Thanks for 2016!

By Simon Woodhead

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

I’ll break from the long tradition of describing this year as our most exciting year yet. There has indeed been a lot of excitement but, frankly, much of it we could have done without!

You’ll immediately think of the news with mobile here but whilst very public that was one of the lesser troubles; the news broke for me as I was next to my 10 month old daughter’s high dependency hospital bed (one she’s occupied a lot since June) which gave it great perspective. Both Rachel and myself have been absent from the business several days each week for the last six months (back now) but the business has continued to make strides. Less visibly, certain third parties have been on a mission to cause trouble for us. So whilst I’ve said it privately I’d like to say a huge thanks to our team, who are more loyal, united and focussed on progress than ever: You’ve been amazing. Thanks also to those amongst you who have reached out, whether to tell us of lies or simply to say thanks for what we do – that has meant even more than normal this year.

Despite the inevitable distractions above, we’ve gone from strength to strength. In January we published VoIP Fraud Analysis 2016 and were very surprised by the reception it got. Three of the world’s top ten carriers by revenue, including the no. 1, reached out asking for a copy. Our customers continue to benefit from this research (and the relationships it provides) in the protections we bake into our service, but as buying awards isn’t our style, this kind of recognition on the world-stage is appreciated.

In February we signed our first $1bn customer – that’s their revenue not ours! This is a big name, servicing even bigger global names, and won from two multinational incumbents. Other wins followed later in the year from high profile names and combined they multiply the size of our business. We were touched at the recognition of our capabilities. “We’ve looked around the market-place and you guys seem to be the only ones who know what you’re doing” was one that hit home.

One of the reasons for this is our obsessive ownership of our infrastructure. We’re increasingly unique in a) having some and b) understanding it. Operating and more often than not building is what sets us apart from those who resell, outsource or buy magic boxes. That enables us to sit in a room with a global operator and not only solve their problems on paper, but deliver.

Many of my speaking engagements this year have centred around infrastructure, and particularly some of the freight trains coming down the line in the world of networking, notably Merchant Silicon and Software Defined Networking. We announced our network upgrade and us embracing this technology in July but I was speaking about our ongoing research from Kamailio World (Berlin) in April, through ClueCon (Chicago) in August to Astricon (Phoenix) in October. These talks followed on from each other but at the moment only Kamailio World is available as a video.

That network upgrade continues although hasn’t been finished by the end of the year as hoped. Sites deployed or upgraded show great results though. In addition to massively increased capacity, we have more control in software than ever. This means our network isn’t just a collection of black boxes but a strategic asset. From here the IP network will become more of a living breathing part of our service, with us able to place and prioritise traffic like never before.

Alongside that work, our development team have been busy refactoring much of our code – bringing some very old (2005) code into 2016. This has been a great opportunity to move to more modern development workflows and technologies. They can now develop, test and roll out to live production without any support in creating VMs or modifying the network. A major piece of this is containerisation and a new stack that gives us all the benefits of public cloud, but on our own hardware on our own network. This also means all the benefits of containers with secure separation and bare-metal performance, crucially in the network stack too. This has been deployed in one data centre with the new network stack and will be brought into service for key applications in the new year. It is being rolled out to a second UK availability zone (as the DevOps Hipsters say) in the New Year.

I emphasise the “UK” there yet you’ll know our network is entirely UK based at present. I’ve had a few epiphanies (in a non-biblical sense!) this year and one of them related to the level of respect we have internationally. However, it is admiration from afar because we’re UK-centric. Someone introduced themselves as a “fan of many years” at one of this year’s conferences yet couldn’t do business with us because we’re on a different continent. I’d argue they imperceptibly could and in fact our US revenues used to dwarf the UK not too many years ago, all serviced from the UK. But, I’m pleased to say that made possible by the R&D this year (including some you don’t know about yet!) Simwood will be going global in 2017, starting with the US East Coast. We’ll comment more separately but to be clear, these will be bare-metal deployments enabling local completion of calls on both the sell and buy side of our business.

In May I was really proud to be elected to the Board of LINX (London Internet Exchange) after a few years trying! Whilst this has inevitably meant time out of Simwood (lots initially) it has overall been really beneficial to the business. Seeing the same world through a different lens, and spotting trends, is hugely useful strategically.

Last but by no means least, a further epiphany was around mobile following the failure of the MNO we’d been working with and the consequent loss of our mobile SIMs. We launched Mobile Number Portability and OTT mobile numbering despite this, as they’d been in progress separately and began work on our app. I then saw a world where the regulatory obstruction, and incumbent anti-competitive behaviour didn’t affect us – they could keep their club while our customers enjoyed commoditised mobile service as nothing more than a dumb pipe. Operating over-the-top, but leveraging our IP network and other infrastructure, unrestricted by geography, is hugely exciting. Then I discovered the improved quality, security and true convergence this could offer working completely this way for over a month. I now have no phone on my desk or in my house and the legacy mobile number delivers calls OTT. Calls are crystal clear in full-band Opus and secure from prying ears wherever in the world I am, over whatever connectivity is on offer from 3G to WiFi. I wrote about Discovering Mobility last week as my world view has genuinely shifted; this isn’t marketing bull.

So we close what has been a bit of a bitch of a year with far more fantastic customers than we started with, and so much to be grateful for and excited about. I’m confident that 2017 will be the most exciting year in our history! We’ve never cared who or what is in the rear-view mirror but rather the road ahead and for those travelling with us – thanks to you whether already on board or getting on soon.