David Thodey: Telstra’s Future Is In Global Technology, Not Telecoms

David Thodey addresses the AICC / Business Insider Australia

David Thodey is on a mission to rebrand Telstra as a global technology company, shedding its decades-old reputation as Australia’s lumbering telco.

Addressing the Australia-Israel Chamber of Commerce today, Thodey acknowledged that Telstra had monopoly control of Australia’s fixed-line network but market dynamics would change with the government-owned NBN.

“My vision for Telstra is that we become a great, global technology company,” he said. “We’ve been too long bounded by being the incumbent telco and that is not the future of Telstra.

“We applaud the NBN and want the NBN to be really successful so we can get on with our lives.”

Fixed line and mobile network services still comprise a bulk of Telstra’s revenues, but the company has invested heavily in cloud computing and applications more recently.

Last month, Telstra launched start-up accelerator muru-D, buying a 6 per cent stake in 10 early stage businesses for $40,000 each and six months of business support, mentoring and coaching.

Thodey said today that giants like Telstra needed to back smaller businesses and ideas to foster innovation in Australia.

To date, Telstra Ventures has bought equity in e-health companies Fred IT and IP Health, cloud-based communication software company Whispir, and restaurant booking engine Dimmi in Australia.

In December, it tipped $US43 million into US-based video streaming and analytics platform provider Ooyala, which has raised a total of $US122 million to date.

“Australians are great adopters of technology,” Thodey said. “You see this in the adoption of smartphones, the take-up of internet connections.

“There’s this incredible appetite for innovative use of technology – however, it’s the use of other people’s technology, not technology that’s built in Australia except for some specific examples.

“What we’re trying to do is help local companies become more successful. Some will be integrated into Telstra, some we will leave to operate on their own.

“Besides start-ups, we’ve been investing in applications, both in Silicon Valley [and Australia], where we’re taking an equity position in companies that have been operating for awhile.”

Thodey and Pollenizer co-founder Mick Liubinskas – who now runs the muru-D program – today painted Telstra as an ally to Australian start-ups but one audience member argued that the telco’s monopoly status was stifling competition and holding innovation back.

Thodey argued that Telstra didn’t have an unfair advantage, especially when viewed through a global lens.

“In fixed, it’s a different issue but that’s why we have regulators, but I don’t think it’s fair to characterise us as monopolistic in all areas,” he said.

“In the mobile area, Telstra isn’t a monopoly at all. It’s because we invest and take risks every day. Investing a billion dollars a year [in mobile network upgrades] – any of our competitors who are international companies could do that and but they choose not to.

“For all of us, no longer is our competition only in Australia; you’ve got to think of your competition as being global. The digital age is creating global competitors, not just local.

“People should have a view of Telstra as a great Australian company, not as the incumbent telco. How do we change these perceptions? That’s on us to do that.”