Telia Carrier’s Automation Journey: Inside and Out

Photo: Telia Carrier’s automation journey: inside and out

Since its foundation, Sweden’s Telia Carrier has developed a strong core competency of delivering internet and voice services in its home market of the Nordic countries and beyond, operating across industries, service types and locations.

So the dawn of network automation – and SD-WAN in particular – was a fantastic chance for the company not just to reach the valuable enterprise networking, but to transform its own internal operations as well.

Ahead of his presentation ‘An operator’s story towards automation’, Chief Evangelist Mattias Fridström talked to The Network about how Telia Carrier is reaching new SD-WAN clients at the same time as overhauling the networking backbone of the carrier itself.

Why did Telia Carrier choose to get involved with SD-WAN? Operators can react one of two ways to it…

We have nothing to lose. We didn’t have enormous MPLS networks in the first place – we had served Nordic companies with MPLS, but not really elsewhere – so we were able to go over to something new. This meant SD-WAN is perfect for us, being cheaper to produce from scratch. As a company we are very good at handling internet services, and are therefore highly knowledgeable in the area SD-WAN is based on.

Where are your main client bases for SD-WAN?

We are agnostic to all industries. Some industries are more ready than others to take on more advance SD-WAN services, for example the automotive or financial sectors. We will start by taking smaller customers who are ready to implement these services.

Why do they want SD-WAN? Simplicity and DIY thinking. In the MPLS world it would take a very long time to deliver new circuits, and it was not an effective use of capacity in general. We find people we speak to are looking forward to the ease of flicking a switch to achieve connection in a couple of weeks, compared to the six or nine months it used to take.

As Telia Carrier is a relatively small and efficient company, the benefit we have is to do things very quickly. We don’t have an enormous process, so we can be effective in delivering at pace.

You are delivering a keynote speech at the SDN NFV World Congress titled ‘An operator’s story towards automation’, about Telia Carrier’s journey in this area. What’s the story here – and what will you be telling the Congress audience?

In the ‘old world’, we would secure one big deal and then deliver it, and a lot of things were manual. This wasn’t actually too bad, as the lead times allowed this. Now we are entering the enterprise world, everything is more transactional – rather than delivering internet connection to three sites, it’s to 50 sites and then to 60 the week after. Operating in the way we used to would have been impossible – we had to be automated and have much better control of data. We needed to move away from the manual way we were handling things before and to trust the automation processes we were introducing.

We are quite far into the process. Things are starting to all happen at the same time – new billing systems and so on. A couple of years ago we could have survived doing this manually but now we have to realise that we are over the hurdle and we must automate – we can’t just throw resources at the new volumes.

How was the ‘sell’ internally?

It takes time to get people to understand that this is for the good of the company and it won’t automate and take away every job we have. We still need people to run and improve the machines that we introduce – even well into the future. It took some real effort to get everyone on board regarding this.

What were the other challenges?

Cost is always a problem. If you have something that works and you need to replace it, it’s hard to make the business case to do so as you don’t know where the savings will come from. Will we have more customers as a result of these changes, or not? The internal business case is very complicated. Also, should you buy it on the market or develop it yourself? It’s a big trade off.

You’re Telia Carrier’s Chief Evangelist. What does this involve?

I was here when Telia Carrier started in 1998, so I have been around for the whole life of the company. I have had many different roles over the years, but for the past few years I have been Chief Evangelist, which involves talking about what we do and don’t do, where the industry is going, what is and what isn’t important, what we as a company believe in and what we want to share.

What are Telia Carrier’s priorities for the next couple of years?

For the first 20 years, we served the carrier and wholesale market, never really selling to enterprises. However, what we are seeing now is more and more enterprises wanting to connect over public internet, connect to the cloud, and to use SD-WAN services that are programmable in the network. Everything we have seen so far shows that the internet is growing in importance for networking, so why shouldn’t Telia get involved in serving enterprises? The question now is how can we approach the enterprise space and sell our services – in other words, how can we be relevant. 

Why The Hague?

I’m super curious about what everyone else is doing. I hope companies can really share their problems, solutions and expectations, discussing what is good and not good, tough and not tough, etc. And it’s good to talk to other companies in between the sessions as well. Ours is a very fluid industry - someone can be competitor one day, a customer the next day, and a supplier the day after that. It’s a really crazy world in that sense.

Catch Mattias’ presentation, ‘An operator’s story towards automation’, at 9.20 on 17 October at the SDN NFV World Congress 2019.

Click here to find out more about our 2020 event, Layer123 World Congress 2020: Service Evolution Beyond SDN and NFV.