Interview: Alan Gibbs

Alan Gibbs, head of Cabel and Wireless' U.S. division talks about infrastructure and technology issues.

The revolving door swings one more time at the American division of Cable & Wireless.

The U.S. unit of London-based global telco appointed last week Alan Gibbs to be the president of Cable & Wireless North America. He replaces Zie Rivers, who ran the unit since October 1999.

Gibbs is the fifth executive to tackle the U.S. market for Cable & Wireless in three years, with the chief executive job becoming an 18-month gig. Gabe Battista, Rich Yalen, Denny Matteucci and Rivers all have tried their hand in making Cable & Wireless USA into a flagship unit of the company, each lasting anywhere between 18 and 10 months at the job. Surprisingly, with that much turmoil on top, the company has met many of its goals.

Cable &Wireless's troubled backbone acquisition from MCI WorldCom has been finally executed. The company is constantly launching new Internet Protocol products. And the American unit continues its rise to prominence as an IP leader within the company.

The new C&W chief has risen from within the ranks. Having retired in 1998 from AT&T after running its Russian operation, Gibbs have spent some time in Cable & Wireless London headquarters, running the calling card division, then the Continental Europe region and doing projects like putting all of Cable & Wireless's internal business functions on an IP platform. An American, Gibbs has been re-acquainting himself with the U.S. market since March as he was drafting his plan to take the North American unit to the next level. His immediate target: solving the last mile riddle. Executing this task may involve acquisitions. On his third day at the job, Gibbs talked to I@W senior writer Max Smetannikov.

You are aware that a CEO job has a life span of 18 months at C&W?

It seems to have had a revolving door aspect to it. I have been with Cable & Wireless for a couple of years, I think I understand the strategy and how Cable & Wireless works, and I am real happy to be here. I think the U.S. market has a lot of potential and so has our organization. The job here is managing the growth, it's not how to get growth going.

What are the fastest growth areas for the company?

Clearly IP. It's IP number one, data number two and voice number three. We are not walking away from voice, while I hear some other carriers are. Since March I was studying the U.S. market, specifically from a local provisioning standpoint. As you know, we have a very good backbone network here, but getting to the end customer is very difficult because you have to work through RBOC and CLECs and other partners. Especially with what's going on with Verizon, it's very difficult to provide service to customers.

The solutions we came across are pretty expensive. We are still thinking about it, but most telecommunications people seem to think infrastructure in the answer, and buying the infrastructure is the answer.

We obviously can't afford to buy an RBOC - should we buy CLECs or something like that? The way the world is going, maybe owning infrastructure is not an answer anymore, I don't know. We are still trying to sort it out.

Fiber or copper, what do you see as the last mile?

Fiber is infinitely superior to copper, but its expensive. However, our customers' requirements-SMEs and above - make fiber economically attractive. And with our customers, as with everybody else's, the telecommunications requirements growth is expediential. Copper can't handle that.

What's you take on the broadband market?

We look at most of the existing technologies, and at the moment fiber remains most reliable. There is some exciting stuff that is going on, and we may have a completely different story in six months - that's what I told my people in London - but from reliability and bandwidth perspective fiber is still the answer.

What do you think about combining voice and data on one pipe?

I am not technical expert, but generally speaking the more we can put on the same network the better off we are going to be.

Would it be accurate to say that local connectivity is your focus now that backbone issues have been worked out by your predecessors?

For global networking, we have a good plan, and we are in the process of installing and upgrading our global network -- which I guess will be a lifetime project for all of us. I would say that regional, metro and local connectivity is probably the next thing that companies like ours need to look at and again there are a lot of interesting technologies and players to work with.