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Telekom Strategy Consulting Team


United in diversity – how intercultural cooperation can lead to a joint venture

A long-standing strategic partnership, innovative 5G repeater technology and a Team Award - these are the external hallmarks of the joint venture project with the South Korean SK Telecom. Behind the scenes – in the project's day-to-day operations – the main focus was not only on the technical challenges but also on forming a close-knit team out of project participants with diverse cultural backgrounds.

The 5G mobile network is a prerequisite for many innovative and data-intensive technologies. Autonomous driving, VR games and IoT applications are just a few examples. The expansion has now progressed to the point where the vast majority of Deutsche Telekom customers are benefiting from it. However, it remains a challenge to provide 5G to end devices inside buildings reliably. Often the radio signal has to penetrate several walls and is weakened as a result. Thus, indoor repeaters are commonly used to amplify signals within rooms.

South Korean 5G repeaters for Europe? That is not so easy.

Tim Höttges shows the joint venture contract during a video conference of the team.

Tim Höttges and the international team during a joint video conference shortly after the signing of the contract.

Customers of the South Korean SK Telecom have been benefiting from such indoor repeaters for some time. The company is one of the 5G pioneers; it has already done a lot of development work and has successfully established both LTE and 5G repeaters on the domestic market. The long-standing, strategic partnership with Deutsche Telekom turned out to be a driving force to further develop the technology and tap into markets beyond South Korea. This is because the repeaters, which are adapted to local standards and frequency bands, cannot be used in other countries easily. Numerous technical adjustments and precise knowledge of the local markets are necessary for this.

Deutsche Telekom can offer this know-how and, in turn, benefits from the technological expertise of SK Telecom. With the support of the CSP, international teams were formed which worked together on the adaptation of the 5G repeater for the European market. 

After the technical development had been completed, a significant milestone was approaching: testing customer acceptance. Deutsche Telekom customers could register for this and received the indoor repeater free of charge in return for feedback on the product. It quickly became apparent that with its help, users were able to achieve significant performance improvements in 5G and LTE for both voice and data communication.

The Telekom Team Award for a better customer experience
The "Customer Acceptance Test on 5G Repeater" project" won the Telekom Team Award 2020 in the category "Team together - team apart". The project aimed to test indoor repeaters in operative settings, gather feedback from customers, check their willingness to pay for this service, and, last but not least, increase customer satisfaction. Various company departments worked closely together to make this possible, such as Telekom Deutschland Mobile Tribe, Field Operations of DT Technik, COM, and T-Service. CSP provided professional project management.

Intercultural collaboration: more than people speaking two different languages

The team members having dinner together sitting at a long table.

Respectful interaction transforms a project's cultural differences into its special strengths.

A remarkable aspect of the entire project was that cultures that are in part quite different from each other had to cooperate with each other. Sensitivity was required from those involved, so that no misunderstandings would arise. Although Asian politeness is world-famous and highly enjoyable, it was also necessary to discuss different professional approaches and make decisions in the day-to-day project operations. The common goal and striving for the best solution encouraged dialogue – but what happens when complicated issues have to be presented in English and different national and business cultures clash? How can different interests be dealt with and negotiated?

Awareness of the cultural differences, mutual respect and a suitable team composition were the key to success. The person responsible for the project on the part of Deutsche Telekom, for example, was himself Korean and had been working in Germany for quite some time. Some of the CSP team members who supported the project had previously experienced South Korea and its culture through educational trips. In addition to regular video calls to coordinate the work, interactive workshops were organized on-site in Seoul and Bonn. This created more space for discussions and, at the same time, enabled closer contact to get to know and understand each other better.

Every mentality has its peculiarities
Asian business culture is characterised by particular politeness. This can lead to misunderstandings when German project partners perceive statements as ambiguous or misinterpret them. Here are three tips for more intercultural understanding:

Observe different decision-making hierarchies
Korean corporate culture is strongly driven by decisions being made by the management. This speeds up the innovation process and makes project agreements particularly valid. German culture, on the other hand, appears to be more dialogue-oriented, decisions are often discussed for longer, sometimes revised or adjusted. Awareness of these differences, mutual trust and transparent communication in a well-coordinated core project team are crucial.

Be prepared to read between the lines
Asian politeness dictates that even criticism and rejection should be formulated in a highly courteous manner. This contrasts with German directness, which sometimes has little use for vague statements or is even perceived as too harsh (e.g. in the case of criticism). It is advisable to strike a balance by talking about details, by trying to understand what is not said, and by working together to clear up misunderstandings.

Be pragmatic and flexible
International projects are always characterized by additional organizational work, time shifts and deadline delays, and frequently, changes in plans – all the more so when the business partner is far away, both geographically and culturally. It is beneficial if, from the very start, more time is allocated to project coordination, which allows flexible rearrangements.

The future of the joint venture

The technology joint venture Techmaker was launched in 2021 and mainly supports the product launch of the Indoor Repeater in Q4 2021 in Germany. Both partners each hold 50 percent of the new company and share management responsibilities. Other projects are already in the pipeline: Firstly, the Indoor Repeater will be presented to other telecommunication companies in order to expand this innovative solution in Europe. Secondly, the possibilities for cooperation regarding other 5G services, such as augmented reality and virtual reality, are being evaluated so that synergies in the development work can also be used for further innovations.