A SERVICE TO RELY ON

Turkey 2020 | TELECOMS & IT | INTERVIEW

By partnering with some of the biggest telecom operators in the country, ULAK has become a reasonable alternative to the existing global telecom vendors in critically underserviced parts of Turkey.

Metin Balcı
BIOGRAPHY

Metin Balcı graduated from the Naval War Academy and got his MS in CS from NPGS in California and his PhD from Boğaziçi University. As a proud member of Turkish Navy, after serving four years on board of different ships, he joined the Turkish Navy Software Development Center and TN Research Center Command (TNRCC) as one of its core team members. After playing an active role in mid- to large-scale projects, he was in charge of the TNRCC for five years and the TN R&D Department for one. After retirement, he joined Argela, the R&D company of TurkTelekom, before becoming the first CEO of ULAK in 2017.

What were the chief goals that drove the establishment of ULAK Communications?
ULAK is the result of a vision that began in 2013 that communication infrastructure has a strategic significance in a country's life. It has an economic, technological, and cybersecurity aspect. Since then, the Defense Industry Directorate (SSB) has initiated two major communications infrastructure R&D projects. One is ULAK 4.5G, a base station project, and the other is MILAT, a network infrastructure project with 5G technologies such as software-defined networking and network functions virtualization. We are starting to see solid results from these projects after four years and considering the necessity of additional steps between R&D projects and product realization, which is why SSB decided to establish ULAK Communications Corporation. Our first task was to turn the results of exciting R&D projects into products and then commercialize them. The second is to continue research by enhancing the telecommunication network's capabilities through 4.5G, 5G, and 6G with solid roadmaps and apply the results to existing product lines. Finally, we set out to increase our intellectual property rights and patent portfolio. Finally, concentrating in the telecommunication sector, we want to utilize the overall ecosystem in Turkey to enhance the capabilities of the ecosystem.

What role does ULAK play in providing telecommunication services to areas that are economically unviable for telecommunications operators?
Our first challenge was the Universal Service Project, which provides communication services with government funding to areas that telecom operators deem unfeasible, like villages and rural areas. It has been a challenge for us in terms of productization lifecycle and getting the products in an operational state. We have delivered around 500 base stations that we call Universal Phase I and around 400 for Universal Phase II, both on time as planned. Phase I enhanced the existing 2G technologies on base stations with 4.5G technologies, which we completed along with Turkcell. Phase II is establishing new base stations, a task which has also been given to Türk Telekom and Vodafone.

How well integrated is ULAK's network with telecom operators?
Thanks to the Universal Service Project, we have proven our capability by partnering with telecom operators. Having a strong installed base and real footprint in the Turkish telecom infrastructure with this project, we successfully made Ulak base stations available to telecom operators. We have become a reasonable alternative to the existing global telecom vendors in the market and a strong supporter of Turkish mobile operators, considering the licensing agreement conditions. We want to emphasize that Turkcell has been truly supportive of this project from the beginning. Universal Service Phase-I would not have been possible if we had not had the support of Turkcell, which played an important role by managing the project, risks, supporting us, and relying on us. Working within a commercial telecom infrastructure was another challenge, but Turkcell again got the lead when we signed an agreement covering the utilization of around 2,650 base stations for the next four years. Besides providing the radio equipment, we also provide babysitting and operation services for the telecom operators, which greatly helps our cooperation with the operators.