Exploring the Early Sparks of Curiosity and the STEM Trail That Led to a Career in Telecommunications!
Children are inherently curious beings. From the moment they open their eyes to the world, they are driven by an insatiable desire to understand, touch, taste, and explore. Everything is new, and every experience is an opportunity to learn. This natural curiosity is the foundation upon which a lifelong journey of discovery is built. “Mum, why is the sky blue?” “Dad, why do birds sing?” The incessant questioning of a child is not merely a phase; it is the early manifestation of an inquisitive mind eager to unravel the mysteries of the world. Encouraging these questions, rather than dismissing them, nurtures the spark of curiosity.
What’s it to do with?” A simple question, yet one that ignited a lifelong passion for understanding the complexities of technology and engineering in the mind of a young Andy Rawnsley. Fast forward to today, and he stands as a visionary Chief Architect Officer at Gamma, leading the charge in shaping the technological landscape.
From childhood curiosity to orchestrating cutting-edge solutions, Andy’s trajectory in the engineering and technology space is a testament to destiny aligning with passion. “I think I was born to be in the engineering and technology space,” reflects Andy, reminiscing about the days when he played with army field telephones, sparking the initial flames of curiosity that would fuel his journey to telecommunications.
STEM subjects became his playground during his school days, setting the stage for a formidable foundation. This academic inclination seamlessly translated into a pursuit of knowledge, culminating in a Systems Engineering and Computing degree. The journey didn’t stop there. Andy embarked on a graduate training scheme that laid out a path to Chartered Engineer status, solidifying his commitment to excellence in the field.
As CAO, Andy stands at the forefront of innovation, steering the company towards new heights in the dynamic world of telecommunications. His leadership not only reflects a deep technical understanding but also a visionary approach to shaping the future of connectivity.
Below are the interview highlights:
Two Decades of Innovation and Efficiency
Speaking about Gamma, Andy explained that nearly 25 years ago, the founders, Paul Banner and Phil Corbishley, observed the challenges and unsustainability of the ‘deregulated’ and ‘privatized’ telco bubble. Analyzing the cash burn rate and reserves of various UK and European alternative operators, they patiently awaited opportunities. In late 2001, when Atlantic Telecom went into receivership, they seized the chance, acquiring all assets for £0.003 per £1. This led to the creation of a debt-free NewCo, which eventually became Gamma.
Initially, Gamma focused on a price and quality proposition in the UK wholesale voice traffic space, a market established by the regulated interconnect regime for wholesale use of the BT network. The acquisition of a customer base through M&A activities played a crucial role in financing the introduction of VoIP technology in 2003—20 years ago. Since then, Gamma’s emphasis has remained on innovating communication services through technology and operational efficiency, a commitment that continues to define its approach today.
Gamma Telecom is known for its all-VoIP core telco network in the UK. Can you share your strategy for developing opportunities around this technology?
Strategies for Redefining Operational Excellence
In elucidating the strategies employed, Andy highlighted that Gamma’s initial adoption of VoIP technology was justified by the operational efficiencies it brought. The transformation involved replacing power-hungry, circuit-switched equipment with just a few racks, significantly enhancing customer-serving capacity. Subsequent iterations of the VoIP technology, now in its third refresh, have consistently delivered increased efficiency, flexibility, and expanded features.
A pivotal strategic component complementing Gamma’s VoIP technology stack is its in-house software development capability. This capability has been a continuous focus since the acquisition of the software house responsible for Gamma’s first-generation Business and Operational Support Systems (BSS and OSS). Presently, Gamma maintains dedicated teams for developing communication applications, core service control platforms (including routing engines), and BSS and OSS. However, the company’s approach is not limited to self-development; it emphasizes building in areas where innovation leads to differentiation and acquiring where it makes sense to harness the benefits of development at scale.
Technological Evolution for Seamless Connectivity
Andy highlights the ongoing evolution of the public cloud and the hyperscale model in delivering communication services. This trend is closely linked with the emergence of Universal Communications as a Service (UcaaS) from major players such as 8×8, Cisco, Google, and Microsoft, as well as numerous smaller providers entering the market.
In addition, the advent of high-speed local access, whether through 5G or Fiber to the Premises with Wi-Fi 6, is steering the industry toward an ‘always on’ model for rich voice and video communications. Andy humorously expresses his hope that the ‘do not disturb’ mode proves effective in managing constant connectivity.
Gamma, as a player in this evolving landscape, fully embraces these trends. They utilize these advancements not only for delivering their own services but also for providing wholesale connectivity services to various cloud and infrastructure providers, including hyperscalers. Leveraging the public cloud, Gamma simultaneously operates a multisite private cloud platform for its product and service delivery. In the realm of wireless connectivity, they harness the capabilities of the high-speed and high-capacity 5G mobile network, particularly the unique approach of pulling data packets back into their core network for enhanced processing. This distinctive strategy ensures a superior customer experience. Notably, this model mirrors their longstanding approach to broadband access services, which has seamlessly transitioned into the fiber-to-the-premises services constituting a significant part of their connectivity portfolio.
Navigating the Interconnected Landscape
Andy, with a strong conviction in the foundational role of interlock in supply chain relationships, believes in the necessity of both commercial and technical cohesion. Whether in human-to-human operational interfaces or machine-to-machine protocol interfaces, understanding what to do, guided by specifications or standards, is vital for seamless interworking harmony.
Andy’s introduction to NICC’s work on telecommunications technical interconnect and interoperability standards came while specifying Gamma’s initial VoIP platform requirements. Witnessing the real-world benefits of this work at Gamma, Andy delved into NICC’s activities, eventually joining the board. In his current NICC role, Andy focuses on oversight, staying informed about task group activities, and contributing where possible. This journey reflects the interconnected landscape of telecommunications standards.
A Journey through Telecom Leadership
During Andy’s nearly decade-long tenure at AT&T, he had the privilege of participating in their Leadership Continuity Program. This unique opportunity allowed him to acquire skills and experience across various facets of AT&T’s operations. Notably, he played a pivotal role in establishing an AT&T operation in the UK, catering to multinational clients with a local presence. The challenges faced during the UK operation’s development became valuable lessons, significantly influencing his problem-solving approach at Gamma, especially during its early and formative years.
At Global Crossing, Andy gained exceptional exposure to VoIP technology during its early-scale deployment. Despite the technology’s initial reliability challenges, this experience presented numerous opportunities for skill development and problem-solving. The emphasis on crafting high-availability and resilient architectures emerged as a crucial takeaway from his time at Global Crossing.
Meeting Varied Customer Demands
Gamma adeptly caters to both corporate and public-sector clientele. Exploring the challenges and opportunities inherent in serving such diverse customer bases reveals interesting dynamics.
From a technological standpoint, the needs of these customer segments exhibit remarkable similarities. However, when delving into the commercial and contractual interfaces, distinct differences emerge. Andy observes that the public sector takes the lead in technical and cyber security, displaying a proactive stance. In contrast, corporations appear more reactive in this regard. Gamma’s journey involves navigating these varied landscapes, acknowledging the nuanced demands of each sector, and ensuring a seamless blend of technology and security solutions to meet the diverse needs of both corporate and public-sector customers.
Seamless Network Transition
In the realm of network infrastructure, Andy recently completed a significant upgrade, just before the lockdown period. The project involved replacing their traditional optical national network with a cutting-edge ‘packet on fiber’ network. This transformation streamlined their architecture by eliminating layers, resulting in a high-capacity network. The overhaul not only reduced end-to-end latency for services but also facilitated the implementation of virtual functions across multiple data centers.
Andy takes pride in the seamless transition from the old network to the new one, accomplished without a single outage. This meant that both internal and external customers experienced no disruption during the process. The success of this endeavor speaks to the effectiveness of teamwork and the robust architecture and design implemented. The operational colleagues embraced the changes, ensuring a smooth delivery of services.
In his perspective, Continuous Professional Development (CPD) is indispensable for keeping knowledge and skills up-to-date. His university education and initial vocational training date back to the 1980s and early 1990s, marking a considerable span of time. The resources provided by the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET), particularly its Professional Networks, have been instrumental in helping him consistently enhance and sustain his knowledge and skill set throughout his career.
Engaging with the CPD framework has proven to be a valuable experience for Andy. It not only prompts a critical self-assessment of personal objectives but also aligns with industry and academic trends. He strongly advocates for everyone to embrace CPD through a relevant professional body, emphasizing its role in continuous learning and professional growth.
- Barry Nee/Chief Information Officer: I define integrity as doing the right thing when nobody’s watching—that’s what we get from Gamma and its people.
- Alec Campbell/Head of IT Procurement: With Gamma, it always comes back to the people. We can buy from anybody, but only Gamma can bring the ethos, the experience, and the broad knowledge of our company.