By HAKAN GULDAG, VAHAP MUNYAR, SEREF OGUZ
Q: WHAT DOES NETAS MEAN FOR TURKEY?
A: Netas was founded 53 years ago to establish communication infrastructure with local opportunities. We developed the first analogue and digital switchboards. We expanded to rural areas at the fastest speed in Turkey. and the second fastest in Europe with our speed of digitalization. In 1992, we carried out Turkey’s first software export to the west. We established digital wideband communication infrastructure for the public sector and Turkish army between 1996 and 2009. We developed the most improved communication solutions of NATO for our army. We took the initiative to push for the inclusion of software in the R&D Law. We developed solutions for the communication needs of 200 operators across the globe with our telecom software exports to Silicon Valley. We developed the baseband unit of the first domestic 4G base station ULAK between 2012 and 2019. We deepened our activities in financial software development following the acquisition of Probil and became the leading system integrator of Turkey. We carried out important digital transformation projects, in Turkey and the surrounding region. We managed many projects from Kazakhstan to Algeria. We’ve taken the responsibility for nationwide digital transformation of Qatar, preparing for the 2022 FIFA World Cup. We’ve exported over USD 800m of technology in the last 16 years and invested USD 1.6bn in our ecosystem. To date, we’ve used savings to Turkey USD 4bn with our technologies and kept our national capital in Turkey. We’ve attracted ZTE Corporation to Turkey which has the largest number of patents in 5G technologies. More than 80 of our colleagues develop software for China. We’ve begun to export technology from the U.S. to China.
Q: HAVE YOU FELT THE IMPACTS OF THE U.S-CHINA NA TRADE WAR?
A: Technology production and exports need more attention and a growth strategy. This competition between the two edges of the world will continue due to 5G. It’s crucial to manage 5G and to have domestic 5G technology. Many countries have set their targets on 5G, with plan to invest USD 3tr within a decade. Turkey is among the few countries that can rollout 5G with its own technology. We developed ULAK’s orthogonal frequency-division multiplexing technology at Netas. With ULAK, Turkey became one the four countries to connect 4G using its own base station. And we’ve laid the base of 5G with the completion of 4G. ULAK provides 4.5G communication perfectly at 1,000 points in Turkey. The winner of this competition will be those countries which are able to develop domestic technologies.
Q: HOW DO YOU DEVELOP TURKEY’S INNOVATION AND R&D INFRASTRUCTURE?
A: Knowledge is important in R&D. Turkey suffers from a critical shortage of continuity and stability. The inability to plan over the next 30-40 years impedes the development of an R&D and innovation culture. R&D thrives and develops in free-thinking environments, which we need to provide for our youth. We should gather around the table anyone who can contribute to visionary policies that help Turkey compete with the top players in the new digital era.
The share [of the budget] allocated for R&D in 20032004 was around 0.4 percent, 70% of which is used by the government, including academic studies. Today, the share allocated for R&D has increased to 1% while the private sector share has exceeded 70%. But support for R&D is still low. The process started in 2003 developed well for a decade because of good incentives, but then gradually declined. The government should continue to provide incentives by establishing a strong audit mechanism. Being a technology-based country is not a goal to be achieved by the private sector’s efforts alone.
Q: WHAT’S THE ROLE OF FOREIGN INVESTMENTS IN EFFORTS TO INCREASE TURKEY’S HIGH-TECH EXPORTS?
A: Turkey can show a current account surplus using technology exports. Foreign investments make an important contribution. The greatest need is to attract companies investing in technology or paving the way for technology. For this reason, we must strive toward becoming a technology-based nation . Technology supports infrastructure, production and exports. We established one of the world’s 10 largest voiceover Internet Protocol laboratories in Turkey with the Global Center of Excellence in 2007 where we trained 1,000 engineers. We’ve exported over USD 1bn in software. We have students from 19 universities. However, millions of dollars should be invested in technology for product development in Turkey.
Q: HOW IS STARTUP CULTURE FARING IN TURKEY AND WILL A UNICORN RISE FROM THIS CULTURE?
A: Startups develop our ecosystem and the new economy. We’ve developed Turkey’s first foreign investment fund with our ventures. Today, 7 companies benefit from our support for their growth at home and abroad with the Netas Wesley Clover Fund. SMEs in Turkey have always behaved timidly with technology investments. The government should offer them ICTs and the economy’s structure should be transformed into a technology-based one and include SMEs. The ecosystem should reach startups and SMEs. With this in mind, we’ve created Netas as a platform, through which we collaborate with SMEs and startups in R&D. We’ve developed the payroll software for Kolay IK. Startups need such support from both the government and SMEs. Markets should be created where they can sell their products. The government should support them, through purchase if needed. Turkey has one unicorn, but we should increase them. For this, we need more trained engineers.