Thanks for a great year!

By Simon Woodhead

As we near Christmas I wanted to take time to say a huge thank you to all our customers and wish you and your families the very best for the festivities.

It feels a little clichéd now, as I say the same every year, but 2015 has been by far our most exciting year yet. As we near the 20 year mark that feels quite extraordinary and very exciting.

Things have been relatively quiet this year in IP network terms although we have been growing capacity far far ahead of where it needs to be as one of the many initiatives to keep the lights on as the world becomes more hostile in cyber terms. If you haven’t thought about this, please read our DDoS post. We did also manage to make international news thanks to our nocturnal friends (thanks Phil) and our (then) new status page. The actual commentary is here. If you haven’t subscribed to our status page for email or text message notifications we recommend you do, although we do try not to send you any!

On the SS7 side of things we’ve been building things out as quickly as we can but “quickly” might need some clarification! This is a very expensive and slow exercise, mostly bureaucratically, and 2015 saw us not take delivery of capacity we ordered in mid-2014 in one case. We should get it in very early 2016. Of course other capacity in other places was added more readily but this gives us a challenge: we have massively more capacity demanded in IP terms than we have on-hand in SS7 terms, at least if we are to continue doing things in the unique way that avoided an outage when BT asked us to shut down half the network on a busy Monday afternoon.

In fact, on one day this year due to two competitors having a simultaneous outage (we couldn’t possibly comment on how that could happen!) we had opportunity to triple the traffic on the network, and thus the size of the business, in a single day. That was not an isolated incident and we need to balance opportunities for growth with strict allocation of capacity to ensure loyal customers get everything they need. It comes as a surprise to some that we will not give them hundreds of channels for them to use only when their “virtual carrier” fails. Yes, they’ll use them more often than they planned, but there’s no business case there. Whilst we have tonnes of new capacity coming on-stream in 2016, this commercial pressure needs continued consideration and we have some interesting and unique innovations coming to manage it fairly.

Earlier this year we opened our office in Southampton and doubled the head-count subsequently. We still have more staff working remotely than office based, from as far away as Mauritius, but in an industry such as ours the best people in the world can be anywhere in the world and I passionately believe they work for us! We’ve been really lucky with the new colleagues, both remote and office based, and I’m sure many of you have had the pleasure of speaking with Craig, Chris, Marke or Adele. You won’t have spoken with Jean-Michel, our Node.js guru, who whilst having contracted with us for a few years joins us full-time in January as DevOps Manager. You’ll have spoken with Ross, our resident pedant, much less as he’s been beavering away behind the scenes across the breadth of the business; he begins a new role with us in January too, recognising his unique place and skills. There are other roles still being filled, notably NetOps and a further Operations Desk person so you’ll see the team grow further in 2016. I’ve only mentioned some but am very grateful to and proud of them all.

nov15coverMarketing was a theme this year. We’d never really done any until last year as we’d benefited from our customers moving around and our reputation doing the selling for us. With Craig joining us we’ve stepped it up a gear. The trade press have been very kind to us with Comms Dealer featuring us earlier in the year and Comms Business putting us as the cover story more recently. In July we announced our new brochure and details of our new packages. These ensure we have a product offer for every stage of customer growth, and one for each relevant competitor, with customers benefiting from flexibility and negligible commitment at the low end, through to a premier offer (unique in the marketplace) that gives you our cost-rates in per minute terms, at the top-end. We’re very pleasantly surprised at your response to these.

We “went large” with our presence at Convergence Summit South after a very busy year on our small stand the previous year. It was fascinating to see how busy the stand was through the two days, despite us being there in force. The conversations with customers and non-customers, including those who simply dropped in to say thanks for saving them from a major VoIP fraud incident, left me feeling extremely positive about our position in the market-place.

It has also been a very frustrating year but I can sum up the reason why in two words: F’ing Ofcom. It is Christmas so I won’t be too insulting about them, and indeed last time I was naughty I got a personal letter, but really, words fail me. From confusing customers by giving them two prices instead of one and introducing a wild-west situation with NGCS, through to their continued efforts to distort the market by robbing margin from wholesale to give to retail. Whist beneficial to our customers this is also hugely beneficial to the incumbent yet done on the pretext of improving competition and benefiting consumers, neither of which it achieves. The real frustration though and something that has kept both our lawyers and I very busy this year is porting. Porting is so broken and based on their reluctance to fix it and their outright refusal to us to enforce their own rules, is not going to change. Out of sheer desperation I seized upon a glimmer of hope in the new CEO joining and wrote to her. I got a jobsworth reply from an underling (still a “Director”) repeating the justification to do nothing to protect the consumer we’d evidenced was being harmed and attesting their processes had been followed. Nothing has brought me closer to a stroke this year than every e-mail from them which bring out a physiological reaction in me. Everything they do seems to make things worse, whilst the things they refuse to touch are catastrophically dying. I can’t help thinking that if they were a department of the incumbent they would really deserve a monumental bonus; as a tax payer funded organisation they should be abolished.

On the plus side we’ve established a record number of porting agreements, with those who choose to play fairly and care about Ofcom’s rules. We’ve also managed to save a number of harmed consumers from others despite Ofcom. I do not use the word “despite” frivolously – on every single occasion we’ve involved them, they have made matters worse despite reason, pleas and even the harmed end-users imploring them to do their job. But Rachel and the Ops Desk have done a great job and porting import volumes continue to sky-rocket. Adding porting to the portal and API made a big difference to customers and we’ve made some big internal changes to ensure we can handle the workload caused by the ludicrous levels of gaming that go on with some networks. I think they’ve done amazingly well in the circumstances and the mails from saved customers both our wholesale customers and their end-users attest to that.

I’m pleased to say that our unique position technically and our open authentic approach has really started to resonate with the market. Our existing customers continue to grow and we have some really exciting new customers, both start-ups and more established businesses moving to us. The only customer we’re able to mention by name of course is LINX (London Internet Exchange) who we were really proud to be selected by for highly available voice services. There are many many more and I was particularly pleased to sit in a room with a major UK ISP only last week to hear “we need to move wholesale voice provider and you seem to be the only ones who know what you’re doing”. Their words, not ours, but very welcome sentiment and whilst what is said is really lovely, who is saying it is more significant. We’re really grateful to all customers, old and new, large and small, and really thank you for trusting us.

There’s a small matter we haven’t mentioned: the M word! Earlier this year we brought the market something truly unique with Simwood Mobile. I feel rather impoverished but the whole team and partners, lead by Dan, have done a great job. Like everything in the mobile world it has taken an age but we’ve had a totally unique product in the market-place for many months now, and have many more Developer Packs in innovators hands than there are live MVNOs in the existing market-place. We’ve worked hard to improve the economics for data so this isn’t just a unique voice product but offers unparalleled flexibility through API control in M2M and mobile broadband.

To be perfectly honest, I said at the start of the project that to be a viable primary mobile service, rather than a geek-toy second SIM we needed both SMS and porting, neither of which had been achieved by anything that looked remotely like us before. We did SMS and porting is very, very close; it is done externally actually but the unique way we divorce mobile numbers from the SIM (so your platform can sit in the middle) needs some attention. But I was actually wrong: we also need roaming. After porting, roaming is next but is particularly challenging to achieve in the way we want it to work.

I’m particularly proud of us pulling this project off so far and genuinely believe it is something only Simwood could have done. Sure, cobbling a few call forwards into an off-the-shelf MVNO is easy but to integrate at the level we have – right in the mobile core – and give you an API driven mobile service with the level of control you have is really hard. I think perhaps the fact we’re not a huge company or one with deep VC pockets is precisely why we are able to do this kind of thing; we have a great team used to doing things right in house, rather than spending somebody else’s money to do it wrongly.

We’re very impressed by those of you who have launched, or are launching, MVNOs on Simwood. The vision and excitement from these early adopters is a pleasure to see and the signs are they will do very well. As well as technical our work in 2016 needs to be either in education or de-risking the proposition for our more technical, but less entrepreneurial customers. We’ve had numerous conversations where people have taken a high-street bundle and multiplied what is included by our prices to conclude it can’t work. They of course ignore the unique opportunity to add value (e.g. we reckon mobile call recording is a £50/month feature) and forget that not every customer uses everything included in a bundle. Of course, how much is used on average (and thus the actual cost to you) is a dark art within the big mobile networks and something new customers don’t have data for. But do you really use 20,000 SMS messages a month? I reckon I use 2! With the buffer of value-add completely in your hands, these bundles don’t need to be scary and we’ve had a number of positive conversations with customers who are finding their feet here with good success. We recognise for others we need to make it less commercially granular and, although it isn’t a word common here, more like a reseller proposition albeit one with unprecedented technical capabilities!

Speaking of resellers, a number of our customers are having great success with bundles in the fixed-line space. There’s a proposition in the market-place considered “magic” until we read the small print. With our Managed Interconnect proposition, giving you access to regulated prices without the transit charges, any of our customers should be able to compete with that. One of the great things about our new higher product tiers is that we can help there and have bandwidth to have in depth commercial conversations with customers, as well as technical. A shiny suited salesman from one of our competitors simply wouldn’t be able to do that.

On a final note, do please watch out for miscreants over the Christmas period. We offer more tangible controls to mitigate voice fraud but they need to be configured. We’ll be in touch early next year with the output from our latest voice security analysis but sincerely hope we won’t be writing about your misfortune!

If you’ve read this far we’re flattered! Thank you again for working with us in 2015 and we wish you and your family all the best for the festive period. We can’t wait for 2016.