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BT's quarterly newsletter for analysts, consultants and investors - Newsbyte talks to Howard Watson

Newsbyte talks to ... Howard Watson

Howard WatsonHoward Watson is CEO of Technology, Service and Operations, BT

What have you been focussing on in your first few months as CEO of TSO?

The acquisition of EE is an indication that these are exciting times for BT and for Technology, Service and Operations.

As part of that acquisition we've seen around a thousand mobile technologists join forces with 12,000 of us already in TSO.

So my initial area of focus was all about making sure that the two teams came together smoothly and efficiently. I want to create an organisation that gets the best out of both organisations and builds synergies wherever possible.

I also started work on refreshing TSO's overall ambition and strategy. My senior team and I have now defined our longer-term '2020 ambitions' and the strategy that underpins how we move to the next phase of success.

What are your biggest initial opportunites/challenges?

Well the Emergency Services Network (ESN) contract, which EE won towards the end of last year, springs immediately to mind. The mobile network team is delivering incredible numbers of site upgrades every day, and working closely with the Home Office and the other partners to ensure the service is live by the end of 2017.

Then we need to make sure that TSO provides the technologies which enable the revenue synergies we expect to generate from bringing BT and EE together.

One other priority is to maximise the opportunity of having both the best fixed network and the best mobile network in the UK. We want to have the best end-to-end network - one that delivers a whole host of new converged services and enables great experiences for our customers.

As we see fixed and mobile blurring more, customers will no longer need to worry about how they make and receive calls and data, like where to stand to get the best signal, or concern themselves with having various price points and contracts. They'll pay to have their device connected to a network wherever they are, regardless of whether it's mobile or fixed, and simply be able to focus on consuming great applications and services.

What excites you about having EE as part of the BT family?

What makes EE, which is of course a very successful business, really interesting is that it completes the circle of technologies for BT. It enables our company to to deliver a comprehensive range of high quality services to consumers and businesses.

Thanks to this acquisition, I think we'll soon be able to start offering real converged services capabilities. Especially as we move from 4G to 5G.

The other intriguing thing for me is the bringing together of two cultures of people. We're all technologists at heart but we have different contributory competences. I'm looking forward greatly to moulding together all our strengths and creating a new and dynamic team.

What are the main technologies you see shaping the future of the industry?

Firstly, ultrafast broadband. Whether that's fibre to the premises or technology, ultrafast is set to be big news, especially for consumers and SME customers. And Openreach is moving at pace. The trials of around the country are going well, and 10m premises will be covered by the technology by the end of 2020. In March, Openreach also announced an ambition to reach 2m premises with FTTP.

In mobile technology the emergence of services like VoLTE (4G Calling) will become important, as will the continued evolution of 4G/LTE as we add more spectrum to provide more capacity, and introduce new features that will create a more intelligent, more responsive and more efficient network. Then there's the ongoing work to define and plan for 5G networks, and understand the true impact of the take-up of Internet of Things.

And in fixed voice, BT, like many larger telcos, is currently moving customers from PSTN to an IP voice platform. And we'll continue to create and deliver compelling new services over IP.

Meanwhile the 'Cloud of Clouds' work TSO has been doing with Global Services is particularly ground-breaking. Now, as we add in new technologies that enable 'Programmable Networks' like NFV (network functions virtualisation) and SDN (software defined networks) we can create a truly consistent experience for enterprise customers. That's a great opportunity for us, and for them.

Finally, on the TV side we'll be prioritising how we continue to innovate with technology that helps us improve the viewer's experience. A good example would be BT Sport's simultaneous coverage of multiple UEFA Champions League games, using the 'Red Button' service. We've redefined what good looks like here and that's something I'm really proud of.

And whether it's more pixels, better colour representation, higher dynamic range or faster frame rates, we'll work towards making that TV picture closer to what the eye can see in the real world.

How is TSO driving ultrafast broadband in the UK?

I think we've been global pioneers in pushing the capabilities of last mile copper to give ever higher speeds. We've driven the international standards. What's more, the research and development we've been carrying out into at our Adastral Park laboratories has been world-class.

Now, other telcos such as Swisscom, are following in our footsteps and looking very closely at

We're supplementing these efforts by exploring how we can be more innovative in how we deploy fibre across that last mile. This is perhaps less of an electronics issue and more about overcoming physical and logistical barriers.

How will you know if you've done a good job after 12 months?

I'll be looking to see:

  1. That we're on track with our major initiatives, including the ultrafast broadband rollout, the IP voice programme, and our 4G network coverage expansion.
  2. How well we're delivering the cost and revenue synergies we identified as part of the EE acquisition.
  3. If I have maintained and enhanced a workforce in TSO where everybody loves being technologists and engineers.


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