Transformed C&W brings together internet heritage
Phil Male: infrastructure as a service and software
service are the way telecoms networks will
Within a couple of days, the old Cable & Wireless
will be no more. The company, with origins dating back to the
19th century, will have been split into two, Cable &
Wireless Worldwide and Cable & Wireless Communications
— independent entities, though both with the historic
name left confusingly as part of their new identities.
A few weeks ago
we interviewed David Shaw, who runs the Caribbean
operations of one of those two entities, Cable & Wireless
Communications. Shaw is CEO of a collection of fixed and mobile
networks with the common brand Lime, and with aspirations to
grow within central America.
And the other part of the company, which was due to be split
off on March 26? There’s something
déjà vu about Cable & Wireless Worldwide,
which focuses on enterprise markets. It operates globally, but
its strongest market is in the UK — where the business
is essentially that formed by Energis, which C&W bought in
2005 for £674 million, and Thus — formerly
Scottish Telecom — which it bought in 2008 for
Déjà vu because the chairman is John Pluthero,
the former head of Energis; and there are other senior Energis
executives at the top of the business.
Phil Male, the chief strategy officer of CWW, is one of the
exceptions, but if he’s not from Energis
he’s assuredly not a vintage Cable & Wireless
hand either. "I ran Thus for 10 years as chief operating
officer," he says. He came into the company via Demon Internet,
one of the UK’s very first internet service
providers, founded in 1992 and bought by Scottish Telecom in
So, at first sight, CWW is essentially a combination of
Energis and Thus, with the addition of some worldwide
enterprise-based assets and the global infrastructure from the
C&W portfolio — leaving the worldwide local retail
operations in the hands of CWC.
The company has been in a state of almost continuous change
for years. The integration of Energis — sorry, C&W
— and Thus following the 2008 takeover is barely
complete. "There are a few months to go," Male told Global
Telecoms Business in mid-February 2010. "The Thus IP network is
moving over to the C&W strategic platform." But
"integration is a well trodden path for us", he adds: the group
built up the experience and acquired the methodologies during
the C&W/Energis integration.
And now, free of the historic responsibility to run
incumbent and mobile networks across the world — they
are all in CWC — CWW is ready to face its market
"We are in 153 countries," says Male. The company has
interests in 69 cable systems connecting Asia, North America,
Europe and Africa.
But it’s more than just a communications
network, he says. Telecommunications service providers are part
of enterprises’ integral business processes, he
says: "It’s more than just a jack socket.
There’s a high level of systems and service
Male knows the important of that from his own career
experience, perhaps more than many others in this industry.
He began business life as a software engineer. "I messed
around with Unix kernels for a hobby. I still do," he says. He
worked on systems producing information for betting shops, and
from there went into the Press Association, a agency that
produces news as well as sports results and TV listings for UK
newspapers, magazines and other outlets.
The PA was one of the pioneers in internet delivery of its
services, and Demon was the acknowledged creator of a consumer
and business market in dial-up internet services in the UK. So
Male was there at the start of IP services and still watches,
and participates in, the rapid transformation of the
Pluthero is another internet pioneer: in the 1990s he set up
and led Freeserve, a hugely successful rival to Demon, until
2002 — a few months after Orange bought it —
and went off to join Energis.
One of the biggest changes in the past few years is that the
local area network inside the building has merged into the wide
area network outside the building, notes Male. "A couple of
years ago we passed a huge milestone, when we started getting
LAN speeds on access networks out of the building."
That means that "people today don’t think of
the geography of their networks", he smiles. "You get the same
speed on the cable inside the building as you do out of the
Through all the changes, CWW has retained Demon and Thus as
brands. "Thus resells C&W products to the small and medium
business sector," says Male. It has no independent network. And
there is a substantial wholesale business: the Tesco
supermarket chain’s broadband is carried on
CWW’s network, for example.
Male returns to his theme of the central position that
telecoms operators now have in their enterprise
customers’ business. "As technology improves the
net becomes more feature-rich," he says. "This is where scale
and the skill-set come into play. Telecoms operators work from
a position of economic advisor."
There is a "trust perspective" at work, he adds. When the
network fails, "it’s not just the phones that
stop, particularly in the target markets that
we’re going for", says Male. "It is their business
that is affected, and we have to be very aware of the impact
when things happen." Today people "come to the office with
their laptop and expect it to work".
We’re talking cloud services here, of course.
"We see infrastructure as a service and software as a service
as the way telecoms networks will evolve. Telecoms operators
are in the best place to offer that."
Cloud services have been emerging for some years: voicemail
systems in the network have largely replaced plug-in answering
machines. "It’s a naturally evolutionary
And this has changed the way CWW and others in the industry
sell their services to enterprises and other customers. Male
briefly recalls the days when, as an IT director, he signed
order forms for infrastructure and then waited for the
technicians from the phone company to turn up in their van to
carry out the installation.
"Today we are innately involved in the work, the design, the
technology and the processors." It’s a continuous
process. "What people are looking for is the total service
But CWW "is not a systems integrator", he warns. "We are
very good at the communications stuff." The
company’s skill-set is building the network, not
in installing a new accounting system. "That’s why
we use the phrase 'communications
If anything, CWW is more of an internet-based services
company than ever. "Our heritage comes from the internet," says
Male, pointing to both Demon, which he helped to found, and
Freeserve, which Pluthero helped set up. "You’d
expect us to be good at that."
But there is another common factor running through the
company: Energis and Thus were both set up as offshoots of
electricity companies, and CWW retains strong connections with
utilities and is using those roots to explore the potential of
"We also have strong a retail product offering," notes Male:
perhaps that’s roots again, as back in the 1990s
Pluthero persuaded the Dixons consumer electronics chain to
back the Freeserve idea. One of Energis’s first
major contracts outside the electricity industry was for the
BBC, distributing programmes, and Male points out that CWW is
still strong in the media, with a number of TV, radio and
publishing groups among its large customers.
"We’re particularly strong in banking on a
worldwide stage," says Male: CWW’s ancestors have
been in Asia "for 100 years", he notes, and that market is
still important to the company.
Most of CWW’s business is UK-based, with 54% of
its revenue coming from UK-based enterprises and about 15% from
mid-market customers. The rest is global enterprises and
wholesale services for carriers, says Male.
But it has managed services in 29 countries in Europe,
"quite an extensive footprint", he notes, and provides services
for Europe-wide companies such as Ryanair, covering 180
airports in 26 countries.
Following the split from CWC, "we are now in a fit state",
says Male: clearly not casting aspersions on the condition of
what is now CWC but, like Lime’s Shaw in the
January-February issue, hinting at the difficulty two very
dissimilar businesses had in existing alongside each other.
"We can go from strength to strength," he says.
"We’re showing investors how strong our
transformation has been." GTB