Iconic TelHouse transfer marks telecommunication milestone

The handover of TelBru’s infrastructure assets to the Unified National Networks Sdn Bhd (UNN) signals yet another milestone in the major transformation of the telecommunications industry in Brunei Darussalam.

Held yesterday at Telekom Brunei Berhad (TelBru) Sumbiling Telephone House in Bandar Seri Begawan, the handover ceremony was attended by around 100 staff members from TelBru and UNN, including members of TelBru’s Board, led by Deputy Minister of Finance and Economy Dato Seri Paduka Dr Haji Abdul Manaf bin Haji Metussin, in his capacity as Chairman of TelBru.

The historic ceremony saw TelBru Chief Executive Officer Ahmad Jefri bin Abdul Rahman exchanging keys with UNN CEO Dr Steffen Oehler, with Dato Seri Paduka Dr Haji Abdul Manaf as witness.

The exchange of keys signifies the transfer of TelBru’s infrastructure assets to UNN as part of the national strategy to provide better telecommunications services for the people of Brunei, while encouraging the development of ICT in the country.

Affectionately known as TelHouse by TelBru denizens, the building is one of the oldest structures under the organisation, with its history dating back to the early days of Jabatan Telekom Brunei (JTB).

Deputy Minister of Finance and Economy (Economy) Dato Seri Paduka Dr Haji Abdul Manaf bin Haji Metussin witnesses the key exchange between TelBru Chief Executive Officer Ahmad Jefri bin Abdul Rahman and UNN CEO Dr Steffen Oehler.

The iconic TelBru building in Bandar Seri Begawan. PHOTOS: JAMES KON

An iconic and easily recognisable building in Bandar Seri Begawan, it houses key equipment which manages Internet and telephone connectivity to businesses and households within its catchment area.

Since 1978, TelHouse comprises three separate buildings, starting with the central main lobby structure still seen today.

It was extended in later years with additions behind and eventually in front of the existing main lobby structure.

These buildings mainly accommodated the office space for hundreds of TelBru staff as well as equipment areas, allocated separately among the three buildings.

In 2014, it received a major facelift that incorporated TelBru’s corporate colours.

As a significantly important infrastructure in the country, TelHouse served as a hub for the transmission of data. It also hosted hundreds of students for school visits, of which a number of them later joined the company as employees.

Around 60 staff members with over 25 years of service at TelHouse, since the days of JTB, were also invited to the event to witness the handover of TelHouse to UNN.

For many of these long-time employees at TelHouse, the handover carries with it both nostalgia and hope for a brighter ICT future.

Hajah Ainee binti Bungsu, who joined JTB in September 1981, recalled the days and nights she spent working in the building’s old wing, saying, “Those were challenging times, with a bit of fun in between.”

Apart from recalling the pressure of meeting expectations and deadlines, she also highlighted the privilege of contributing to Brunei’s telecommunications industry: “I realise now how lucky I was. It was at this building that I gained most of my technical knowledge, which meant a great deal to me. I am proud to have served here at TelBru and in this building – Telephone House – which is symbolic to many of us here.”

Though saddened by the handover, she said, “I am glad to see a new era in the start of the government’s vision of consolidation under UNN.

“It’s like saying goodbye and hello, at the same time.”

For 31-year veteran, Yaakub bin Haji Kassim who spent 18 years in JTB and a further 13 years under TelBru, these changes will indirectly elevate TelBru’s status as an international entity under UNN.

Sharing the same sentiment as many others, the announcement was received “with a heavy heart simply because of the company’s history, especially with the tales that lie beneath the infrastructure.

“These assets are where we started as public servants and later as employees of TelBru after corporatisation, in carrying out our duties and the responsibilities that were entrusted to us regardless of whether we were under JTB or TelBru.

“When the country continues to grow, change upon change will continue to take place, as a means to meet the demands of development.

“We can value these changes in a positive way, especially with the expected improvements in services and the performance of staff as we move towards Smart Services while at the same time responding to the government’s mission and vision towards turning Brunei into a Smart Nation in line with Brunei Vision 2035.”

He further added, “The consolidation of services is also expected to minimise government spending, especially in the telecommunications and ICT sector. Moreover, it opens opportunities to even more challenging services, whilst further opening the minds of innovators and intellectuals.”

Meanwhile, this change will not affect the ways in which TelBru shapes its customer service experience, as the handover will only involve the company’s infrastructure, with some branches located in affected buildings to be relocated to commercial areas as part of TelBru’s transformation as a retail company.

Earlier this year, Darussalam Assets announced the consolidation of all telecommunications network infrastructure in the country under UNN. The three telcos in the country – Telekom Brunei Berhad, Datastream Technology Sdn Bhd, Progresif Cellular Sdn Bhd – will now focus on retail operations, with equal access to network infrastructure provided by UNN.

James Kon