On the same wavelength

Updated: 2013-03-21 17:16

By Cecily Liu and Zhang Chunyan (China Daily)

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One way BT has found such talent in China is by working with universities, accepting their students on internships to take part in BT's research projects. Many of these students remain at BT, bringing in valuable skills learnt during their study and work experience.

Alvarez says that introducing good telecommunications services to China helps to speed up the country's growth. This is because innovative technology solutions increase the speed of doing business.

"For example, if a Chinese company was designing clothes for Spain or Italy in the old days, the employees would fly between China and Europe. But now, communication can be achieved with high-definition video conference, to effectively have a bird's eye view of the dressing room without the need to be there."

One innovative solution that BT hopes to bring to China is an IT system in which hospitals share patient records, like the system BT has helped Britain's National Health Service build.

After the Chinese government made medical reform a priority in its 12th Five-Year Plan in 2011, BT came up with this proposal, and has since had a few conversations with the Chinese government about it, he says.

"Having such a connected system can greatly benefit China's health service sector. For example, if the person in the ambulance can check on the system to see whether the patient has an allergy to a particular medicine, it could avoid a mistake and save the patient's life."

Once such a system is built, patients might be able to make appointments by telephone or online. Doctors could also share information about their patients with other doctors in a more effective way, he says.

But BT envisages several regional healthcare IT systems in China, unlike the one in Britain. The huge population would be too difficult to manage under one system, it argues. From a technology perspective, regional systems would take a few years to build.

"You need the technology, the software, and more importantly, the processes," Alvarez says. "To make sure the processes run smoothly, doctors, nurses and patients need to be educated to use the system."

Discussions between BT and the Chinese government are expected to continue, he says.

Despite BT's rapid growth in China, Alvarez says the Chinese government does not grant foreign operators full telecom licenses, so overseas companies cannot provide basic services such as mobile, fixed-line or Internet services in the country.

As a result, in China BT has specialized in niche areas that draw on its global expertise such as international video conferencing.

Alvarez says that if foreign operators can gain full telecom licenses in China, BT will increase its investment in the country and consequently generate more revenue from this market.

"Today, countries around the world are competing for investment. When I need to make a decision of where to invest, I look at where the return is quicker. If a market is more open, I'm more inclined to invest there."

Opening up China's telecommunications sector would also benefit the country, as competition would lead to reduced costs for Chinese customers, as well as increasing innovation and flexibility of services, he says.

Alvarez says that he has observed a great growth in China's telecommunications industry over the years, particularly as domestic companies such as Huawei and ZTE have become more innovative.

BT is keen to provide fair opportunities for such Chinese companies to bid for its project contracts on a global scale, he says, despite ostensible security fears by some Western governments about these companies.

Huawei, which won a contract in 2005 to supply BT telecommunications equipment to modernize its copper broadband service, was investigated by the British parliament's intelligence and security committee over security concerns last year. But Alvarez says the matter did not affect BT's relationship with Huawei.

"I think we have a relationship with Huawei which is solid. I don't think we have any specific concern on the investigation."

The British committee's investigation of Huawei followed a similar US government committee's warning that the company's operations in the US pose a security risk. The British committee is yet to announce its findings.

Alvarez joined BT in 1999, initially as the multimedia and Internet director. He has since worked in various roles in the company that enabled him to travel the world and accumulate experience for his current position, to which he was appointed in October.

Alvarez says he is optimistic about the industry's future. "We have lots of growing trends in the world, like mobile devices, social media, cyber security and others.

"I think the services we're providing to our customers are making the world an easier place to operate in, and making our lives better."

Contact the writers at cecily.liu@chinadaily.com.cn and zhangchunyan@chinadaily.com.cn

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