The 5G Project Pioneer
How Yago Lopez is pioneering 5G innovation across Australia despite a complex merger, technological challenges and a pandemic.
Curiosity has always driven Yago Lopez to push the limits of what’s possible. He likes to get under the skin of complex technologies, understand how they work – and more importantly, how they can make a positive impact in society. It’s seeing his daily work in action, making a real difference, that gives him enormous satisfaction. Now in charge of the wireless and transmission network at TPG Telecom, his daily work was set to become the biggest challenge of his career yet.
In the turmoil of an emerging pandemic, Lopez was handed the task of implementing a 5G rollout and maximizing TPG Telecom’s value in the market. This was made harder still, as he had to achieve results all while delivering network synergies between two merging companies. And all while dealing with the loss of their equipment supplier due to Australian Government regulatory change. A lot was riding on his first move.
A world of experience
You could say that, when it comes to telecom companies, Lopez has a global outlook and sound understanding of different cultures and country requirements. “At Vodafone, I had the opportunity to move into a global position in Dusseldorf, Germany, traveling the world and providing support for 3G rollout as well as troubleshooting advice.” This was invaluable experience for Lopez, as although similar technologies were being deployed, every country had its own needs. “This opened my mind to a global view of telecom and how different people would approach the technology and take advantage of it.”
After years of traveling the world, Lopez decided to remain grounded with an opportunity to become Vodafone Ireland Network Performance Manager and be fully accountable for connecting the country. “It was a great experience going back to being responsible for operations. We achieved great things there, winning for the first-time, public benchmarks on network quality and completing the launch of 4G,” Lopez explains.
This success provided him with an opportunity to mimic his Ireland achievements at Vodafone Australia and before long, Vodafone was benchmarked as the best performing network in the metropolitan areas of the country. Three years later – and after a decade in engineering – Lopez set himself a new challenge and moved into the Marketing side of the business. “I thought, let’s try something different and get a little out of my comfort zone. Looking at how money is made, not spent.” This provided Lopez with a 360-degree view of the telecommunications business and valuable experience that would stand him in good stead for what was to come.
Roll back before rollout
Enticed back to networks as the newly appointed General Manager of Wireless & Transmission at TPG Telecom, an enormous challenge lay ahead for Lopez – deliver a major 5G rollout across Australia from a market position that was lagging behind their competitors.
But before his rollout plans could begin, Lopez was forced to roll back his efforts due to the Australian government’s security ban on Huawei, their main equipment supplier, providing 5G technology for the country’s wireless networks.“When something like this happens, you’ve just got to think forward,” Lopez explains. Layer by layer, you start to build a plan. Our competitors were ahead of us, so we only had one shot to close that gap.”
A strategic rethink
One hundred percent of TPG Telecom’s network was with their former supplier, so completely rebuilding a 5G network was a major upheaval, but number one priority.
With many countries in lockdown due to the global pandemic, supply chains were disrupted, new partner relations were taking place virtually and Lopez’s newly formed team were working remotely. “At times like these, you need a team that will go into battle,” says Lopez. “You’ve got to think where you can find a solution. We have a commitment to millions of customers in Australia, so you can’t feel sorry for yourself.”
The government’s new guidelines on network security provided TPG Telecom with an exciting opportunity to create a vision for the newly merged team. For the networks team, Lopez focused on bringing two unique cultures together, literally overnight. “In the beginning we focussed on ensuring there wasn’t a dominant part,” Lopez recalls. “I like to say that one plus one should be more than two…so what is the new identity that we should have? What are the new values and spirit of TPG?” As for the shareholders, Lopez ensured his 5G rollout plans were an open book. “I’m managing a multibillion-dollar project, so it’s healthy that some of the shareholders wanted to go into the detail of what’s happening. And we were transparent right from the beginning, so everybody was on the same page.”
Lopez also realized that to build a state-of-the-art 5G network, within the timelines he set the team, would require specialist expertise from multiple vendors. “We didn’t want to do little patches and replace like-for-like. We wanted to take advantage of the situation and use the latest technology to do a major leap in our network, Lopez explains. “If you believe in your goal, your partners will see this and work together to help you achieve it. In some cases, you need them to develop technologies that don’t yet exist.”
Space to innovate
Lopez is only too aware, that a 5G world is unlike any generation that came before, where a vendor would normally deliver what you ask for. “In a 5G world you really need to rely on multiple partners at every phase of the process and be open to their ideas,” he explains. To gain ground on their competitors, Lopez knew that the business would need to set a fast pace. He positioned TPG Telecom’s partners as an extension of his own team and created an ecosystem where they all worked alongside each other, bringing their own innovative ideas to the table.
This way of working has helped the company explore less traditional routes in network deployment, like its pre-built sites, which are creating job opportunities and local manufacturing. “It’s a key example of our partner network in action. We chose a controlled environment, did testing in the factory, which made onsite installation faster and more efficient,” Lopez explains. “It’s never been executed with such success.” TPG Telecom was also the first network in the world to realize the true potential of low band 5G SA at 700MHz using Nokia’s triple low band remote radio unit. “This low band 5G helped support our goal of reaching 85 percent of the population in Australia’s top ten cities.”
On top of which the company is finding efficiencies in its 5G rollout with Nokia’s Twin Beam Integrated Passive Active Antenna (IPAA), which enables upgrade of existing sites to 5G by simply replacing their existing antennas with a similar sized unit that supports all legacy technologies.
And as fast as the company is reaching its targets, new ones are being set. “Our ambition is high,” Lopez says. “We are looking to double the number of sites we currently have by the end of 2022.”
What good looks like
Working at such a fast pace has its challenges and not everything goes to plan, but for Lopez it was always about keeping sight of the end goal – delivering exceptional 5G coverage to Australian citizens. “You have to realize that things will change, there will be issues, but you need to separate these from the positives and tackle them head-on with honesty. You also need to highlight and celebrate what good looks like to keep the partnership on the right path.”
And it’s a path that has proved to be highly successful. After 18 months TPG Telecom’s network has not only reached exceptional 5G coverage, but it’s creating a positive gap between its competitors. “We didn’t just catch up with our competitors, we achieved a much higher pace, which makes us very proud,” adds Lopez. “It gave us the opportunity to build a greenfield 5G SA (Standalone Access) network in 2020 and reach our 85 percent coverage target in the top ten cities by October 2021.”
Now that Lopez has seen what can be achieved in such a short space of time, he’s keen to keep up the momentum and put the company in a good position, not just in Australia, but globally.
Lopez’s three rules for business transformation
Understand what the technology can do
Before investing, understand the possibilities of the technology – is it capable of reaching the goals of a multibillion-dollar project?
Change is inevitable, be prepared
Have the foundations in your team to understand the process and be ready for change.
Have a strong plan then focus on using technology to execute it.
Always challenge, can you do it better?
Use the expertise of outside partners to find better solutions, you don’t know it all, but collectively, you can push boundaries.
A new network with new lines of business
TPG Telecom’s modern 5G SA network now delivers the capability to provide a viable alternative to fixed-line networks like the National Broadband Network (NBN) which is the government-owned wholesale provider for fixed broadband for both consumer and enterprises across Australia. “Customers deserve real choice in how and where they access broadband and mobile - and it needs to be on their terms: where, when, and in what form it best suits them,” Lopez explains. “We see our 5G home product being a great fit for customers who want great speeds at great value. It’s about simplicity, flexibility and greater choice for the customer.”
A smarter network
For Lopez, having arguably the most modern 5G network in Australia enables TPG Telecom to use its technology in a way that’s not standard. “In some ways we feel like a multibillion-dollar start-up, so we say how will we do this the TPG way. We get a little bit deeper technically, he says. “The industry does things a certain way, we want to build and improve on the status quo. This drives us a lot.” According to Lopez, it’s certainly paying off as TPG Telecom is seen as the operator to approach for a customized solution. “It’s helping to build a vibe in the market that TPG is the house of 5G. We are the smarter company who can deploy it seamlessly.”
Now that TPG Telecom’s rollout is in a good place Lopez is looking ahead at new initiatives. “We are working with the Australian government and the University of Technology Sydney as well as Nokia and AWS on smart farming solutions. Plus, we’re looking at private enterprise networks for logistics in shipyards, and other sectors like resources and energy.”
The enterprise market is an area that is really gathering momentum for TPG Telecom. According to Lopez, “the company has brought in some of the big hitters in the industry, both globally and locally.” And having positioned itself as the smartest network, some of the biggest brands in Australia are keen to join, including The National Australia Bank and Qantas. “They see how we’re using technology in a smart way for ourselves and think, how could we apply that to our business,” Lopez adds.
A well-oiled machine
The new TPG Telecom has been in existence for over 18 months now, and with the integration almost fully complete, it’s time for Lopez and his team to focus on growth. “We’re a well-oiled machine now and we will see a lot of growth in the mobile and home internet space. These areas are very important for us. Plus, enterprise, we see growing exponentially from where we are today, based on the team we are pulling together.”
With major hurdles overcome, Lopez now feels that TPG Telecom has finally arrived. “We are a big player and a major entity in Australia and starting to get global recognition. The vibe in the company is just unreal. So, now is the time to really see what we are capable of. The finish line is nowhere to be seen.” With all that Lopez has achieved in such a short space of time, there is no doubting his future ambitions for TPG Telecom. Watch this space.