Last week I got a chance to visit the UK factory of the Formula One team Caterham which as you might guess isn’t the usual stomping ground for the Broadband World Series team.
The reason for the visit though was to hear the story that Caterham had to tell – though in fact, it wasn’t really about Caterham – it’s about how using data cost effectively is increasingly important for individuals and companies round the world.
Caterhams’s newest partner is Truphone and the combination is enabling a quiet revolution at this small but plucky F1 team. You don’t have to be an expert to know that Formula 1 is a pretty competitive sport and while budgets may be large compared with many sports, savings still need to be sought wherever possible. Caterham certainly didn’t have it easy in the 2013 season, finding itself at the wrong end of the constructor’s table and with no race points either, so any savings that made can be and transferred over to the track are ones that simply have to be pursued.
This is why Caterham and Truphone have proven to be such great bedfellows to such an extent that the Caterham team were happy to wear shirts adorned with both companies’ logos, and there is a possibility that the latter’s branding could appear in the car in 2014 – though nothing has been confirmed. Indeed, the status of their relationship is hard to pin down as while they have a conventional service provider and customer relationship, but they are also technology partners. They are happy to use each other as R&D to improve communications for Caterham F1, and to test our new services offerings for Truphone, which the latter could then, in-turn, offer to other clients.
To find out more I spoke to Bill Peters, Group Head of IT, responsible for the technology decisions for the Caterham road cars as well as the F1 team.
The Caterham F1 roadshow travels to more than 20 venues per year and Peters describes it as, “essentially a travelling circus”, so it’s no surprise that the F1 team very much fits the bill. Truphone’s selling point is that it offers local charges for all calls and data within the ‘Truphone Zone’, currently consisting of the UK, the US, Hong Kong, Germany, Netherlands, Spain, Poland and Australia, which can save a company that operates in those countries significant amounts. (Caterham also operates in a further 220 countries).
The clever part about Truphone is that each SIM contains up to five local numbers – so for five key countries you can actually look as if you’re calling locally. Indeed it can actually cause a bit of confusion as you can make a call in the UK, but appear to someone that you’re in Australia.
Peters said that in moving to Truphone Caterham was looking for cost savings of around 30 per cent, and claimed that it was actually achieving them, which is impressive. This is despite the fact that Truphone has moved from using older Blackberry handsets with small screens to newer devices with larger screens that encourage greater internet use, which would normally mean increased data costs.
What Peters emphasised in the conversation was that Truphone was able to provide a much better service than its previous service provider. Peters wouldn’t be drawn on the name of its previous supplier, but did say that it was a mainstream carrier.
“Without naming any names, our previous suppliers were one of the big names in the UK, and locally they work quite well, but when you start roaming with these people and the inherent issues that that creates, then the whole service tends to fall over. One of the key things that we’re looking for is the support service, and with the big players, that’s lacking. Whether it’s an end user or one of my support technicians contacting the mobile providers support, the service we were getting was pretty poor. We weren’t getting resolution. It was “take your battery out and put it in again” – “turn it off and turn it on again” mentality and that wasn’t solving our issues.”
In contrast Truphone was a breath of fresh air he said. “The customer service and supports is almost a personal service. When we did the implementation we have a point of escalation and the responsiveness is manifold better than the previous experience than we were having. We’re getting to speak to the people we needs to and resolution on any issues we have.”
The Truphone deal isn’t a “big data” story however. The huge amounts of data that is created and analysed trackside isn’t carried by Truphone but rather by the dedicated MPLS network that it has in place but as well as the standard service agreement. However, Peters said that Caterham was working with Truphone’s R&D people to create a fixed to mobile convergence that integrates with the team’s trackside systems. That said, the Caterham team still needs to regularly use their handsets to check on documents and send images of parts from the track, so the low data charges and reliability are welcome additions that enhance the team’s to get its job done.
One interesting aspect about Truphone’s network is the fact that it’s built with a global network in mind. The core network does not care about geographic borders, with a single interface to the OSS and BSS systems, compared to conventional carriers which will have different system in each country. The system also regularly monitor usage to deliver the best tariffs to its users.
With lower roaming costs one of Truphone’s key selling points I did wonder if the EU’s current campaign to remove roaming charges by 2016, could render one of Truphone’s key selling points moot. Not so it seems. “We welcome it commercially”, Naresh Chouhan, the UK marketing director for Truphone told me. Firstly he says it’s a long way off and regardless, he believes that Truphone costs effectiveness will continue even when carriers in the EU are forced to remove roaming charges. The Truphone Zone extends to many countries outside of the EU, of which he believes, operators will take full advantage by increasing their prices to compensate.
Truphone’s core network design also plays a part in data performance, Chouhan explained. Truphone operates various points of presence in each country, and these tie in to the local networks with which it has wholesale agreements. This means that unlike with conventional roaming, data doesn’t have to travel back to the home network, delivering much faster ping times and speeds. Chouhan claimed its tests have seen 22ms response time using Truphone compared to a 1.5 second delay with traditional roaming – light years apart.
According to Truphone’s managing director for Europe. Rob Jones, this offsets the current lack of support for LTE from Truphone SIMs. Jones says that LTE agreements are in the works, but one of the stumbling blocks is the lack of truly global LTE handsets – spectrum fragmentation strikes again.
Another advantage of Truphone’s core network is that it can monitor performance in any part of it. In one example, this enabled it to identify a potential network performance issue trackside at one of the races during the 2013 season, due to interference with clashing frequencies. As a result it shipped out new handsets and provisioned them onsite, just so the Caterham team would have no problems on the day.
It seems that that mainstream carriers just aren’t cut out to support specific needs of demanding customer’s such as Caterham, and that for all their talk, they lack the ability to really think and operate globally in the way that many more customers need.
Next year sees significant rules changes in F1, which Caterham hopes will lower the playing field enough for it to make its mark on the sport. Equally, companies such as Truphone are levelling the playing field for data use round the world and that’s something that will benefit businesses and individual’s alike.