Industry View from a Mobile Telecoms Veteran: Q&A with Alan Burkitt-Gray, Editor of Global Telecoms Business

January 19, 2011

Alan Burkitt-Gray presenting the GTB Innovation Awards

Q.  Tell us a bit about yourself.

I’ve been a technology and business journalist forever, and editor of Global Telecoms Business for just over 10 years.

Q. Tell us a bit about the titles you write for and their interest in mobile technology.

I’m employed as editor of GTB, so I write just for that. We interview the CEOs and other leading executives of operators worldwide — people such as Randall Stephenson, CEO of AT&T, who was the cover interview in Nov-Dec 2010, and he spoke about AT&T’s LTE plans in competition with Verizon; or Rob Conway, CEO of the GSM Association, who was the cover interview a year ago, and talked about his expectations for machine-to-machine services.

Q. What’s hot in mobiles this year?

I’ll find out at MWC, though we’re not a consumer magazine — I’m mainly going to talk to network operators.

Q. How many mobile events do you attend each year?

One, MWC; and usually the TM Forum event conference that was in Nice but will be in Dublin, and possibly Broadband World Forum, which is in Paris this year, though the ITU event is back this year, so I’ll probably go to that too. And our own Global Telecoms Business events, though they are different.

Q. How many MWCs have you been to? Any top tips for PRs or companies planning to engage with you there?

I’ve been going forever — 10 years, since it was in Cannes and called 3GSM. As I said, my priority is interviewing CEOs — my record was around 2007, when I did 10 in three days. I also interview a limited number of vendor CEOs: at MWC 2010 I interviewed Hans Vestberg, only a few weeks after he’d taken over as CEO of Ericsson. That was the first interview by any international publication after he took over the job. This year I’ve already put feelers out to some major companies.

Q. Which one are you most looking forward to?

Mobile World Congress. You don’t look forward to it, exactly. It’s three or four or five days of frantic meetings, from dawn to late at night, but it’s an essential part of keeping in touch with the people at the top of the industry. We’ve been going to the TM Forum’s event for years — we used to do a daily printed newspaper at the show — but this year it’s moving from sunny Nice to possibly less than sunny Dublin. We’ll see.

Q. What types of stories or companies are likely to attract your attention this year?

Operator strategies and vendor strategies. Financing 3G and LTE expansion.

Q. How many interviews do you do per week?

About one major interview a week, sometimes a lot more, and lots of smaller ones that may appear as elements of more general features. And we put stories on our website daily, and features and interviews every week.

Q. What’s the best way to pitch a story to you? Email? Phone? Twitter? By mail?

Email. Concise, not starting with four paragraphs of stuff I and every other telecoms journalist has heard a hundred times since Christmas 2008 (“data is causing big problems for mobile network operators”; “smartphones are causing a rapid rise in mobile internet consumption”; WE KNOW THAT). Get to the point quickly.

Q. What’s your favourite blog?

Tom Foremski’s (I worked with Tom when we were both on Computing in 1982-83)

Q. What is your favourite piece of technology?

My radios. I couldn’t live without Radio 4. They (one in every room of the house, and one in my pocket) are all DAB, so I can also get World Service, Radio 7 and Radio 3.

Q. What do you think is the most important development in mobiles to date?

Since when? Mobile telecommunications is the most important development in mobiles to date. Don’t forget that. Most people in the world are now accessible by phone within a few moments by dialling a number, wherever they are. That is a development of the last 15 years. The GSM system is a truly wonderful piece of engineering.

Q. What is the best piece of advice for companies pitching stories?

Get to the point. And remember what’s interesting is news, not waffly background about the data tsunami. If you don’t have news, why should I listen to your client waffle? I can waffle myself quite easily. Or offer me an interview with a C-level exec of the operator that’s using your product or service — sometimes a vendor is the best way to get an interview with an operator I don’t know. And, yes, I’d ask about other things, but I’d always ask about your client too.

Q. What was the best press trip you’ve ever been on? Worst? Why?

Best: to Baikonur, in 2009, to see a Eutelsat satellite being launched (thanks, Vanessa of Eutelsat!). I’ve been writing about this telecoms stuff for 30+ years and that’s the only rocket I’ve seen going up in real life. (Offers for future launches, satellite PR folks, to the usual email address.)

Worst: walking behind the Duke of Kent round some electronics factory in Berkshire because the company had won the Queen’s Award or something. We were told not to approach him (why should we?) and all the management were fawning around him and so ignoring us, so we couldn’t ask anything. And we had to be quiet and respectful. Moral for PRs and journos: a press trip is work, not a jolly (yes, though it was fun, I got a story out of the Baikonur launch, and it wasn’t about the launch itself but about one of the applications, from an exec who was also there). If there’s no story, there’s no point in inviting us. Me, anyway.

Q.  What’s your favourite restaurant?

The Laughing Buddha in Blackheath, but that closed a couple of years ago.

Q. Are you a social media lover? Which ones are you on? FB? LinkedIn? Twitter?

I’m on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. But Facebook isn’t for work really. And none of them are much use for sending messages. I prefer emails, so they’re there in one archived system that I can get to at any time.

Q. Tell us something no-one knows about you? Do you have any unusual or unexpected hobbies/interests? Do you have a claim to fame?

OK, the biggest story I missed in my career: LiveAid. I was the freelance cable and satellite correspondent for Broadcast in 1985, working a shift in the office at 20 Soho Square, when late one afternoon someone put through a call from an agent in New York — an agent for a big star, though I can’t remember who. He’d been asked about “a big satellite TV rock concert” that was being planned. Did I know anything about it? There was almost no domestic satellite TV then — Sky had one channel being watched by a few thousand cable viewers, and there was almost nothing specially made — so it sounded nonsense to me. Fool. I should have asked him a bit more and followed it up. But it was late in the day and I’d done my page and I wasn’t thinking it through. LiveAid became, of course, one of the biggest TV broadcasts ever.

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One comment

  1. Thanks for good info 🙂

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