In many economies, it’s not easy for inaugural ISPs to remain independent and sustainable. It’s even harder when incumbents have stakes in leading competitors, and control infrastructure and with it access to customers.
This makes the story of Viet Nam’s second largest ISP, FPT Telecom – a subsidiary of the Corporation for Financing and Promoting Technology (previously the Food Processing Technology Company from where the initials originate) – quite remarkable.
FPT Telecom was one of the first four commercial ISPs granted licenses by the Vietnam General Directorate of Posts in 1997. The others were Vietnam Data Communication Company (VDC), a subsidiary of Vietnam Post and Telecommunication Corporation (VNPT); Saigon Postel Corporation (SPT), which VNPT has had a major stake in, and NetNam (a story we will tell later in this series).
“We were only four people in the beginning. We were given a 50-sq. metre room on the 5th floor of the FPT building at 89 Lang Ha, Hanoi, equipped with a rack, tens of modems and several servers,” reminisces Chu Thi Thanh Ha, a founding member and current chairperson of FPT Telecom.
Ha started working for FPT in the early 90s, as part of FPT Software Center – at the time FPT’s primary business was to carry out software development and computer training, later expanding into systems development and integration, and then telecommunications. It was during this time that she had her first encounter with the Internet, during a visit to Singapore for CommunicAsia in 1996.
“At that time I could only dream that one day the Internet would come to Viet Nam,” says Ha. Less than 12 months later, Ha was recruited to build and manage a sales team for FPT’s fledgeling Internet business.
Step one: developing human resources
“In the beginning, we took a door-to-door approach. We would go to each customers’ house to get the contract signed and get the house connected,” says Ha. “It was difficult in those early years, as not many people had a use for the Internet, or even knew about it. Also, it was a costly commodity many people could not justify.”
Ha says much of the costs were associated with FPT Telecom having to pay to access the infrastructure and international gateways managed by VNPT subsidiaries, including VDC. However, FPT quickly cornered an important niche in the market – multinationals involved in international transactions and trading – which Ha says contributes to FPT Telecom’s focus on customer service.
“The performance of our network infrastructure was out of our hands, but our customers valued our service quality, particularly our young, enthusiastic staff and their excellent English skills,” says Ha.
“We recognized human resources had to be a central part of our strategy to help us compete. We hold multiple courses and seminars to educate our staff about the technology, which has gone a long way to us having the largest team of senior engineers, customer support experts and a talented sales team.”
Step two: develop your infrastructure
Having established a customer base in the late 90s and early 2000s, the next phase for FPT Telecom was to invest in its own infrastructure.
In 2004, they rolled out xDSL to every house in Viet Nam’s two largest cities, Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. Then in 2008, they established their first international gateway with Hong Kong via the AAG submarine cable.
More recently, they have migrated over 80% of their customers from xDSL to FTTH and established three more terrestrial international interconnections between Viet Nam and Hong Kong. Together with six points of presence in Hong Kong, Singapore, Japan and the USA, these international connections, according to Ha, place FPT Telecom on par with incumbent providers in Viet Nam with improved quality of service and more benefits for their customers.
“We have invested a lot in infrastructure in recent times including a pure IP core to last-mile fibre into every household and have plans to develop a 100Gbps from core to metro network with real time inter-continent submarine cable system,” says Ha.
Step three: remember, it’s all about your customers
Having spent years communicating the benefits of such advances to her customers, Ha points to how this investment has allowed FPT Telecom to not only meet the growing demand for digital services but has, in turn, helped to evolve the Internet in Viet Nam.
“We now have more than two million Internet and IPTV subscribers, of which two-thirds are fibre optic,” says Ha.
“We were the first provider to offer triple-play services (Internet, VoIP, IPTV), roll out FTTH, change from copper to optical fibre, and develop mobile applications to enhance service quality and user experience.
“We are also investing heavily in cloud computing, data centres and cybersecurity, as a means to diversify and protect our customers, as well as ways to accommodate the Internet of Things.”
In 2016, FPT Telecom was the first Vietnamese company to be bestowed the title “Digital Transformer of the Year” by the International Data Corporation for its continual efforts to plan for and meet the expectations required of a service provider today.
Ha says the award has meant so much to her and those who have helped grow the company from that 50-sq. metre office space. She hopes FPT Telecom’s continued presence and leadership in this space will improve the Internet for the people of Viet Nam.
“I hope Viet Nam Internet enterprises will continue to have favourable conditions for continuous innovation, putting forward a variety of new services, new applications to contribute to the economic development of Viet Nam and the region.”
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