A minute by minute business

By Isabelle Paradis
President, HOT TELECOM
January 2018
Interview - Magazine format        Interview - PDF format           

Nick Ford, President of IDT, is also known as the Evel Knievel of the wholesale industry. He is not only an industry veteran, but more importantly the figure-head of one of the most successful and dynamic voice wholesalers in the industry.

Considering the current state of the voice telecom world, it is increasingly challenging to generate profitable growth, launch innovative solutions and continue stenghtening global relationships. But Nick and his team are succeeding where others are failing.

He recently shared with me his views on what makes IDT so successful and his secret recipe for wholesale happiness.



Automation through standardization

In your opinion, what are the main challenges impacting the International telecom voice market?

The obvious one that everyone talks about is the decline of international voice minutes and revenues. We have been seeing it for a number of years, but now many operators are experiencing 2-3% month-on-month declines.

An additional challenge is that usually, if you have a good data or WiFi connection, the OTT call quality is far superior and can include video if the participants want that. All that virtually for free. With our own retail customers, we are keenly aware of this and try hard to give the best value for money, whatever the customer is trying to do.

There are technical solutions for operators to offer equal or better quality, however not many, if any, are focusing on and investing in their voice network to truly improve quality. As we know, to mobile operators in particular, it is all about data.

At IDT, being a voice focused retailer and wholesaler, we strongly believe that voice is a minute by minute business, that needs managing by the minute. We have therefore set long term goals and roadmap and put an organization in place that ensures the continued expansion of our network, systems and relationships to terminate each and every minute at the highest quality possible.

In such a challenging voice world, do you think there is an increasing need to change the way you serve your customers, with more automation and self-serve tools to improve efficiency?

We have created portals for customers to monitor their traffic and quality. However, until these tools are accessible through APIs to consolidate all their relationships in one view, wholesalers will have limited appetite to use them.

When it comes to automation, yes, you can implement automated routing underpinned by artificial intelligence to optimize quality of experience, and efficiency.

However, when we look at the automation of rating and settlement between operators, I think we will need to have standardization across the industry first for this to happen. To date, at IDT, only 20% of our interconnects have a common way of interacting with billing. It therefore means a long and lengthy settlement process for all of us.

In my view, automation has much more to offer, but as an industry, we don’t seem to do what it takes to standardize and move towards it at good pace.

What about fraud, do you see this as a growing challenge to be addressed?

Fraud has always been present, but at the moment it is evolving quicker than we can keep up with it. We all have our own anti-fraud systems, but again, it is not something we address as an industry.

We don’t even have a standardized view of the different types of fraud. We are therefore a long way away from addressing this challenge successfully as an industry.

On the other side of the coin, a growing number of wholesalers are generating fraudulent traffic to improve their margins and therefore their competitiveness. This is definitely a growing problem, and one we need to grapple with if we are to retain the trust of our retail customers.

Enable, enable, enable

What do you think the carrier market will look like in 5 years’ time and what role will carriers play in this new environment?

I think what we will see is more and more business done between the bigger players and with originating and terminating operators who own the retail business. There will be far less room for old fashioned middle-men and smaller wholesale players, and I think they will vanish in the relatively near term.

From there, the role of wholesalers will increasingly be to enable more efficiency for their retail customers, enable the simplification of their business and enable innovation through partnerships.

As a mobile operator, should you really spend your time worrying about what is happening with your international traffic, or should you rather focus on your domestic network and competitiveness against other operators?

Consequently, I believe we will see an increasing number of operators outsourcing their traffic to wholesalers so that they can focus on their core business. They will look to partner with wholesalers to manage worldwide voice termination at high quality, while minimizing fraud and QoS issues, and help alleviate the risks associated with this complex industry.

This as a result should help drive EBITDA improvements. I do not think many wholesalers are well positioned to deliver this type of solution on a global basis.
As a voice specialist, at IDT we are focusing on deploying such solutions, as we are continuing to expand and invest in our voice capabilities. We are still growing our number of direct routes and relationships and are offering innovative bundled retail/wholesale services to enable our customers to better compete with app based services.

Connecting hearts to hearts

In such a challenging environment, what do you think has been and will continue to be the key to IDT’s success?

Firstly, one of the keys to success in the voice wholesale business is to keep the focus, build a strong evolving roadmap and continue investing in voice. In addition, you must ensure that the organization is working in a cohesive fashion towards common goals - pulling in the same direction in some way.

There is therefore no time to waste on internal politics, and power plays. At IDT, we have succeeded in building a culture called: ‘Discuss - Debate - Decide’. This ensures that we look at a problem, discuss and debate the best solution and rapidly decide the way forward as a team.

We are lucky to have had the freedom to have created such a culture, which is partly reinforced by the fact that we have a very flat organization and that we hire for attitude and train for skills.

The second key to success is to continue building global reach and a business underpinned by strong global relationships and sales team. I believe that the one thing that has not changed in our industry is that 80% of the success of our business is still to do with building and cultivating strong personal relationships with our customers and partners.

The third key to success is to have a business that is built on a strong retail base on which, as a wholesaler, you can build upon to grow not only bilateral business, but more importantly, create innovative partnerships.

Finally, you cannot succeed in this day and age without passion and the feeling that you are making a difference in people’s life. That you are doing your work for a reason and for real people.

We are very lucky at IDT, as helping people communicate with their loved ones abroad is at the core of our ethos.

Our retail business solely exists to serve foreign-born communities who need to communicate or exchange money back home, and we have been very successful throughout the years at doing so. For example, 1 in 5 foreign-born people in the US uses IDT’s services, which is pretty amazing.

At the end of the day, human connectivity and connecting hearts to hearts is everything.

Pretty amazing!

About the Author:

Isabelle Paradis

Isabelle Paradis, President of HOT TELECOM is an international telecoms expert, with over 20 years working experience in the Americas, Europe, Asia and Africa.

HOT TELECOM has been serving global operators, governments, equipment vendors and telecom investors for over 10 years, providing leading edge market research and consulting services to industry leaders around the globe.

For more information on our HOT INTERVIEWS program, please contact Isabelle Paradis at: paradis@hottelecom.com or at +1 514 270 1636