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Vodafone’s Rick Perry on 50 years in international communications

10 Jan 2024Technology news
5 minute read

Starting his career in 1974, Rick Perry has had a long and successful career in international communications, picking up a number of accolades and titles on the way.

From his current roles of Director of Vodafone Enterprise Ukraine, Director of Apollo Submarine Cable Systems Limited, Head of Vodafone’s Subsea Partnerships and Trustee of PK Porthcurno Museum to, perhaps most notably, his OBE awarded in 1999 and CBE 10 years later, both for ‘Services to the Telecommunications Industry’.

“I think that one would have to consider those as major highlights in anybody's career,” says Rick. “To be honoured once, it's great. To be honoured twice – is a great privilege.”

How it all began

Studying maths and physics at A Level, Rick joined Cable & Wireless who kick-started his career with a two-year training course in the Wireless Engineering College in Porthcurno, Cornwall. He was then posted overseas to Bahrain.

“They didn't have a licence to operate in the UK because at that time there weren't any other international operators in the UK other than BT. Cable & Wireless provided communications primarily for the Commonwealth countries around the world,” Rick explains.

Growing up, Rick was used to international travel as his father was in the Royal Air Force.

“Ironically, my father was posted to Bahrain, and I went to school there aged 12 - 13. So, of all the places I could have gone to in Cable & Wireless, I was probably the most comfortable with that,” Rick tells us.

“I guess that was one of the reasons I joined the company. I spent all my life in schools around the world and the UK, and every two years we would move. That’s what the Cable & Wireless world was. I felt secure in that world.”

Liberalisation and the arrival of fibre optic

After completing a Graduate degree funded by Cable & Wireless, Rick spent the next 10 years getting to know the international communications industry. Helping rebuild the network in the Falkland Islands after the war and then, when liberalisation happened in the UK, building the nation’s new network.

In the mid-80s, he entered the world of submarine cables, taking charge of international planning and operations. He has continued in similar positions since 2012, when Cable & Wireless was acquired by Vodafone.

“The submarine cable world is about as far away from a mobile phone as you can get. Yet they're still very much orientated in the same communications world,” Rick tells us.

“The industry is a small community of people, so once they get in, they tend to stay and they don't move out. They move within the industry.”

No day is the same

When asked what has kept him in the industry, he talks about the varying aspects of the job. From keeping up with the latest technologies to working with our partners and competitors on investments.

One example is the 2Africa System being deployed around the eastern African coast which is a partnership with eight other international partners including the likes of Facebook and China Mobile.

“We've built all the way from Europe to Egypt and the top of the Red Sea and then from Djibouti down to Cape Town and are now in service,” Rick explains.

The cable aims to significantly increase the capacity, quality, and availability of internet connectivity between Africa and the rest of the world. It’s a project close to Rick’s heart, especially given that the Vodafone part of the cable is named after him.

Referred to as SHARP, the “System Honouring the Achievements of Rick Perry”, it acknowledges the huge role Rick has played in bringing this project and many other cable projects to fruition.

“I'm very privileged to have had these opportunities and experiences,” Rick says modestly.

So, what’s next on the list?

“I would love to finish the proposed Kardessa Submarine system which is a system in the Black Sea to link Ukraine, Bulgaria, Turkey and Georgia,” says Rick.

“The idea is to develop our network there to provide connectivity to the Black Sea countries. We’re working on it now and hope to get it through, amid the current instability.”

This will bring more robust, resilient communications supporting the region’s digital economies, acting as a new digital corridor supporting connectivity from the Middle East and Southeast Asia.

We owe it all to the Victorians

In his spare time, Rick enjoys cricket and rugby but he’s also hugely passionate about military history and the history of communications, saying the origins of the industry are fascinating.

“The Victorians were very good at documenting stuff, so there's a lot to read and investigate,” he says.

“Since the original submarine telegraph cables from the early 1850’s, you would load a cable in a cable tank on a ship and then you ‘throw it’ off the back. The way we do this has improved significantly but it’s generally the same mechanism.”

Historically they only knew the depth, which was worked out using a plumb line off the back of the boat and measuring the knots. This led to cables ending up traversing seabed crevices or laying over other seabed obstacles such as rocks or shipwrecks.

Technological advancements have meant engineering teams can now check the seabed before laying cable. GPS technology also makes it easier to know where the cable has been laid and to find when there is a fault.

“Laying a system across the Atlantic in the late 1800s, you didn't know exactly where the ship was when you laid it. It could be anywhere within a 10-mile radius. It would take months of trawling the area to find it,” Rick remarks.

An evolving industry

Looking back over his own time in the industry, Rick shares some of the changes he’s witnessed.

“All the technology is incredible and the developments of how much capacity we can now get on fibre systems from modulating light from a single fibre – to me, it’s magic.” he says enthusiastically.

One area where technology is evolving is the use of submarine telecommunications cables for environmental monitoring.

“There have been submarine systems deployed with sensors to measure earthquakes and things like that. It is a technology that is evolving, and I think we'll see much more of this over the next few years for all sorts of things,” Rick tells us.

As for him, he’s keen to stay in the business as long as we’ll have him.

“I have been fortunate to hit the milestone of 50 years’ service and look forward to many more years within the industry.”

  • Technology
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  • Digital Society
  • Europe
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  • Vodafone Business

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