In 1994, Leo Messi was seven years old, Lady Gaga eight and mobile telephony was a new, fairly expensive high-tech luxury, mainly used by business people in oversized Italian suits with yellow ties. The first commercial GSM networks had been opened just two years before, but everyone realized that the potential for mobile telephony was huge!
Out of this, Apis was born. Initially as a very small group of people who wanted to combine their interests in two areas into one business idea. The first area being the technology itself and the excitement of following a tremendously fast and exciting evolution. The second area being the human, social and pedagogical aspects of explaining state-of-the-art technology in an understandable way to people of different culture and background.
25 Years of Technical Telecom Training
As always, with 25 years of water under the bridge, there are various stories and rumors about what actually went on during the early days. Some of them probably true, and some of them probably not. Is it true that the Apis CEO held a customer meeting in some completely other company’s office in an attempt to fool the customer that Apis was much bigger than it actually was? Is it true that the renowned FoldOut method – which we still use to this day – came out as a result of not being able to complete the “real proper” course documentation for the first course in time?
The 1990s were very successful for Apis, like for just about everybody else in the mobile telecom business. The company was growing, making money and when GPRS (2.5G) and UMTS (3G) entered the scene, the future looked incredibly bright! For a while, our sales department was not actually actively selling courses, but rather taking orders from customers, and also prioritizing which customers to serve and in which order. We opened an office in the US, and made plans for conquering the whole world with our A3 papers and color pens.
And then… something happened
A year or so into the new millennium, the 3G hype developed into the telecom crisis! Operators spent massive amounts of money on 3G licenses and bought 3G equipment, but the 3G services were just not there. This was before smartphones, apps, YouTube and Facebook so mobile Internet was basically a quite unexciting user experience. In our office, phones stopped ringing and customer emails were more often about cancelling courses than ordering them.
The customers that did talk to us at the time (around 2002) gave us a clear message: Old-fashioned classroom training is going away, and in 18 months’ time (or so) they would only buy e-learning! So we started to develop e-learning, investing a considerable amount of time and money and partnering with a company with copywriters and e-learning programmers. Customers were… still not buying! Training budgets were gone, sometimes along with the people who used to order our courses. And when we needed to update the e-learning courses, it turned out that the only programmer who could change the course code had left for a year-long vacation in South-East Asia.
Our conclusion after that adventure was that using the Internet for delivering training makes a lot of sense! But if and when we do it again, we need to use a simpler, faster, smarter and better approach. It actually took us more than a decade to figure out exactly how we think online training should work, but – peeking a few years forward in the story – now we can deliver our courses online 24/7 with great quality to any student anywhere on this planet.
When the dust settled after the big telecom crisis, Apis was still there although slightly smaller and with a few scars and bruises. Yes, it hurt for a while! But our customers slowly started to come back, now for IP, SIP and IMS training. Some of the students from the 1990s had now become managers, and we realized that there were people out there who actually liked and appreciated what we did. We figured that if we, in the new world, could provide good and relevant telecom training while keeping our eyes on both the money and the clock – that makes for a sound and healthy business. Not as cool or sexy as in the 90s perhaps, but a decent way to make an honest buck.
4G and new young people
LTE – or 4G if you like – came and brought new business and new customers. IMS prevailed, now with lots of focus on VoLTE. We also started to notice a generation shift in our customers. There were new young people, about the age of Messi and Lady Gaga, coming in. Intelligent and fun people, and usually with an IT education rather than a telecom background. And we realized that in addition to training focusing on the latest technologies, there is also a market for generic, timeless mobile telecom training for people who are not directly working with the base stations or core network things, but still need to understand on a high level how the telecom networks actually work.
One question that we occasionally asked ourselves was – does it make sense that we in, say 2014, are still delivering traditional classroom training using the same methods (FoldOuts, PowerPoint, some demos and labs) more or less like we did in 1994? It worked fine, we liked it, our customers liked it… but surely there must be various technical improvements to be explored for making high-quality, exciting, cost-efficient online training to avoid travel time and costs associated with classroom courses?
More Delivery Formats
So we started to play around with green screens, lights, cameras, microphones, a collection of computers and software, and a healthy let’s-go-for-it approach. And we realized that we can do today what we could not do 15 years ago. Technology is far better now, and in fact we are also much better! Over the last years we have delivered more and more training online, either as live virtual classroom courses or as recorded courses. One size does not fit all in this case, so different customers have different preferences as to what delivery method they choose. But we are convinced that online training will grow and grow fast. It does not necessarily replace traditional on-site classroom courses and we see online and on-site training as complementing businesses.
Hmmm… Did I spot a grey hair in Leo Messi’s beard? How long will he last? Will Lady Gaga become the new star of the silver screen? The Meryl Streep of the 2020s? Who knows! The world is changing. And it seems that one of the few relatively stable constants in the world is oddly enough a small Swedish telecom training company called Apis. We started with 2G courses twenty-five years ago, and now that 5G is happening, we are still out there. Why? Because we can and because we like it. Stick around and we promise to provide you with some great 6G training in a couple of years!
And by the way – Apis recently had a baby! It is called astream and is a business area of its own. In astream we help other companies and organizations – big and small – create and deliver online training or communicate any kind of information using our studios in Stockholm. Our hard-earned experience of how to do this in a great but cost-efficient way in the telecom world now benefits organizations within any area of business. So in case technical telecom training is not your favorite sport – tell us what is, and we might still be able to help you!