, Verizon, France Telecom, TVI, Belgacom, Telefonica, Rostelecom and Cegetel.

“The consistency of our service offering helps build customer relationships,” says Mr Pradas, adding, “We keep in constant contact with our customers, understand their needs and solve their problems, thereby strengthening our ability to generate more business.”

Unravelling Europe
Because of its diversity and large number of countries, Europe has many different markets and offers a unique challenge, unlike the US, which is a single homogenous market. “It’s difficult to sell hosting services to a large French company if your service is based in London,” says Mr Sassoulas. “So if you are strong in the UK, it does not mean that you will also be strong in France. You need to replicate the investments made in UK in every other country to offer the same level of service.” The diversity of languages over the continent also means that the company has to recruit local people who can communicate well with customers in each country.

The changing business environment and customer requirements have made it imperative for the company to evolve. “Our business is evolving from pure basic network connections from point A to B to global communication solutions,” says Mr Sassoulas.

It means making a quantum leap from being an infrastructure or wholesale provider to a comprehensive communications services provider for large enterprises, carriers and service providers. It means changing the way people think across different functions. It also means recruiting people who have an IT background, rather than a pure telecom pedigree.

VSNL International, says Mr Sassoulas, is one of the very few global carriers that is growing, investing, expanding and recruiting; it is perceived as a dynamic and solid company to work for. Its strength lies in the fact that it owns the underlying infrastructure and is therefore best positioned to identify problems, react and resolve them. It has deployed the very latest technologies, equipment and cable systems. These factors are critical differentiators in terms of providing superior services to the customer.

The big beyond
Europe represents approximately 11 per cent market share in the international voice wholesale business, carrying almost five billion minutes a year, says Mr Pradas. The Europe team handles over $530 million of gross revenue business.

The data side does business of about $85 million and Mr Sassoulas hopes to take this to $100 million in the next year. The escalation of broadband requirements will fuel business growth, he says. The increased volumes will more than compensate price decreases and as the company invests in more cable systems, business can only grow.

“We are looking at new systems and selling major connectivity out of Europe. Large companies are growing their business out of UK and from other European countries into India. For instance, Airbus is setting up a development centre in India and Bayer is extending operations. Even carriers like BT and K1Wireless are increasing their business into India,” he says.

He also cites group synergies — working with TCS in the UK and Europe — as another factor in the growth projections. VSNL will soon start up a new data centre in the UK for TCS, which will then resell these services to its customers. Mr Pradas’s strategy for the European market is equally clear-cut: “We want our existing and new customer base to access the worldwide network, and we’re offering different service levels depending on the customers’ requirements, to capture their voice business.”

VSNL International’s European operations may be young, but the company is thinking big, taking advantage of its size and age to be more nimble, reactive and flexible in providing service.