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The looming skills gap in global connectivity – and how to tackle it

Tech and Innovation

Posted on May 16, 2017

4 min read

The evolution of technology and consumption habits is rapidly increasing demand for data and connectivity, especially in the Asia Pacific region. As Darrin Webb explains, the ability of the telco and technology sector to meet demand hinges on transformative technologies and a highly skilled workforce to deliver them. Is enough being done to develop this workforce of the future?

Evolving technology is nothing new for telecommunication providers, but the rate of change – and the response needed – is unprecedented.

Some forecasts have demand for capacity on subsea cable networks in the Asia Pacific quadrupling over the next five years. But not only will businesses want more capacity, they will want more dynamic and flexible software enabled ways of buying and provisioning these services.

This means we will need more people – engineers, developers and network architects – in more places around the world to ensure the demands of a connected world can be met. At the same time, we need this workforce to have new capabilities in areas like software, automation and security.  We will need technology agnostic experts who can work with customers to determine their needs across a solutions set, rather than specific domains.

In many countries today, there are not enough people with the right skills to do the jobs and it is questionable whether enough is being done to develop them.

This emerging skills gap doesn’t just impact telecommunication providers. A recent research report commissioned by Telstra and conducted by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), called Connecting Capabilities, found that only 16 per cent of organisations surveyed in the Asia Pacific region find it ‘very easy’ to find employees with the skills needed to support their digitisation efforts. Similarly, a 2016 report from the World Economic Forum cites a PwC report in which almost three-quarters (73%) of CEOs cite skill shortages as a threat to their business.

In short, businesses need to start acting now to ensure they have the skills needed in the future.

What we’re doing to close the gap

We’ve assessed what kind of skills will be needed for us to meet the evolving needs of our customers in the years to come, and we’re taking a multipronged approach to tackle this challenge.

Seeding new talent in the organisation

Each year we bring onboard the next generation of business and technology talent through our Graduate Program in Australia, Hong Kong and Singapore. Similarly, we have also introduced academy style programs that aim to attract and develop talent in specialised areas that are increasingly in demand. For example, our recently introduced Business Technology Services (BTS) Academy is a three-year program aimed at training security and network specialists to deliver technology solutions for our business and enterprise customers. We also support our people through accreditation programs in areas where we need specific capability, for example we now have more than 500 certified project managers who speak more than 20 languages.

With teams in more than 20 countries with different backgrounds, languages and learning styles, we also put significant effort into tailored development programs that are delivered in the local language.

Acquiring the required capabilities

We’ve made strategic investments in organisations that align with our growth priorities. For example, last year we acquired Kloud to help support enterprises who want to transition their workloads and applications to the cloud. We also acquired Readify, a leading provider of application development and software-focused consulting and managed services. These acquisitions have added several hundred people to our organisation with highly developed skills in areas like software engineering and development.

Building strategic partnerships to help develop capabilities

While we have a number of internal learning and development programs, we are also partnering with organisations that can help develop our people in emerging technologies. For example, we have partnered with the Box Hill Institute in Melbourne to train around 500 of our technologists, engineers and network planners in software-defined networking (SDN) and network function virtualisation (NFV).

This first of its kind program leverages content from the Institute’s Bachelor of Computer Systems degree and tailors it for the needs of our people based on their experience and competencies. Theory and practical lab exercises are completed by ongoing learning opportunities. Not only does this program give our people the necessary knowledge, it is also helping to shift their mindset to what will be required from them in the future.

The emerging skills shortage is not a distant challenge. Concerted action is needed now by our industry – and the plan to address this needs to be flexible to account for rapidly evolving technology and customer demands.

Read more about the Connecting Capabilities: The Asian digital transformation report.





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Cable building better links between Perth and Singapore


Posted on April 6, 2017

2 min read

While it takes a little over five hours for us to fly between Perth and Singapore, data is transmitted under the ocean at close to the speed of light. Now, work is about to start on a new subsea cable that will further strengthen links between Australia and one of our largest trading partners – and beyond.

This new subsea cable system, called INDIGO, is being built by Telstra in partnership with Google, international telecommunications providers, Indosat Ooredoo and Singtel, and Australian telecommunications infrastructure providers AARNet and SubPartners. Once completed, it will have more capacity and more innovative features than the current cable that runs between Perth and Singapore.

With an ‘open cable’ design and spectrum sharing technology, each consortium member will have the ability to independently take advantage of technology advancements throughout the life of the cable. This means we can better respond to the future needs of our customers, including increasing capacity if needed.

INDIGO will have two fibre pairs, with each supporting a minimum capacity design of 18 terabits per second using coherent optical technology. This is around 40 times more capacity than the current cable that runs between Perth and Singapore. It’s also the equivalent of downloading 1,000 movies a second, or streaming millions of movies simultaneously. This will enable better connectivity for consumers and provide huge opportunities for business, particularly in the areas of e-commerce, education, research and innovation.

With internet data consumption growing at around 70 percent in Asia Pacific last year, the INDIGO cable will be a critical piece of infrastructure that will build on the more than 400,000km of subsea cables we already operate. This is the largest and most diverse network in the Asia Pacific region and the centrepiece of our global business – it underpins the services we provide other telcos and the OTT tech giants, and it is the core from which we add on top our value added services, like cloud and unified communications, for enterprise customers. We will continue to look for opportunities to build on this network leadership.

Work is expected to start soon on a marine route survey to ensure the cable will be laid using the most optimal route. Construction of the cable and other equipment will then commence, with the cable due to be completed by mid-2019.

Find out more about what’s involved in building a new subsea cable.

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Voice calls still connect us around the world

Telstra News

Posted on January 13, 2017

3 min read

We are enhancing Telstra’s international voice capabilities offered over our global IP network which carries more than five billion minutes of voice calls, or around 9,500 years of continuous talking, around the world every year. Darrin Webb explains how it will work.

Whilst email, messenger services and social media have transformed the way we all communicate and will continue to do so, the traditional voice call is still a very important way for people and businesses to connect. Special occasions, a quick call to your family or dropping a line to your customers and suppliers – are just a few things you want to be able to do without delay, drop-outs or time lapse. This is especially true during the holidays, when businesses are working to meet the Christmas rush or you’re talking to your loved ones around the world – you want to hear them loud and clear.

Telstra’s global IP network plays a critical role in keeping millions of people – and thousands of businesses – connected with voice calls.

We carry more than five billion minutes of international voice calls every year and see peak volumes over the holiday periods and during critical world events where our network experiences a surge of calls. On Christmas Day alone we handle around 40% more calls compared to an average day of international traffic. Calls are also around 25% longer at this time of year.

We are investing in our network to deliver a superior international voice experience by supporting new voice technologies, such as Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) with advanced features, and making sure traditional and new technologies work seamlessly together.

Enhancing our voice experience

To enhance the voice service for Telstra’s consumer and business customers in Australia as well as our international carrier customers, Telstra is in the final stages of  the INVENT (International Next-gen Voice Evolution and Network Transformation) program.

This program will transform our existing global voice network and operational support systems to provide our customers with premiere next-generation voice and multimedia services. It is focused on ensuring we can offer the latest VoIP enabled capabilities, increasing capacity and set ourselves up to support High Definition Voice and Voice over LTE (VoLTE) interworking services.

The network transformation will see a full scale rollout of leading software driven technologies in multiple locations around the world. This will help to enhance our network and ensure there are no delays for International Direct Dialling (IDD), toll-free and roaming services to any part of the world with fewer call drop outs and faster call set up times regardless of whether the call is being made between mobiles, fixed line or VoIP.

In addition to offering a better quality of service, an upgrade to our systems opens up further opportunities for our carriers to swap and trade voice minutes and get better analytics about network performance.

As part of the INVENT program, late last year the new International Convergent Softswitch (ICS) platform in Sydney went live. Partnering with Metaswitch and NetNumber to deploy this solution, this switch carried international traffic between Australia and the United Kingdom, making this critical traffic route the first to benefit from these enhancements just in time for Christmas.

We’re looking forward to rolling these enhances to other key routes in the coming months and migrating more customers onto the new platform.

Find out more about Telstra’s voice services here

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Protecting our subsea cable network

Telstra News

Posted on January 12, 2017

4 min read

A vast network of underwater cables carry more than 99 per cent of international data traffic – and keep us all connected to the internet. So to keep people around the world connected, it’s vital these cables are safeguarded – although this presents a constant challenge.

Telstra operates the largest and most diverse subsea cable network in Asia Pacific, and we are constantly extending and enhancing this network to give our customers added resiliency should issues arise on a particular cable. This work has included building an overland cable in Taiwan, which avoids the earthquake prone Luzon Strait, and a highly resilient fibre based network in South Korea.

Protecting this infrastructure is a top priority for us, but a number of hazards in the area mean this isn’t always an easy task – luckily we have one of the world’s best team dedicated to meeting these challenges head on.

How you may ask? Let me tell you about our top three challenges and how we combat them.


Shallow shipping ports

Singapore and Hong Kong are two of the busiest – and shallowest – container ports in the world. Unfortunately, the combination of heavy traffic from big commercial vessels, shallow water and the sheer number of cables that connect to landing stations around these ports, does not bode well for our cables.

How we combat this: To avoid cable cuts, we have a team dedicated to monitoring the location of each container ship in relation to our cables through the ship’s Automatic Identification System (AIS). AIS provides information on each vessel, such as their unique identification number, position, course, and speed. If a ship gets too close, our team will make a call to the captain so they can adjust their course. On average, our team contacts 30 – 50 container ships a month.


This may sound like an unlikely challenge, but fishing vessels can cause damage when they drop anchor, particularly in the waters around Korea, China, and Taiwan where the water is shallow and the fishing activity is high. Likewise, drift nets can get entangled with our cables and pull them up from the seabed.

How we combat this: The good news is that regulated fishing vessels have GPS trackers so we can work with their crews to make sure they avoid our cables in popular fishing areas around China, Korea and Taiwan. The bad news is, unregulated fishing vessels operate under the radar and can be harder to track.

To help overcome the risks posed by unregulated fishing boats, we employ out of season fishing crews to monitor areas susceptible to regular damage. This not only helps to protect our cables, it also provides local fishermen with an extra source of income during their low season. And in areas where we have experienced regular damage from fishing, we have taken steps to bury our cables up to 3m below the seabed to avoid being hit by anchors.

Natural disasters

The Asia Pacific region is prone to natural disasters, particularly typhoons and earthquakes. Being in close proximity to the Pacific Ring of Fire means there is lots of seismic activity – and deep ocean trenches – in the region. Earthquakes can disrupt the seabed and wash away our cables, while typhoons can cause mudslides and debris from the shore to wash into the ocean at speed – like an avalanche – and damage our cables.

Perhaps the worst damage caused by an earthquake was the one that happened off the coast of southern Taiwan on Boxing Day in 2006. The result was significant damage to major subsea cables in the area and the loss of internet connectivity to China and south-east Asia for two days, showing just how reliant we are on this infrastructure.

How we combat this: While there’s no way to completely avoid damage caused by natural disasters, there are some things we can do to lessen the impact. We have two maintenance ships on standby in Taiwan so we can deploy them without delay if our cables are damaged. These teams work to rebury cables that have been damaged or washed away.

We also recently built an overland fibre cable network in Taiwan to replace a major subsea cable in the earthquake prone Luzon Straight. This overland cable provides a unique redundancy link for traffic travelling from Japan and the US to Hong Kong and Singapore that other carriers cannot easily replicate.

These are just some of the challenges we deal with to protect our cables – and keep customers connected. There is also the multitude of regulations and stakeholders we need to deal with when working in these international waters and the odd case of theft (where people have been known to hook our cable to their boat and drag it to shore), but that’s a story for another day.


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Does Hong Kong really have it all?

Telstra News

Posted on December 16, 2016

3 min read

Hong Kong has long been known as one of the world’s most prosperous financial centres and vibrant cities but behind all these positive vibes, problems like income inequality and upward mobility are very real. Darrin Webb, Telstra’s Managing Director for North East Asia, discusses the issues in the city.

Having lived in Hong Kong for over four years and worked throughout Asia Pacific for many more, I’ve been fortunate enough to experience the prosperous side of Hong Kong. Being a hub for multinational companies, Hong Kong’s deep natural harbor has also made it a major port and distribution centre, while its skyline boasts the most skyscrapers in the world. However, if you look at some statistics around Hong Kong’s social landscape, you might  be surprised by the number of people who are facing social and economic challenges.

According to official statistics from the Hong Kong Government, 20% of people are living in poverty and the number of working poor households has reached 660,000. What really strikes me is that 300,000 children in Hong Kong do not get three meals a day. Additionally, their median incomes are in decline and 80% of local people believe there is a widening wealth gap. It is sad to see  decreased intergenerational upward mobility and a lot of people are struggling to equip themselves with the skills to adapt to changes brought by the arrival of digital transformation.

Telstra, as a technology company, has seen much of the magical things technology brought about, so we are particularly concerned about how technology disruptions may potentially catch us by surprise as well. As highlighted in our recently published thought leadership research, the Connecting Capabilities, Hong Kong is standing behind Singapore, South Korea and Japan in its readiness to embrace digital transformation. We also see a shortage of necessary skills for digital oriented jobs.

From my perspective, it is essential to start the education of technological skills at an early stage. Thus, we should look to nurture our young generation now for a better connected future. We have been putting effort into this in Australia through the Telstra Foundation, and later extended it to the Philippines. Now we are proudly launching the Telstra Foundation in Hong Kong, with a mission to “enable young people in Hong Kong to thrive with the power of technology”.

By working with like-minded organisations, such as Junior Achievement, The Women’s Foundation, and Changing Young Lives Foundation, we hope to make, reimagine and inspire the necessary changes via various programs and activities so as to help our next generation to better equip themselves.

From generation to generation, Hong Kong people embrace the core value of the Lion Rock Spirit, which is to stay optimistic and perservere in facing challenges, and work together to build a secure and prosperous future. We have a strong belief that we can make the Lion Rock Spirit flourish again with Telstra Foundation Hong Kong.


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