Brunei aims for future economic growth with wholesale telecoms transformation
When Steffen Oehler become CEO of Brunei’s national wholesale network company, Unified National Network (UNN), at the end of 2018, he took on a challenge different to any he had encountered during the previous 28 years he spent at Detecon, which is a subsidiary of Deutsche Telekom’s T-Systems. “Here we are not transforming a company: it’s a nationwide industrial transformation with telecoms as a driver of the country’s economic growth.”
Today, Brunei’s wealth comes principally from oil and gas resources. However, his Majesty's Government of Brunei wants to diversify its economy through digitization and create new opportunities for its population of just under 500,000 people. “We are making communication services affordable and we’re building the skills of local people and making sure that this business is run based on best practice and by Bruneians,” explains Oehler.
Fully owned by the government, UNN’s remit was to take over the assets of the country’s one fixed and two mobile networks and to build a unified, cloud-based digital communications platform. This enabled service providers to “transform to focus purely on services, customer management and experience,” says Oehler.
Today, there is a single fixed mobile infrastructure and UNN has prepared the network for the launch of nationwide 5G services. It has also laid additional 2,000km of fiber networks and expects to have in place a fiber-only access network by mid-2024.
Lowering end-user costs
One of UNN’s objectives is to lower the costs of telecommunication services for everyone, including end-users in a country where labor costs and ARPUs are high. “If you look at what the customer in Brunei pays for standard service today compared to three years ago, they have four times more bandwidth, double the data, and at half the price. This is a story the customer understands,” according to Oehler.
In addition, UNN is investing in data center services. “Our second portfolio is colocation and private and public cloud services, and we also offer cyber security services. We see our future as a service aggregator and orchestrator,” he says. “We need to create the capabilities to go towards a digital economy … and provide the platform so our customers can partner with application providers.”
UNN, however, has a unique operational model, compared with other wholesalers. For example, “all services are terminated in customer location on a device which is part of our infrastructure,” says Oehler. It is also able to create customer tailored solutions for the enterprise market, providing them DC/IT services and integrated ICT solution with partners. Today many small businesses in Brunei rely on Instagram as a communications tool, and Oehler would like to see enterprises in the future with a “reliable digital presence with web domains and email addresses and cloud-based storage and backup. They can then concentrate on their core business and all the telecom and IT stuff is taken care of.”
Behind the scenes at UNN, people and systems are busy adapting to the new operational model and processes required by an increasingly cloud-based, unified national network.
“It’s a chance to build a very efficient BSS landscape … with a highly automated interfaces …and TM Forum Open API exposure. This is doing a lot to help [us and service companies] accelerate [transformation]. At the same time, because “the interface between wholesale and retail is software in the telco cloud … it requires a different mindset,” says Oehler.
Developing in-house skills
Since UNN seeks to employ local people rather than importing skills – around 97% of UNN’s employees are from Brunei – it has focused heavily on developing cloud and ICT know-how in-house. Changes to the operations and processes have included the introduction of digital workforce management that are connected to order management systems; and maintenance optimization through the use of Hadoop and machine learning to utilize all data created by UNN’s network.
“Today telecoms is much more about ICT, cloud and software, deployed in data centers, and you need to ensure all employees understand how that works and confident to operate the new platforms,” according to Oehler. “People … may have to learn on the job every day and apply it daily. .. So, you need to find the right balance and allow [teams] to make mistakes and offer support to learn out of it so that they acquire the knowledge, experience and new skills, resulting in confidence to operate the new technology otherwise you're relying on suppliers [forever].”
For this reason, he believes “you need to invest in upskilling and training, every day, every year. UNN has also taken TM Forum trainings, for example, for process modelling and re-design. “This costs money but in the mid-term it creates commitment and delivers sustainability for the organization to deliver what the business is requiring.”
Steffen Oehler will be speaking at TM Forum’s DTW Asia about partnering at scale: Collaborating, co-innovating and co-creating on Wednesday 15 March.