Technical chiefs from Vodafone Group and Orange used a telecoms conference to highlight the importance of becoming a fully digital player, while questioning the role of operators as simply connectivity providers in partnerships with companies including Amazon Web Services (AWS).

In a panel during the first keynote of the Total Telecom Congress, Vodafone CTO Johan Wibergh (pictured, centre) and Orange CTIO Michael Trabbia (pictured, left) outlined their companies’ digital moves and mulled the role of operators in collaborations with massive digital players.

Although both cited the importance of tie-ups and creating ecosystems, Wibergh warned providing just connectivity and using suppliers for additional services would not create sufficient differentiation or even partnerships for Vodafone.

“It’s imperative to have value-adds versus the competition,” he noted, “hence you cannot just buy from suppliers, you have to create them”.

Vodafone last week announced a recruitment drive for software engineers and reskill existing staff to up development of its own digital platforms and systems.

However, Wibergh also noted there were areas where partnerships were “crucial” noting “we do not have the capability or money to do everything”.

He added it was vital for Vodafone to “bring value” to partnerships aside from being just the provider of connectivity.

Trabbia provided a more positive reflection of what operators bring to these collaborations, noting “they need us”.

He highlighted the operator’s wide number of existing customer relationships, expertise in specific areas and familiarity with local regulations, which many of the large digital players may lack, especially in Europe.

Trabbia also highlighted a need for hyperscale computing companies to differentiate between themselves, meaning deals had to be mutually beneficial.

The Orange executive outlined his company’s moves in “complementary” adjacent areas to boost its service offer, focusing on verticals with needs and skills close to its core business including banking and cybersecurity.

Colt Technology Services CEO Keri Gilder (pictured, right) was also bullish on connectivity providers, noting hyperscale computing companies “need us, and we need them”.

“Once you come to the mindset you are already adding value to the equation, then I think you start to open a different dynamic in the conversation”.