Chris Harper: It’s a flat network, which makes it
easy to build
out. The architecture in the POP in London is the same as in
Sydney and New York
Chris Harper is celebrating his tenth anniversary with Sprint.
He joined Global One, the global services joint venture between
Sprint, Deutsche Telekom and France Telecom, to head its
network services organisation as it started to unravel.
In the aftermath, Harper stayed with Sprint to build, run and
manage its network from Europe, assuming responsibility for the
rest of Sprint’s non-North American network five
He’s instituted a structure in the global business
that splits it into three units — Europe, Asia and the
Americas — under regional leaders who are responsible
for the customer experience in their regions. Harper is in
charge of those operations and is also responsible for
Sprint’s global IT and vendor management outside
He maintains relationships with all the operators Sprint does
business with, "whether that means a subsea cable operator in
Vietnam or a last mile provider in London".
Having selected an IP-MPLS network for Sprint’s
global network, Harper feels his operation is now reaping the
benefits: "The IP side of it makes life easier for us and our
customers," he says. With no legacy frame relay network outside
the US, IP "gives us cost advantages", he notes.
"When it comes to MPLS, we chose to have it just at the edge.
We don’t have to worry about what the packets are
doing in the core and as soon as packets hit our routers, they
move as fast as possible through our network."
Harper says applications such as videoconferencing "really play
into it with their sensitivity to jitter".
Flat network architecture
Having standardised technologically across the world also means
he has fewer headaches. It’s a rare case of a
telecoms executive enjoying the fruits of strategy he put in
place. "It’s a flat network which, from our
perspective makes it easy to build out," he says. "The
architecture in the POP in London is the same as in Sydney and
That architecture matches customers’ needs,
regardless of what those might be, adds Harper. Those customers
want economies of scale and the ability to run applications as
fast as possible but have a varied set of requirements.
"A German wholesale customer that has a significant business
relationship with an oil company looks to us to resolve all of
their Latin and North American bandwidth requirements," says
Harper. "Equally, a wholesale provider in the Asia Pacific
region doesn’t have a large footprint in Europe
and America so we provide them with bandwidth."
So far, so standard wholesale. Yet, Harper says
that’s not the case. Sprint isn’t
just using its modern network to undercut competitors, its
bringing new models to the wholesale market. "For example, if
an Indian customer wants to push voice traffic to India from
the US, the price they are quoted from us is the price," he
says. "Competitors give them a price per port but with us they
get the visibility, that’s the point."
In contrast to some providers that claim to have global
networks, Sprint still thinks ownership is important —
most likely as a means to continue to derive the benefits in
terms of operation and cost that the flat network provides. "We
describe it as having global breadth by having wholly owned
facilities covering 95% of the places in which global
corporations are located," adds Harper. "The sweet spot for us
is multinational corporations out of the US and international
corporations into the US."
"We use the phrase 'Sprint supernodes’ to describe
our main locations, then we have what we refer to as access
POPs in 128 countries," says Harper. "The next level is MPLS
network to network interfaces such as those we have with China
Telecom in China and Orange in Africa."
There’s a construction pattern that Harper likes
to follow. "We build our network to cover 95% of locations and
then fill in the gaps with access POPs then NNIs in places like
Botswana with Orange. As the network matures, access POPs
become full service POPs."
Harper gives the example of Sprint’s growth in
Canada to describe how the patterns works. "In Canada, we had
an NNI with Rogers but now we have a POP in Toronto, are
building a new POP in Vancouver and have an access POP in
Calgary," he says. "We build the network as demand grows.
It’s the reverse of build it and they will come."
Providing a consistent global service feeds into the demands
from multinational corporation to engage with fewer suppliers.
"We’re starting to see that," agrees Harper.
"There are aspirations among MNCs to come down to single
suppliers but we’ve also found that legacy
contracts can get in the way. An MNC, for example, may have its
Australian operations one year into a three year contract with
That doesn’t have to be the end of the
conversation, though. "Sprint can manage that vendor for or on
behalf of the MNC," he adds. "We also find that MNCs want a
primary and a back up operator. We can be primary and manage a
back up operator. Politics do come into it."
That’s part of the dynamic that has seen customer
become increasingly demanding of their operator. They want more
visibility into their networks from their carriers such as
tools to manage their networks themselves. Sprint has a tool
called Compass that enables that. "It’s an
interesting area," says Harper. "Some customers want us to
manage it all and some like the facility to self manage.
Compass enables them to see their whole network, it enables
them to look at their routers, ping test and look at faults."
Harper sees functions such as that — along with the
clearer pricing Sprint can provide — as helping it
continue to be competitive as more operators target the market
for global, high-value customers.
"We know our network is high performance, congestion-free and
able to support all the IP and converged services that are
coming so that’s a tick in the network box," he
says. "We’re also confident that our customer
service is excellent. Our customer service platform or 'white
gloved’ [top-end] services are provided at no
extra cost, so that’s tick in the customer service
box. Finally, we’re on net in 165 countries and
have the flexibility to access others so that’s a
tick in the coverage box."
In common with other wholesale operators, the network is still
the heart of the business. "My whole existence at Sprint is
based around consistent global service irrespective of platform
and service type," says Harper.
"There aren’t separate business units or companies
within Sprint. The organisation’s job is to build
the network, receive orders and deliver high quality of
service. When we talk about global customer support, I
don’t just mean my team, I mean sales teams,
pre-sales and technical support teams," he adds.
"We understand the culture of the companies we serve as well as
the network requirements. We’re not just a big
American player and have all the skills to be a regional
European, Asian or Latin player as well."
Harper says that regional approaches, especially in sales, were
broken down seven years ago so sales forces, whether in London,
Sydney or New York, are incentivised to win customer business
together rather than giving orders to specific personnel in
their specific office. "That made a difference overnight," says
Harper. "They’re not all pulling for individual
That approach feeds through to match the
customer’s requirements. Harper gives what he
considers to be a typical example of the new large corporate
demand. "The CIO is based in Chicago but the chief architect is
in Toulouse and the company is aggressive in mergers and
acquisitions so project managers could be anywhere," he says.
"In that scenario, we put a global account leader in Chicago
and a service manager in Toulouse and drop in project managers
wherever the projects may come up. We’re very
flexible about moving people in and out of the account team as