Jeffrey Hedberg, CEO of WindTre, talks about the necessity of accelerating digital transformation with Fiber/5G/FWA roll-out as well as developing digital skills in the post-COVID era. As an industry veteran, he also shares with us his management philosophy and work experience.
What is your assessment of the post-COVID situation regarding telecommunications in Italy? Will our Country be able to relaunch itself with a clear sense of direction?
The COVID emergency has clearly reinforced the necessity for our country to enable and empower an infrastructure capable of connecting its people, schools, hospitals, businesses and other institutions. While the volumes generated by fixed and mobile data and voice services have grown by around 50% during COVID, we are also witnessing the requirement for policies aimed at accelerating the digital transformation and developing digital skills and capabilities across the country.
Specific to telecom companies, we have effectively responded to this surge in demand for high-quality voice and data services, thanks to the teams within our Company. The ability to deliver for our customers and for our people has been made possible by investing Euro 6 billion over 5 years in the modernization of our network, our systems and other key customer touchpoints.
Which aspect of network infrastructures needs to be further developed?
At this moment, the real game changer and driver of economic development remains a cross fertilization of Fiber, 5G, and FWA as these technologies are interdependent in providing a competitive and sustainable connectivity advantage across Italy. Specifically to 5G, where WindTre covers over 91% of the population due to our dynamic spectrum sharing capabilities, we are providing advanced services to the B2B verticals—health, security, energy, education or smart campus solutions. The 5G standard is also much more spectrum efficient, essential for supporting the increasing demand for connectivity from businesses, institutions, families and individuals. 5G represents an important opportunity for growth not only for telecommunications companies, but for the entire economy.
About 5G, how much are new skills needed?
While investment in spectrum, network and systems will always be important for successfully enabling digital transformation and innovation, developing the required skill sets (eg. coders, application developers) and capabilities (eg. attracting funding, leading change) will be the most decisive source of competitive and sustainable advantage. This is an area in which Italy must have a clear and ambitious plan as according to latest DESI reports, there is room for improvement. Nevertheless, I am confident that by aligning the resources of government, educational institutions and industry, Italy can quickly close the gap given the abundance of creativity and talent of this Country's human capital.
How much will digital transformation support industrial competitiveness?
While, as noted above, Italy has clear areas to focus on to improve its competitiveness, there are several important advantages, such as the manufacturing sector, which is the second largest in Europe and one of the largest in the world. To strengthen the economy and continue to be competitive globally in manufacturing and other sectors, we will require a strong set of public/private partnerships between institutions, industry and education with efficient decision-making processes; and all underpinned by clear and measurable KPIs. By continuing to collectively invest in infrastructure and skills, we will enable the opportunities that digital transformation provides while empowering Italy to take advantage of these benefits.
In terms of expertise, how much could ZTE contribute to the creation of WindTre's new Top Quality Network?
In addition to providing world class technology, service and support, the ZTE team has been very effective in listening to and learning from its customers. They have demonstrated a continuous ability to respond to rapid external and internal changes and have been a true partner over the years. Thanks to this teamwork, ZTE has made a significant contribution to the construction of the new WINDTRE network infrastructure. A network that has been defined Top Quality by the major independent institutes, and which today reaches over 91% of the Italian population with 5G service.
Simplified rules, a digital future. What else would you like to ask of the new Draghi government?
After months (perhaps years) of discussion on the most appropriate vehicle for accelerating the roll-out of broadband across Italy, now is the time to act and I am very encouraged by the clear and practical approach championed by the new government. Moreover, the policy response to the requirement and surge in demand for connectivity is also underpinned by the opportunity to leverage the European Recovery Fund. Policy makers, institutions and industry must leverage this unique opportunity for the country to accelerate the roll-out of Fiber/5G/FWA, develop the required digital skill sets and simplify the processes for enabling these opportunities. In addition to this simplification, there are others, starting with a review of the limits on electromagnetic fields, which should be harmonised with European levels so that there is a level playing field.
As a leader, you are recognised and appreciated for your humanity and empathy. But are people born to be leaders, or do they become them?
I have always followed the simple Golden Rule from Confucian times—"Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." Lead with courage and purpose and always be yourself; whether you are a born leader or a made leader, who cares?
What advice can you give to a young person just starting out in the world of work?
I have had the opportunity to live and work across the US, Europe, Africa and Asia and similarly I have listened, I have learned and I have engaged and discovered that if you can attract, inspire and mobilize the right people and the right partnerships you will be successful. Never be afraid to embrace change and to always learn, learn, learn…particularly in these times of rapid transformation.
Be visible in the field not just in the Board Rooms, be clear and transparent (in good times and in bad), and work and measure always as a team. Finally…
"I am a great believer in luck and I find the harder I work the more I have of it. " (Thomas Jefferson)