Following are the highlights from our Game Changers roundtable event at OSP EXPO® 2015. A variety of topics were discussed by everyone. And though we’d like to share the entire transcript of the 2+ hours with these network evolution professionals, we cannot. Therefore, we edited and condensed from the original discussion, and we’re pleased to present these highlights for your reading pleasure.
Sharon Vollman, OSP President and Editorial Director
Don McCarty, President, McCarty Products
Ernie Gallo, Director Network Infrastructure Solutions Group, Telcordia
What are the issues that keep you up at night? What are the challenges our segment of the telecom industry is facing today?
Lee/Norvado: One of the things that keeps me up at night is the vulnerability of the network these days. That includes both malicious and non-malicious attacks that we didn’t see in the TDM world. We’re continually trying to put pieces in the network that track that kind of activity and get it shut down. But, we’re not there yet, so at times we can get flooded with problems.
The second issue is that while the network has become less confusing, the equipment has become more confusing. It almost takes a specialist for each piece of equipment. So when something goes wrong with the equipment in the network you need to get an expert in to troubleshoot it. In the past, we did a lot more cross training, so several folks could get their hands around it. So, we are really looking forward to adopting the software that will help minimize some of the need for experts on particular equipment. For the equipment, the physical layer is minimized and fairly straightforward, especially with fiber systems, but what it can do on the virtual layers can be quite complex and specific to the entire eco system. So for software I am speaking of management systems to simplify the operation and troubleshooting of a system and or systems as a whole — sometimes referred to as expert software which gives the operator the knowledge of an expert with point-and-click ease.
Fitzmaurice/AT&T: There are a couple of things I would say keep me up at night. One of them is What is that next big S-curve? We’ve all seen this explosive demand on our networks, first through data and then pictures and video — now it is streaming video. So how do we all stay ahead of that? Another thing is how do we meet customer expectations and deliver that customer experience of seamless connectivity everywhere? How do we stay ahead of what they want to do with all the myriad of devices they’re connecting to — whether it’s our fixed broadband network or our local broadband network?
Hill/Clearfield: There are not enough skilled laborers out there to perform and deploy networks in the way they’ve traditionally been deployed. So, in my mind, this industry is moving toward plug-n-play. For a company like ours, the final frontier is The Last Mile. And the question we ask ourselves is Can we develop products that can be deployed reliably, quickly and can be restored? Stuff happens in the field that we can’t control. But, if we can minimize the impact of downtime, that’s what we’re looking to do.
Frantz/Esri: I think we are heading for what I call a perfect storm. We’re seeing increased complexity in the network. We’re expanding the types of services we offer. More competition is coming, and they are redefining the business model. We really need to look at different ways to handle all these challenges.
A good thing about a perfect storm is when you see it coming you’re willing to consider new approaches. And we’re approaching the threshold of making that happen with new services, increasing network bandwidth, and meeting customer expectations. However, the business model we built over the past decades is not going to allow us to move forward. So, we’re seriously looking for different approaches from what we’ve done in the past. I think it’s interesting that some of the startup companies are showing us how to do that. There are lessons to be learned from them.
Simmons/Google Fiber: Today in this industry, our subscribers’ needs are changing, and diversifying more quickly than we can account for, and we need to perfect our products for them. It seems we’re embarking on this journey where there are far too many unknowns. What keeps me up at night sometimes is the question Have I studied that design or project enough? or What are other solutions or angles we haven’t tried yet? Many of the challenges we encounter in the industry today are brand new to us all; it’s only logical to take an innovative approach.
All around the world, Communications Service Providers (CSPs) face the same challenges, including: market saturation, intensifying competition, flat or declining ARPU, rising data traffic and high churn. To meet these challenges, they need to focus much harder on improving the customer experience. This includes a myriad of things most of which require building much closer links between network service quality and the customer experience. What are some best practices or recommendations you have that providers should employ ASAP?
Wakileh/Suttle: We are working on actives within the home to provide complete mobility and maximize bandwidth at the point of use. Virtualization is critical but it also goes hand-in-hand with self-installation. Nobody wants a technician in his or her home for 7 hours. Part of the experience is truly to have the plug-n-play, self-install solution so the provider can say, “Here, Mr. Customer. Here’s the kit. You can install it.” What that does for the service provider is to deliver instantaneous revenue — and it decreases OpEx significantly. We also have to make the product more intuitive and easier to install. All of these challenges must be addressed.
Passive companies like Suttle have to take into account upcoming changes — updated gateway, virtualization and wireless — which can be an immediate threat to our products. So we need to be able to play at almost both ends of the network to enable maximum bandwidth, enable self-install, and decrease operating cost.
Another key element is diagnostics/remote diagnostics and how the provider can utilize learnings from the field to proactively communicate with customers to then achieve higher levels of service.
Schramm/Viavi Solutions: Another question is Will the customer be willing to be accountable for their own part in the self-install? What we’re finding is that 40% of all the calls related to Wi-Fi end up with 3-4 callbacks. Consumers don’t view themselves as accountable for the end-to-end experience in their own home networks. It would be nice for the plug-n-plays to always work, but the end user is not always comfortable with their part in addressing problems. Maybe it will change as demographics change, but it’s not the case now.
At Viavi Solutions, what we’re looking at is how to help service providers better use learnings from deploying, and managing their current networks to proactively make the customer experience better. How to use those insights in the planning and design phase as well as to be able to take action in real time to optimize networks and their workforces.
Sims/Power & Telephone Supply: It’s my strong belief that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. If I’m a customer, I don’t care whom my service is from as long it’s reliable. So, it’s making sure that carriers have the right assets, at the right time, to be able to correct
the problem or be ahead of it. That ties back into good forecasting. It ties back to having partnerships where you can really access what’s needed at the point at which it’s needed. And that’s what gets me excited and ready to go in the morning.
Koenders/Integra: I certainly agree that satisfactory customer experience is closely tied with network quality and reliability, because when service is down or not at optimal performance it can have a negative impact on a customer’s business. Much of a customer’s network solution should be looked at as an investment. The investment will pay off if you are customizing and engineering those services for the customer, and looking
at things from layer zero all the way up the stack. If you have diversity at one layer of the stack, then you’re probably not going to need it at another layer. This can be seen when purchasing a vendor’s “kit” — it should be capable of in-service upgrades. As an example, Integra delivers its services over dual aggregation routers with inherent failover capabilities that reduce downtime and increase resiliency during upgrades — because we want that additional reliability for our customers. For us, it all relates back to showing our customers return on their investment.
Grice/All Systems Broadband: The industry is finding a way to see more of a network’s performance. In the early days we were blind; we would send a signal out, but then we waited for a phone call to know if there was a problem. Today, we can actually measure performance and, as we see quality degrade, we can take corrective measures. We can proactively move to help people before they have a really dissatisfying experience. Still, as technology grows and networks improve, we’re also relying on people who are using the products to
likewise get more tech-savvy.
For example, when I was configuring a router in my home, my son was asking me questions: What is that? Why did you make that setting? He takes an interest in the equipment. Conversely, my parents still aren’t sure why they need a router or why it needs to be changed over time. Clearly, end users are becoming more interested in the capabilities of their devices while software abstraction is making these capabilities more intuitive for them. Over time, both my son’s generation, and my parents’, will be able to extract greater use out of the network both because the equipment is easier to use, and also due to the fact that the user wants to know more.
So I think as we move forward we need to look at people and our work forces. They have to change. More software is coming on board. The approach to reliability may be less hardened and bullet proof. Instead, we may need to realize that some equipment will die, but we can pull it out and move on. I think we’ll get to the point where there will be more shared learning with greater visibility through the network. When that occurs, we’ll be able to better understand how to fix things. That shift could give our networks higher reliability ratings.
What are the trends you see as most impactful to our segment of the industry?
Fitzmaurice/AT&T: The number one trend is the growth of video. As you think about it, it impacts everybody: whether you’re a carrier providing video, or whether you’re a vendor providing the products the video’s riding over, from the electronics to the designing of the network to the monitoring of the network. Where is that video trend going?
Then, there’s software. Whether we’re controlling the network with software, or whether we’re using software to control our lives, think about everything you do on your devices that are controlled with software. You are like your own mini CIO running and adding software on several devices, and personalizing to best fit your lifestyle. That expands well beyond the IT space, and now impacts each person’s life.
Koenders/Integra: Many end-user applications are going back to the cloud, and that changes things significantly. Previously, bandwidth was largely localized, or maybe it hit multiple locations. Now it’s going across the networks, so we’re seeing significant bandwidth increase as a result of end users leveraging the cloud.
SDN and NFV are 2 technologies that many providers are looking at because they will positively impact the way we design networks. Integra will be deploying our first NFV application in our network this year. It’s an important and growing trend that we’ve been watching for a couple of years, and the potential upside is exciting.
Blackman/Verizon: One trend, absolutely, is OTT video. Just over the last year, our FiOS bandwidth has increased significantly because of OTT video growth. So that growth in bandwidth is driving evolution across our FiOS network. We’re looking at next-generation GPON2 in order to offer higher bandwidth into the customer home. We’re looking to see how we provide the required bandwidth to support customers’ needs going forward, including wireless as an option. Video by far is the largest driver of change when we analyze the network.
I also think the optimization piece is important. Take a look at video going from analog to MPEG2 to MPEG4; we keep getting better with the usage of the bandwidth space, yet we keep using more and more of that space. So it’s a paradox: even as we’re optimizing we’re using more.
We hear a lot about network transformation right now. What will that mean in 2020? Pretend we are hosting a roundtable at OSP EXPO 2020. What are we discussing in terms of network changes and transformation at that point?
Grice/All Systems Broadband: One thing we haven’t talked about is the Internet of Things. With it, a transportation company, for example, can see things they never saw before. They know exactly where all of their trucks are. They know if a driver stopped. Did he take the route he’s supposed to take? The trucking company’s customers, such as Burger King, can know what the refrigeration state of the truck is in various geographic zones along the entire trip. They can guarantee freshness. And that’s just using the data that’s coming back from the IoT. So, what if this same truck company wants to help “fix” a problem that Burger King has with freshness. If it could tell that refrigeration truck to adjust the temperature inside, it could help Burger King assure freshness.
So, when do we decide that people are too slow? These itty bitty data points out there are telling me a whole bunch of stuff that I can’t possibly process, and now I’m not taking action fast enough to take advantage of the known data. Instead, these “things” may actually take action at the benefit of some calculation no human ever saw. I think such future scenarios are possible, and likely in the near future.
In terms of bandwidth implications, think about the fact that the basic hardware we all carry around is unlimited. But the amount of information flow to and from the IoT will heavily burden the networks we’re building.
Schramm/Viavi Solutions: With 2020 being only 4 years away, I think security will be even more of an issue than it is today, and privacy is part of that.
Another important trend is going to be improvements in multi-vendor collaboration.
One of the things that happen when we start deploying software defined networks with all these wonderful open architectures is that the whole supply chain of vendors needs to be working together. So how will we get better at addressing new demands — whether it’s IoT, video, or whatever — and fulfill together, across vendors? We will need to plan together better, and get better at problem determination, avoiding pointing fingers.
At the physical layer, it’s clearer who owns what. In the future we’ll need new collaborative models that we haven’t thought of yet that help all members of the supply chain think and plan together in an aligned fashion. Then, when a customer or a vendor has a great idea to improve the network, we can more easily get the whole supply chain working in concert to take advantage of it.
Blackman/Verizon: I think in 2020 it’s really going to be about the unwired home. The Internet of Things will be a seamless part of the household, connected wirelessly via Wi-Fi or 4G/5G LTE. Look at some of the devices coming out now: Verizon’s hum, which turns your car into a smart car and connects it to the net; Amazon’s Dash Button, which simplifies the reordering of household items. In 2020, there will be technological options making inanimate objects smarter and simplifying our lives. The box of detergent will tell you when you need a refill, and will take action based on the rules you set up. Then, your retailer will just send it to you. That’s where we’re heading. And Verizon is developing the devices, applications, and the network to enable that.
Hill/Clearfield: Five years ago, I heard about this concept of technological singularity. The Internet of Things really means smart devices and robots and computers will be able to repair themselves and be better than what they were previously. They will learn from their environment and their interaction with us slower-minded humans. So, in 2020 are we going to have smart devices that are taking over and processing quicker than we can? Take the simple example of refrigerators and toasters: Are they going to learn from our habitual uses of these devices? Or worse, will someone be able to access simple devices such as these and, through them, get to our personal network and access our personal information?
Simmons/Google Fiber: Lately we hear a lot about the need to transform and grow the network to adjust to the ever-increasing network demands of a connected world. Connected devices will likely develop and evolve quickly. I think by 2020 many of these connected platforms and products will reach a maturity level where they become mainstream. At the same time we’ll know which ones were the winners, and which ones just didn’t work out. I’m sure some products will be unrecognizable from their original iteration — I can’t wait!
INTERNET OF THINGS (IoT)
The Internet of Things (IoT) will be the largest device market in the world by 2019. In fact, it is expected to be more than double the size of the smartphone, PC, tablet, connected car, and the wearables markets combined. (Source: www.businessinsider.com) Worldwide, the IoT market is expected to grow 19% in 2015 according to IDC (www.idc.com). In reality, what does that mean for providers’ networks today and tomorrow?
Lee/Norvado: The past couple of years, around the holiday season we saw our bandwidth needs increase. We used to think it was the number of users on the system. Now, we’ve come to realize that it’s devices. But the traffic doesn’t go down after Christmas when the relatives go home or people go back to work. You’d think it would drop, but it does not anymore. We jokingly say, “Did everybody in the house get 4 more devices?” But in reality, that’s the norm. Now we’re getting prepared to handle that.
When we start thinking about Gigabit speeds it’s about the CPE and routers in the home. Customers want Gigabit speeds but the current routers aren’t capable of that. There may be some out there, but not many. It’s been an educational curve for even our own employees to understand what actual wireless throughput means in the home. Think of half duplex and dual band routers and 2.4 and 5 Gigahertz. We definitely have a bit of work to do there yet.
The thing I want to be prepared for is how to handle huge bandwidth from the house into town, or the small cell/DAS systems. Will that connection be Wi-Fi? Obviously, there’s not enough bandwidth in the wireless network today to take care of that need. So, I can’t help but question what’s going to happen there.
Frantz/Esri: There are 2 big questions we need to ask: Are we going to approach the implementation of IoT as just more devices attached to the network, an expansion of what we have today? Or is it fundamentally going to change the role of the CSP, and we build new services to leverage all these devices and integrate them into end-to-end solutions?
I think it’s going to be the latter. To achieve this, we need to create an eco-system for it to work and scale. Otherwise, what we have is a lot of stand-alone applications. Let’s say I’m providing home energy management and a utility wants to manage peak energy demand. Implementing as 2 stand-alone systems will require duplicate communications network and devices. We can’t take advantage of scale. The benefit of an IoT ecosystem is that once we have devices and sensors out there, anyone can put an application on top and play in the game. So, I can use devices in the home to manage my home energy consumption while the utility company can use the same devices to reduce power consumption during periods of peak demand. Both applications will need access to many of the same devices. This will require standard communication interfaces and security protocols.
Communications will be vital to connecting to these devices. There will be a myriad of different communications networks to do that. I don’t think we’re going to have all devices in the home connected directly to the outside world. There’s going be an aggregation point in a home, and that will serve as a gateway to the next level. So, you’ll have home networks connecting to outside networks and on up the hierarchy. This architecture will provide access for any and all applications.
A similar hierarchy applies to managing and storing data. The power company, for example, doesn’t need to know what the temperature is in my house at every moment. They are only interested during periods of peak demand so they can shut off my air conditioner when they need to reduce the load. Information is going to be stored at different levels and passed up the hierarchy as needed. Not everything will be sent to the cloud. There will be different points of data storage, just like there will be different communication networks interconnecting all of those devices. The IoT requires a paradigm shift in many areas to make it all work.
Fitzmaurice/AT&T: One thing we haven’t really talked about yet is big data. So, the myriad of data that comes off of these sensors, devices, or whatever it is, has to be parsed into something valuable for the multitude of people. Whether it’s the user of the device, whether it’s the power company, whether it’s a service provider — whoever it is. All of this data needs to get married in order to make us more intelligent, to monitor trends, to look at things for the future. It’s really about how we use all that data so we can try to stay ahead of it for our customers and our businesses.
The average person will likely have 4.3 mobile devices by 2020. This calls for the increased need to deploy fiber closer to the end user. Unfortunately, we know this is not as easy as it sounds. What are the newest and best ways/tactics/tools to do this and why?
Sims/Power & Telephone Supply: I have millions of dollars of fiber in our warehouses. But, it boils down to people. If I’m looking from a consumer’s standpoint: People want speed. They don’t care if it’s fiber or electronic-driven or copper — so it’s whatever makes sense.
If we’re talking fiber, specifically from a carrier perspective, then it’s about forecasting. The better you forecast the more aligned we are. The more we’ve partnered over the years, the easier it is to pull strings and make it all happen.
I also want to share one thought that relates to both fiber and the IoT. When we look at our networks and we look at all of the bandwidth available, we’re using a holistic approach. We’ve often said, “This house or neighborhood uses this much data as a whole.” I see a big shift in our industry to more of a library book checkout system. I need this much bandwidth, for this house, at this particular point. So, I’m going to check out that much for x-amount of time. I believe software will help get us there.
Wakileh/Suttle: When you think about deploying fiber, there isn’t much space on the pole. So footprint, single-person operation, and elimination of right-of-way issues are key to the deployment.
We are really focused on reducing the footprint as much as possible: maximize coverage with the smallest footprint. So, we are going back to single-person operation for deployment. For example, the big old metal cabinets. Is this what’s going to take us to the next 3 years? Or is it something like the technician carries, a product to plug in and feed 200 homes? The latter is where our focus needs to be.
We’re also working on powerline technologies: the unwired home. You can use powerline technology to distribute high-bandwidth speeds of 500 Mbps to be delivered from within the home or from the outside of the home. These are the kind of technologies that could help with fiber in a hybrid network. As my old boss said, “The network will be hybrid still for a long time.”
After reading these nuggets of wisdom, you may feel the desire to get involved in the program for 2016. Don’t be shy! If you are a service provider in the ICT industry, reach out to Sharon Vollman and say, “Count me in!” She’ll share all of the details of the newly refreshed program, “ICT Influencers”. And sooner than you can say “brilliant!” she’ll bring you into the fold for 2016.
Email Sharon today: Sharon@ospmag.com