The German Telecommunications Act (Telekommunikationsgesetz, TKG) places high legal demands on providers of telecommunications and Internet services when it comes to cooperating with investigative authorities and implementing the prescribed TKG compliance. We spoke to Roland Martinez, Managing Director of valantic Telco Solutions & Services GmbH (TSS), about his motivation for tackling what, at first glance, might appear to be a rather stodgy topic, and why TKG compliance is much more than just a legal issue.
Roland, the initial reaction to “TKG Compliance” might be that it is a niche topic that comes across as rather dry and boring. Is this the case?
At first glance, it might appear that way to the casual observer. Legal texts, paragraphs, regulations and statutory obligations are all concepts that do not necessarily trigger spontaneous enthusiasm or a firework display of positive emotions. They are, nevertheless, topics we encounter every day in our daily lives. A society can only survive over the long term if crime and attacks on our legal system can be described by clear legal rules and crimes can be systematically prosecuted by the investigative authorities. This necessitates legal guidelines for the provision of telecommunications services as well; we refer to the fulfillment of these guidelines by telco service providers as “TKG compliance”. Meeting these requirements helps ensure that the investigative authorities can successfully prosecute criminals. As a service provider and vicarious agent, valantic TSS accompanies telcos in Germany, Austria and Switzerland together with the public investigative authorities in preventing and clarifying criminal offences. In this way, we assist our telco customers, for instance, in the electronic process of determining information about their customers’ subscriber and traffic data and passing these on to the authorized parties at the investigative authorities. In the prosecution of especially serious crimes – such as serious violent crime, terrorism or child pornography – this can culminate in the authorities monitoring telephone, Internet and e-mail traffic on the basis of a court order. In Germany, the associated legal obligations for telecommunications companies are governed by TKG, in neighboring countries by comparable legislation.
So this topic is not nearly as dull as it might first appear. My team and I are excited and fascinated by the challenge of helping our customers fulfill these diverse requirements; we do so fervently, and with a high degree of commitment, contributing our many years’ experience, and by providing modern IT solutions and services, while also helping to drive digitalization forward in this area. And our customers are also thrilled when they discover how use of our TKG compliance solutions and the systematic use of digital technologies can simplify their everyday lives.
What major changes have taken place at your company in recent years and had a formative impact on you?
First of all, we are proud of our over-25-year track record of successfully supporting our telco customers with our IT and TKG compliance solutions and helping them fulfill the TKG legal requirements without any hitches. In this way, we and our customers jointly make a material contribution to our country’s safety.
But now to your actual question. In recent months, the business unit’s spin-off into an independent Competence Center Telco Solutions & Services has certainly been a defining event for us and has meant a further, consistent and systematic focus on the industry and our customers.
As every IT entrepreneur knows, specialist expertise in TKG compliance-relevant business processes and their implementation play a significant role for an IT company with our thematic focus. In information technology in general, and for us in particular, it is crucial to anticipate technological innovations and the crucial further developments associated with these early on. Concrete examples currently include the increasing importance of encryption technologies as well as the use of state-of-the-art tools such as elasticsearch or docker in software development. Our aspiration must be to provide modern, cutting edge and flexible IT solutions. Those who fail to remain in the fast lane will soon be overtaken, and those who take a wrong turn could quickly run into an impasse. For the stated reasons, we decided to redevelop our solutions a few years ago, based on a state-of-the-art software architecture with intuitive user guidance. But to be perfectly honest, this was not an end in itself for us. It positioned us to be able to implement new and future legal requirements quickly, easily and with little effort in existing process ecosystems and is currently a clear competitive advantage of our solutions. Our customers benefit from modularly designed software solutions that cover their needs in a focused and targeted manner. The age of inflexible, monolithic systems is history.
Additionally to the technological challenges, another of our aspirations was to make these solutions and services accessible to smaller and medium-sized telecommunications service providers as well as to energy suppliers and municipal utilities facing the topic of TKG compliance for the first time – for instance, through their entry into the fiber optic network expansion business. Our cooperation with the telecommunications industry association BREKO as well as the provision of a jointly certified platform solution by the BREKO purchasing group for its members mean, amongst others, that – already for the very first customer in the network – it is possible to operate legally compliantly and avoid high investment costs when providing a public authority information system. By offering flexible solution alternatives – from Software as a Service and Managed Service through to assuming full process responsibility – we provide our customers with efficient business models to optimally fulfill their needs. Our customers can concentrate on their core business, while valantic takes care of ensuring TKG compliance. The current appreciation of our customers – such as Netcom Kassel and many others – shows we’re on the right track.
What topics are currently in focus with a view to the future? What value add ensues from your Group membership?
One burning topic is the rocketing provision of telecommunications services in the automotive sector – the keyword here being “connected car”. At a technological level, this is implemented on the basis of machine-to-machine (M2M) / Internet of Things (IoT) communication and provides for the availability of various telecommunications services in the vehicle. These would be inconceivable without modern communications networks. The development of 5G technologies will create further impetus in this field, and the intensified provision of in-vehicle services will necessitate increasing observance of the applicable legal provisions and requirements of the (German) Telecommunications Act. In many areas, uncertainty about the existing legal obligation and its relevance for the automotive industry continue to prevail here. An entirely new market is emerging here which also poses challenges for us and which we are currently preparing for. Our longstanding expertise in the automotive sector in the area of supply chain excellence is helping us here. Close ties with our customer help generate synergies here, and mutual support can also be drawn upon between the business units of the valantic Group. We additionally work with leading vendors of technical infrastructure solutions to provide technical solutions for meeting the statutory requirements.
Can you already pinpoint any other topics set to become more relevant in the future?
Yes, another future topic is also emerging in our core business, namely the retrieval of subscriber data, master and traffic data and future data “stockpiling”. Although this is largely well organized in Germany – especially since the introduction of the ETSI ESB electronic interface for digitally exchanging data with the public authorities – it is still currently complicated at the EU level. Crimes do not respect national borders and often require transnational investigations. At present, the mandatory exchange of information at this level still occurs on the basis of protracted intra-EU requests for legal assistance via fax and other written correspondence. With the help of the e.evidence Regulation, the European Parliament has laid the foundation for a new era in this area as well. We are well prepared for this and will integrate the necessary solutions and interfaces into our existing information system once the legal guidelines have been passed.
How significant is TKG compliance for the group of energy providers and municipal utilities currently involved in the provision of fiber-optic networks?
The companies that have been active in the telecommunication industry for many years are currently being joined particularly by energy providers and municipal utilities who are now also setting up fiber-optic networks and thereby making an important contribution to the necessary supply of infrastructure for a digital Germany. In doing so, however, they are often breaking new ground, especially when it comes to legal compliance. The companies’ first priority is often the necessary network planning. This is followed by implementation, the necessary civil engineering work, going live with the network and respective services, and marketing these. But even during the network design and architecture phases, it can be very useful to look into the future legal demands placed on a telecommunications service provider. By offering telecommunications services – such as fiber-optic connections and voice and data communications (IP access) – these services are subject to the legal requirements arising from TKG in Germany. It is not only advisable to be aware of these obligations early on, but also to incorporate the topic of TKG compliance into the conceptual considerations for network design and selection of potential network elements as soon as feasible. Against this background, it can be helpful to ensure that their uncomplicated and non-costly technical integration into a legally prescribed system for providing telecommunications monitoring is possible further down the line. We were able to provide successful support in this area on many past occasions and have helped avoid unwelcome surprises and additional expenses later on.
Many thanks for this discussion, Roland!