By Simon Woodhead
It’s that time of year when I get to wish you and your families a fantastic Festive Season and to thank you, where you have, for being part of our journey during 2022.
As you’ll know, I didn’t have the helm for much of the year, but remained operationally active in the background and stepped back in as CEO a month or so ago. That brought with it some challenges but it is genuinely exciting to be on the frontline again. But the team has not sat idle, it has been a really busy year and I’m really proud of what they’ve achieved collectively and have individually become.
Whilst innovation and breaking new ground is in Simwood’s DNA, you haven’t seen much of that from us in 2022 as our focus has again been internal and thus not directly visible. The UK network has undergone massive changes, bringing on another core compute site in Newport (South Wales), lighting a replacement national fibre ring, and the almost complete rebuild of our Manchester Availability Zone to our latest architecture. On top of that both of our USA Availability Zones have been fully migrated away from Equinix and upgraded. And all without incident.
There have been some shiny new features such as several releases of our white-labelled iOS and Android voice app for Partners, voicemail transcription and complete re-architecture of voicemail / call recording architecture given exponentially growing volumes. We also built our own provisioning service, security first, given our long touted warnings about the concerning approach to security in this space as validated by a major hardware vendor having a data breach.
Security is perhaps a theme worth mentioning. There was much excitement this year over DDoS against UK VoIP operators and indeed an alleged TDoS much more recently. While 2022 has evidenced many of the warnings I’ve given in past fraud reports, and my 2017 book ‘Speaking up on Telephony Risks’, these recent events need appropriate context. Humorously, one party anonymously quoted in the book for odd attitudes to security 5+ years ago was a ‘victim’ this year.
While the risk remains huge, operators at Simwood’s scale see DDoS every day and nuisance calls running through number ranges sequentially at 2,000 calls per second is totally routine. Into adequate infrastructure you don’t notice either and they generally last seconds; into inadequate infrastructure they, in my opinion, can expose poor decisions, misaligned priorities and in some cases blatant lies for a prolonged period.
Potential for a large-scale DDoS had kept me awake for a decade and we’ve prepared for it, but that doesn’t mean there wasn’t more to do when faced with the ostensibly new threat. This included reminding customers of our planned response, as well as standing up and testing across the customer-base a complete shadow infrastructure as a contingency for those who wouldn’t/couldn’t connect in the recommended way. While our further preparations were praised far overseas, they have proved thankfully unnecessary to date. A genuine attack can happen to anyone any time of course so we remain vigilant and try our best to ensure that customers don’t endure days and weeks of no service if we’re targeted at an unmanageable scale! At least, it seems, if we were we might win the ‘Best VoIP’ award if we could lower ourselves to self-nomination!
Those events make the Telecommunications Security Regulations look timely and, as usual, we feel like a lone voice warning people about the scope and seriousness of them. If your revenue is more than broadly £630k, they apply to you. There’s a meme that they’re optional and can be ignored but when you look how they inter-operate with other regulations (including Ofcom General Conditions of Entitlement, with which all our customers must comply) they are not. We’ve therefore spent a fair amount of energy imploring customers to consciously choose the level you wish to operate in the market, and Simwood stands ready and able to support you wherever you decide that should be. That might mean carrier services customers choose to forgo the responsibility of operating a platform and become Simwood Partners. It might instead mean that Simwood Partners are concerned with the regulatory burden of customer ownership and for them we’ve introduced Simwood Dealer, where we assume all responsibilities except selling, and we pay you a percentage for the lifetime of the contract. I’d take this opportunity to again encourage you to spend some quiet time over the break thinking about your place in the market and ensuring it is conscious. TSR compliance isn’t trivial and 2022 replayed with enforced TSRs would, I hypothesise, see some modestly sized operators out of business due to fines.
On the sales side we’re having some very exciting conversations, and our unique Residential proposition is now powering several of the largest Alternative Networks out there. As we hurtle to the 2025 switch-off with our network already fully IP migrated (due to our Secret Club admission), and us having about the only truly viable product for residential users, we’re in a good place. I’m very sure that many more of our customers could capitalise on that position and bring needed service to new customers in new markets, while moving your own customer bases away from operators who have a lot of running around and disruption to come over the next few years.
Operationally we’ve been busy and have welcomed some awesome new colleagues, and promoted talent within. We’ve said goodbye to some colleagues as well and that is one disappointment for me of this year – our support hasn’t been consistently where it should be due to certain personalities and priorities. Attracting talent is hard and I’m hugely grateful to the team in place now for their efforts and am confident things are in place to build back and exceed previous standards. Meanwhile our Community Slack remains a stick to publicly flog us, seemingly whether the issue is ours or not!
Porting has been very busy with several days topping 4,000 numbers a day (porting in) and 1,000+ being a relatively routine day now. We’ve put a fair amount of tooling and automation in place to handle this increased load, some of which originates from exciting Skunk Works projects, e.g. automatically testing ports are completed. I love progress achieved that way, especially by home-grown talent. While Carrier Services customers have enjoyed an API for porting for years and years, Simwood Partner customers will shortly have the same – a few customers have had advance sight of this, which will improve efficiency even further. Our team remains 100% onshore too – you can even speak to them!
Across the pond in the USA there’s been huge progress too. I mentioned the infrastructure migration but we now have direct Simwood Inc numbering live in major metropolitan areas. What is key and most exciting here is that these numbers are clean. When you take a number from a CPaaS provider, or wanna-be CPaaS provider, you’re taking from a soiled pool which has been urinated in by scammers, diallers or even legitimate call-centres annoying people. In our tests we were seeing 12 or more calls a day on such numbers that were ring-backs to one scam or another, past or present! By contrast, Simwood Inc numbers have never been used and the robust KYC in place means that they won’t be used for any nefarious or undesirable purpose and enterprises or end-users can take numbers without playing Russian Roulette with their history. This is a big thing we think, as is our full membership of NPAC and ability to natively port US numbers from all 50 States directly into Simwood now. To our knowledge we are the only carrier present in both the US and the UK at this level, from a single global platform, and able to service transatlantic customers through a single relationship. That opens some exciting doors for us and our customers.
As we move into 2023 we have a lot planned and there’s even an unconfirmed rumour of SimCon4, but don’t tell anyone. Well, tell us if you fancy it, and let us know of anyone you think genuinely deserving of a SimCon Award. No self-nominations, mind.
Last but by no means least, thank you again, and I wish you and yours a fantastic break. Let’s rock 2023!