Vodafone’s Regina Moran: ‘5G and NB-IoT will drive digital transformation’

1 Jun 2018

Regina Moran, enterprise director, Vodafone Ireland. Image: Naoise Culhane

Vodafone is taking a platform approach to 5G and NB-IoT that will not only make the internet of things possible, it will make it financially viable, says new enterprise director in Ireland.

As Vodafone’s new enterprise director, Regina Moran is responsible for the company’s expanding enterprise division, overseeing sales, commercial, operations, product and marketing.

Moran has spent many years leading organisational transformation programmes across right sizing, smart shoring, automation and cultural change.

‘We talk about the gigabit society, but in practical terms it is for people to be able to stay, live and work in wonderful parts of the country so that they aren’t just tourist locations but are living communities’

Her main focus in her new role is helping customers digitally transform their business with the goal of helping them expand and grow, all supported by Vodafone’s next-generation fixed and mobile solutions, cloud-based platforms, narrowband-IoT (NB-IoT) and One Net Business unified communications solution.

A chartered fellow of the Institution of Engineers of Ireland, Moran served on the council and executive and as president from 2014 to 2015, during which time she promoted STEM and the role of women in engineering. She also recently received a fellowship of Irish Academy of Engineering and is the chair of THEA, the Technological Higher Education Authority.

Moran is also a member of the Government-industry led Smart Futures Advisory Board and a former non-executive director of EirGrid, the company responsible for the national grid across the island of Ireland.

How do you see your mission in this new role?

It is incredibly interesting because the possibilities are quite broad in terms of what we have and can bring to our enterprise customers. If you look at our enterprise customer base, it goes everywhere from a small operator with two or three people right up to large global enterprises.

I think the conversation with customers is important. The connected ambition of our customers is at the core of what we are doing and Vodafone’s emphasis on customers is palpable the minute you walk in the door.

Think of that connected infrastructure as a platform, and then the possibilities of doing things like the internet of things (IoT), particularly with narrowband-IoT (NB-IoT) and 5G coming down the line; and what is possible with Siro in terms of fibre-to-the-home and gigabit society.

I think, from a national point of view and the possibility of driving businesses forward (particularly with Brexit looming and the need for people to be connected globally), there are a lot of things that we have in our group armoury and we are bringing to bear.

That demand is there. The relationship side of it can be very strong in enterprise and there is trust in terms of the brand.

How will this infrastructure lend itself to the drive towards digital transformation?

Everybody has this huge pressure called digital transformation, but without the connectivity infrastructure and that platform I described it would be difficult to do it.

It is about always being connected, and then what do you do with the fact you are connected? How does that enable small businesses to grow? How does that enable scaling businesses to internationalise? How does that enable global businesses to be more effective?

What we are trying to emphasise in Vodafone Enterprise is what is the benefit to the customer in all of this. You start from the customer first. It is not just about the technology, it is about how we can get businesses to talk to each other, partnering, co-creating. I think it is very exciting.

The worlds of IT and telecoms used to be very separate but now they are one. Would you agree?

What was a revelation to me is the breadth of the offering and the blurring between what was strictly IT and strictly connectivity. There is a lot of blurring happening.

What I have been very impressed about since I got here is the level of investment that Vodafone has done in Ireland. It is pretty phenomenal, with €2bn invested over the last number of years, and it continues to invest in NB-IoT and 5G.

Do you believe digital infrastructure should be a national priority?

The good news about Ireland is we are a small, open economy on the edge of Europe. The bad news is that we are a small open economy on the edge of Europe.

With Brexit happening, the need for us to look beyond the nearest island for markets is becoming very real, particularly for small businesses. Global companies may be a little more insulated in that they have already got that reach, so we need to be thinking about international presence in order to grow revenues from other markets.

Connectivity gives you that presence. Then, of course, there is the apps layer and smartphones.

But if you think about the human layer and what Siro are doing in terms of regional broadband, the ability of a small business in Kerry or Clonmel to flourish, grow and keep people living and working in that community because they are connected is incredible. Low latency enables small businesses to connect into international markets and sell around the world.

How do you think these technologies will influence the future of work?

We talk about the gigabit society, but in practical terms it is for people to be able to stay, live and work in wonderful parts of the country so that they aren’t just tourist locations but are living communities.

The other piece is remote working and the enablement of people to physically be in their own home working. We just started working with Abodoo, a company that brings remote workers together. If people have the suite of tools they can do remote work a lot more easily and it is practically possible.

There is a huge productivity loss happening in commuter traffic, there’s a huge stress and mental wellbeing issue, and there’s the physical ailments people will have from sitting at desks for lengths of time. The physical toll it will take on back and gastric problems – that dimension hasn’t even been thought about.

Remote working is happening in most urban locations and Ireland could be a leading light. Californians were talking about this 25 years ago and I don’t think they have addressed it yet.

Vodafone has a very flexible working environment so people can “bring our whole selves to work”, remarkably so, and gender diversity here is very high. Quite a lot of people across the organisation work flexibly. From a wellbeing and productivity point of view, the gains are obvious.

But a great deal of enlightenment is needed in the general business world, enabled by connectivity, fibre-to-the-home and other enabling infrastructure, and a lot of that is becoming a reality. It is certainly more possible than even five years ago.

The collision between comms and IT is enabling everything from self-driving cars to drones and more. What are the new technologies that you are excited to work on?

Having the NB-IoT platform makes IoT viable from a cost point of view. If we can create a platform and an ecosystem for Irish companies with niche offerings to create a combined value proposition with what we have, that is quite exciting. And the fact that you have that IoT platform to build that in a way that is commercially viable, even for small businesses, I think we are only at the tip of what is possible.

If you look at that by sector – healthcare, financial services, etc – it touches every one. The problems that you may be solving might be different, but that platform is what is important.

We are trialling 5G and there are possibilities of what you can do in terms of VR and AR. A low-latency network would allow a surgeon in Dublin to operate on a person in Cork. The best maths teacher in the world could deliver maths classes to secondary school students. All of those things are possible. There are societal and commercial benefits.

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John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years