This summer, Luis Carlos Guerrero, president of Level 3 Colombia and the head of trade for the company in the Andean region, sat down to speak with Finance Colombia.
The country head of the telecommunications company and network provider was joined by Loren Moss, executive editor of Finance Colombia, to talk about the growth of connectivity in Colombia. While Guerrero expects growth in all aspects of the private sector, they specifically discuss how the demand is increasing in the financial sector and the need for greater security.
The following conversation, during the recent Asobancaria banking conference in Colombia, highlights the growth of the digital world and why Level 3 decided to expand its network by adding a cable on the Pacific coast of the nation.
Loren Moss: So earlier this year in Bogotá, I was at an event and learned you have an alliance with Amazon.
Luis Carlos Guerrero: Yes, we see that the future will be one based on the cloud in terms of processing, computing, storage, and the rest and those services — all supported by very good connectivity. So we’re betting on those clients.
There are clouds of different kinds, so concepts appear — like Office 365, for example — and clients need a good, quality response for their users who are far away from those clouds. So what we do is come to agreements with Microsoft, with Amazon, with Google, with IBM, and with others, and we make a direct connection from their public clouds to our clients all over the world. That improves the user experience very much.
Let me explain: If a client has Office 365 for corporate, his users would have to go to internet to get to that content and those applications. With us, what we do is make a direct connection from his offices — wherever they are, whether in Medellín, Bogotá, or anywhere in the world — to Microsoft’s cloud. The user experience improves very much.
That’s what we do as well with Amazon. That’s the first agreement we have made with these companies that have public clouds.
Loren Moss: Interesting. You at Level 3 have a data center here in Bogotá and elsewhere in Colombia, correct?
Luis Carlos Guerrero: Yeah, we have a data center on 170th Street in Bogota, we have another data center in Bogota, and we have a data center in Cali.
Loren Moss: And you already have several fiber-optic connections to the “backbone” of the internet as they say. What is the connectivity like here in Colombia?
Luis Carlos Guerrero: I think the connectivity in Colombia is pretty good, and the future looks good. The majority of cables, with the exception of ours, are in the Caribbean.
The Caribbean is not an ocean, it is a sea of shallow waters where smuggled goods go in and out. So those cables are exposed to the risk of being broken by a falling anchor, or when they’re raising it, getting tangled up and broken. It has happened in the past in Costa Rica.
In Colombia, because the waters are shallow, the ships don’t get into the ports but rather stay far offshore. So we decided several years ago that it was worth the trouble to have an alternative without that risk on the Pacific coast. Our cable there goes down to a depth of 3,400 meters.
Loren Moss: Wow! That’s a big difference. A super-big difference!
Luis Carlos Guerrero: All problems are avoided. It gives us an enormous peace of mind and security of connection for the different uses that both businesspeople and the man-in-the-street require.
We decided that it should be Cali, an important city in Colombia with an opening to the Pacific. That cable, which comes from Panama, comes in close to Buenaventura. And it comes in to Cali, it goes on to Lima, it goes into Chile, it crosses the mountain range into Argentina, it goes into Brazil twice, and comes back out again in the Atlantic towards the United States. In Panama, it goes in towards Miami on one side, and it goes towards the Pacific and on to California.
Colombia is a becoming more and more of a “multilatina” country. So the connectivity with Chile is perfect. The connectivity with Peru is great. There is an enormous number of transactions between those countries, but also with Central America. The cable also goes to Costa Rica.
Loren Moss: How do you find the demand for connectivity, especially in the financial sector here in Colombia? What is growth like?
Luis Carlos Guerrero: Modern companies make us depend more on technology and less on people. Banks, in one way or another, now talk about digital banking, digitalization of the banking industry, fewer offices attending to people and more services online. There is more automation.
As far as that is happening, it is in our favor. It is in our favor because that means more data by means of the network. That means better connectivity is needed between the branch offices of a bank and its head offices where the processing capacities are. That means giving wider bandwidth to the branches, and that means having more automatic teller machines.
Nowadays, businessmen are aware that connectivity, good communications, computing capacities, and applications — rather than being an expense — are a way of saving money. Because the procedures are simpler and fewer people involved. There is more automation, and that means the client does his transactions without needing almost anybody.
Loren Moss: We have seen many high-profile cyberattacks of late. There was the worldwide ransomware attack. We have seen the interbank system SWIFT hacked or violated several times. What is the demand for connectivity providers like Level 3 with security? What solutions or innovations does Level 3 offer? If I’m a bank and a Level 3 client, how can you help us to better protect our systems that run through the Level 3 network?
Luis Carlos Guerrero: OK. Two concepts. One, the companies see that these facts are unfortunately getting more and more important day by day. So for years now, we have had a plan to make sure that the backbone of the company is able to support all of that.
Second, the attacks are not so frequent in Latin America. We have seen them in Ecuador, we have seen them in Colombia, and our technologies operate correctly. But toward the future, we have plans for much more important equipment, both because both the clients’ traffic requires it and because we have a security area that allows us to offer security services, and our knowledge and our network capacity.
For example, often the “bad guys,” as I call them — the hackers — set out to do what they call a “synchronized attack” on a financial or commercial entity’s network. They often coordinate it on the worst possible dates, usually on a Friday, at the end of the month, or on that entity’s busiest traffic in transactions. They usually start at 9:00 or 10:00 am in the morning and the attack lasts until 6:00 in the afternoon.
So, with the network capacity that we have, can detect that attack. Those attacks come from all over the world. If they came from just one place, it would be very easy to block them at their origin. But since they come from so many places and there is just one network, we detect the attack and we confirm it with the client that it’s not a promotion, for example, or something like that.
Loren Moss: Not, like, unusual traffic from a Black Friday deal or something like that?
Luis Carlos Guerrero: Right. We confirm that with the client. And then, all that traffic that is coming in, we divert it to some cleansing points. We clean it up and we hand over to the client the traffic that they should be getting.
Loren Moss: Traffic analysis. Impressive. Generally, Level 3 is a worldwide, global company — one of the biggest and oldest companies that offers these services. What is the importance of a country like Colombia for a worldwide company like Level 3?
Luis Carlos Guerrero: Level 3 has worldwide coverage. We have nine operations on Latin America, including Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, Chile, Peru, Ecuador, and Venezuela. And all those contribute, first of all, to the concept of a global network that we want to transmit to our corporate clients.
And second of all, we have had an excellent client base in Colombia for more than 20 years, since 1992. We have clients that have stayed with us for 25 years in Cali, in Medellín, in Bogotá, and on the coast. Clients that we have seen transform and grow. We have really worked very closely with them and our products have been evolving based on the needs that we feel they have.