samer-bishay-iristel-ceo-presidentData Center POST recently had the opportunity to speak with Samer Bishay, CEO and President of Iristel at Capacity North America, which took place October 5-6 in Toronto. In our Q&A with Mr. Bishay, we discussed the story of how Iristel started, the telecommunications industry and being a successful leader.

Iristel is Canada’s largest and fastest growing carrier providing innovative communication services that are changing how consumers and businesses communicate. Founded in 1999, Toronto-based Iristel operates Canada’s largest facilities-based local voice network extending coast-to-coast-to-coast as well as Ice Wireless, a GSM carrier with operations in Canada’s Far North.

Q and A with Data Center Post’s Contributing Editor, Kathy Xu

Data Center POST, Kathy Xu (DCP-KX) Question:  What is the short / long story that got you to Iristel?

Iristel, Samer Bishay (IRISTEL-SB) Answer: I created Iristel in my apartment in 1998 while I was an engineer who was working on RadarSat at the Canadian Space Agency in Montreal. Technology – and how its use can improve lives – has always fascinated me. As a young boy living in Africa (my dad worked for the World Bank), I remember watching crop dusters buzz over our home and me dreaming about not just flying, but technology.

Fast forward 15 years to Montreal, and I remember picking up this magazine article all about the then-futuristic technology of Voice over Internet Protocol – or phone calls over the Internet. It more than piqued my interest. I built my own rig in my apartment and figured I was on to something. And though I’d figured out the technology (as rudimentary as it might have been compared to today) it was the red tape that got in the way. Regulations allowing competition with Canada’s big phone incumbents were not yet in place, so I started working former contacts of my dad and others and I began cold calling telecom companies in Africa, promising big savings if they switched to this new system. My first bite came from a carrier in the Ivory Coast and Iristel was born. The company soon added customers in Egypt, Cameroon, Turkey and Romania. Due to political unstableness in some of these countries, we returned to Canada after five years. The rest, as they say, is history.

(DCP-KX) Q:  What makes Iristel unique in the industry?

(IRISTEL-SB) A: We are the only CLEC (competitive local exchange carrier) in Canada that’s truly national with infrastructure in all ten provinces and three territories and our coverage stretches from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean and up to the Arctic Ocean. With our sister company ICE Wireless, we are the only wireless / wireline company that has a full IMS core that is not one of the Big Three of Rogers, Bell and Telus. We have turned a hardware infrastructure problem into a software problem through our API portal. We are providing infrastructure as a service. If you want to deploy a sim, a telephone line, an SMS product, our platform can do it all within minutes.

(DCP-KX) Q: How do you see the industry evolving?

(IRISTEL-SB) A: The industry – the world – is heading into high-torque convergence: the world of the Internet of Things and machine-to-machine communications. In early October, 2016, the Citigroup Inc. released a major international survey and report urging telecommunications companies to move away from simply supplying “dumb pipes” filled with data and towards selling services. We couldn’t agree more. “They should move away from selling capacity (gigabytes of data) towards selling services, which their customers regularly use, understand and value,” wrote the Citigroup analysts. We’ve been doing this for years and have long realized it no longer matters if it’s wireline or wireless, voice or data. 

(DCP-KX) Q: What has been your most challenging experience working in the industry?

(IRISTEL-SB) A: Regulatory hurdles operating in Canada. Luckily, the CRTC, under forward-thinking chairman Jean-Pierre Blais, is now breaking new grounds in terms of regulatory frameworks to change this landscape. Blais’ CRTC puts customers first, not industry giants. And that is good for competitors like us because our mantra is to use innovative technology ideas and platforms to shake up the industry and give customers what they want and deserve.

(DCP-KX) Q: What experience and skills do you believe are most important to be a successful leader?

(IRISTEL-SB) A: Leading by example is the most important, in my opinion. I’m an engineer by training and a tech geek by nature. I love the back-and-forth of tackling a problem and turning it into an opportunity and our employees see me in the trenches with them, all working together. Our programmers, analysts and other employees may not know about me building a VoIP contraption in my apartment almost 20 years ago, but I do. I know things begin small and, if executed correctly, grow and grow and grow. We’re in that growth phase now and every Iristel and Ice Wireless employee knows I roll up my sleeves and don’t ask them to do things that I wouldn’t do or haven’t done in the past. As Winston Churchill once said, “The pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity. The optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.” Optimism is in our DNA at Iristel and Ice Wireless.

(DCP-KX) Q: What did you accomplish at Capacity North America?

(IRISTEL-SB) A: We’ll were there to showcase the Iristel platform capabilities. Iristel has evolved from a small start-up to an international telecommunications service provider and today we are an industry leader setting the course for tomorrow’s new and exciting wireless IP services. We offer our OTT, Voice Service Provider and Carrier customers a full suite of domestic and international Local Voice, Wholesale Voice, 911, SMS and Platform services that are supported by Iristel’s unified VoIP and GSM networks.

The Iristel VoIP network is a stable, redundant and highly sophisticated network offering coverage to its Canadian and international subscriber base. We provide high-quality service for billions of minutes of international calls and averages more than 250 million minutes per month of voice and fax traffic. It was our goal to reach as many Capacity North America delegates as possible to hear our story and learn about how we can benefit them.

DCP-KX: Thank you for your time. If you are interested in learning more about Iristel, please visit