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ECT, Europe’s leading value-added services specialist for CSPs, has strived to provide the best software solutions since its foundation over 20 years ago. Throughout that time, the company has borne witness to transformative changes in the telecoms industry, all while remaining true to its customer base: communications service providers (CSPs).

From its headquarters in Munich, Germany, ECT’s deputy CEO, Metin Sezer, sits down with Telecom Review to discuss ECT’s perspective on unified communications and collaboration, and why the differences between every local market are important.

With the pandemic, UCC tools suddenly became a priority for every company. How is the market changing now that the ‘new normal’ is setting in?

Those of us in the telecoms industry already know that UCC is not a new revenue stream, even if sudden global dependence upon it has brought fresh media attention. I used to travel for business regularly, but now, everything happens with UCC solutions: Our customer meetings, follow-ups and even our internal meetings. People everywhere are still working from home, even though it’s been around a year since the start of the pandemic.

These solutions are not just vital for business now, they’re vital for the future; even when COVID-19 is finally under control, UCC solutions will continue to thrive throughout the working world, in whatever industry. We will not only see a greater number of available solutions as a result of all this, but a wider variety of features.

Lately, though, our prospects and customers from all over the world, including the Middle East, have been telling us the same story over and over again: That even though they currently have their VPBX and UCC solutions in their own networks, the vendors are using the suggestions of end-of-life and end-of-service to force them over to the vendor cloud. So, to answer your question, the new normal has made UCC a bigger market, but dominant global vendors are taking an ever greater share of it at the expense of CSPs in the telecoms industry.

You say UCC got more attention from the media during the pandemic. Most of that talk concerned security and privacy, didn’t it? What’s ECT’s take on this?

Because of the misuse of our personal data by some companies, everyone has a responsibility to get more data-savvy. We all have to get better at understanding when our privacy is being violated. Companies use UCC solutions to share confidential information and documents internally. As ECT’s deputy CEO, I want to be sure that all the information we share is secure and inaccessible to external parties.

Our technology has always put personal data exclusively into the hands of CSPs. All of our services are realized in the CSP’s own telco cloud, meaning their use is regulated by each separate market’s local authority. As CSPs have historically been custodians of sensitive customer-data, such as addresses, phone numbers or bank account information, they are well aware of the implications of misusing that information.

Some of ECT’s customers are European, so we have developed GDPR-compliant solutions. We also know that the regulatory environment of the Middle East is, if anything, even stricter than Europe’s. In that light, it suddenly looks a bit strange that OTTs based abroad store personal data in their own cloud outside of the country in which it was gathered. And it should do – the relationship those OTTs have with that data is unregulated. We should really be asking ourselves what the consequences will be when, for example, WhatsApp begins to share the data of its users with Facebook as of May this year. What is in it for Facebook, and why is that detrimental for the business users of WhatsApp? Some of them have protested, and even moved to WhatsApp’s rival – Telegram - but Zuckerberg has only postponed the move, not cancelled it.

Nevertheless, enterprises do have an alternative if they want secure communications: CSPs. The fact that CSPs are so heavily regulated on data security is actually a selling point in this context: They are the only companies capable of guaranteeing the data security of their customers.

What makes you think that this is the right time to go against the cloud?

It’s not necessarily about going against anything. What you have to remember is that there’s a huge difference between the telco cloud and the global IT cloud. Besides security and privacy issues, telecommunications services are very sensitive to latency problems. Having cloud servers located far from the CSP’s network is a huge concern for our customers, and one of the first things they tell us about. That’s why CSPs need their services close to them, in their own telco cloud.

Well-established brands provide UCC solutions that everyone knows. Why should a CSP choose a VAS vendor like ECT instead of opting to resell big brands?

We’re perfectly happy for CSPs to offer other solutions. There will always be end customers that want to keep their current over-the-top (OTT) solution, and CSPs need to be able to provide those. But, in our view, CSPs can’t differentiate themselves with standardized solutions. The big vendors, that both sell these solutions and compel CSPs to sell them too, have slowly stripped CSPs of their personalities, making them an easily replaceable commodity for the end customer. How good are the margins available to CSPs selling such solutions? As any otherCSP can sell them too, the margin must be very low, as price is the only way competing sellers can differentiate themselves from each other. This also means there is no customer stickiness.  

In contrast, ECT offers a white label solution. CSPs selling it are therefore selling their own services under their own name, which is already positioned within their market and bought into by their customers. But, more than that, because it is cheaper than big-name OTT solutions, the margins available to CSPs are much better, and, because the end user gets both mobile and landlines, the CSP can leverage their own network. None of this is available to them if they opt for those big names.

To sharpen the point, we don’t think one-size-fits-all, global solutions are the way to go. As I said previously, we integrate our solution directly and natively in the CSP’s network. We adjust it for provisioning, server integration and regulation, as the latter changes from country to country. In some countries, people may need different features tailored to their specific markets, so we do exactly that. ECT personalizes the solution, giving the CSP a competitive advantage.

What are the benefits of a customized solution?

The main benefit is a flexible capex/opex model with the possibility of a very high margin compared to other vendors. As it is natively embedded in the CSP’s network, our solution has no latency, regulatory, security or privacy issues. It also means we can provide a seamless experience through mobile, fixed and VoIP telephony.

Our offering allows CSPs to provide their business customers with both VPBX and UCC solutions. When both solutions come through a single provider, it means the business customers can have all their data and statistics consolidated, while only needing one single contact and one invoice. Furthermore, when the subscribers of those business customers switch from a mix of different VPBX and UCC providers to just one, they get all the simplicity that comes with a single, already trusted interface. CSPs have everything to gain by opting for a solution that is tailored to their end customers. With such solutions, CSPs get higher margins and their customers get something that precisely meets all their needs. ECT stands ready to provide such solutions for the long-term, exclusively in partnership with CSPs.

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