What are your biggest pain points in terms of network evolution and transformation?
Lisa Truppa, Asst. VP – Technology, AT&T: AT&T is committed to maintaining our leadership position in the industry as the Best Network (according to GWS) and Fastest Network (according to Ookla). In 2019, AT&T will spend about $23B in CapEx, and while that number is huge, it still comes down to prioritization. We continue our work to roll out 5G but we also know that maintaining the integrity of the wireline network is just as critical since our wireless and wireline networks must work together to provide our customers with the best experience. Our company is also in the midst of large-scale transformation related to our media business.
Kim Shepherd, CEO, SkyLine / SkyBest: In a highly competitive industry, one of our biggest pain points is exonerating or defending the network, so to speak. We transport our customers’ data without prejudice, and help that data reach its intended destination. When that doesn’t occur, we, the network provider, are usually targeted as the party at fault. If speeds don’t meet expectations or an application fails, we are typically the first source customers turn to, looking for answers. Our technicians must clearly understand various protocols and services, pinpointing the issue’s details. If not, we must play detective to figure it out quickly; otherwise, we are viewed as unprepared. While we want to help resolve their issue, we also want them to understand we weren’t at fault. Oftentimes, many customers don’t fully understand the technology when we do try to explain. Our presence in helping them resolve it only adds to their perception that the problem was ours to begin with.
EDGE DATA CENTERS
TIA says: “As new technologies like Smart Factories, Smart Cities and self-driving vehicles emerge, the ICT industry will be required to provide networks that are much faster and carry larger capacities than what a traditional data center is capable of delivering.” In order to keep up with this demand, new Edge Data Centers (EDCs) will need to be positioned much closer to consumers. (Source: https://www.tiaonline.org/)
What physical, software, and other investments, will be required across the access network to make this happen? What is your company doing in this area? Or, what is your position on this subject?
Scot Bohaychyk, Manager, Product Marketing, Clearfield: Clearfield fully recognizes the need for EDCs and the fact that the physical locations for these will vary. For the access network, EDCs have 3 primary requirements. First, they require a secure location — both physically and logically. Second, they need a reliable power source. Third, they need to accommodate a lot of fiber in a small space. With that in mind, we see the Fiber Active Cabinet (FAC) line from Clearfield solving these EDC challenges. These are fully configurable active cabinets that easily adapt to almost any EDC requirement. We “fiber optimize” our cabinets to include the most flexible fiber management available.
The Internet of Things (IoT) is expanding at an amazing rate. This will only accelerate as 5G availability increases. According to Ericsson’s November 2018 Mobility Report, by 2024 the number of connected devices is forecasted to exceed 22 billion. This year, it is expected that telecom service providers will go to the next IoT level by offering enterprises not only the ability to manage connected devices, but also managing and securing those devices’ entire life cycles. (Source: https://www.ericsson.com/assets/local/mobility-report/documents/2018/ericsson-mobility-report-november-2018.pdf)
How will service providers manage all of the complexity related to being IoT-centric?
Kim Shepherd, CEO, SkyLine / SkyBest: There’s probably not an obvious answer here — especially because the IoT market continues to evolve. Managing a network today is extremely complex. Technology moves fast, and our staff is intelligent and resourceful. We’re used to adapting, and managing an IoT-centric network is well within our skill set. The primary hurdle we face with IoT is becoming just a pipe provider. We have the Internet, and we’ll connect our customers’ devices to the cloud with excellent uptime and reliability, but how do we capitalize on and/or monetize the “Things”?
FIBER TO EVERYWHERE
Most communications service providers aim to dramatically expand their fiber footprint and fiber equipment deeper in the network to support such things as: C-RAN, densification for wireless, 5G, wireline access, and more. To have fiber and fiber equipment deeper in the network is the answer for sure. The reality of making that happen today is STILL challenging for many reasons.
Share some of the challenges and solutions your company has embraced (or plans to embrace) to get fiber deeper.
Daniel Ashton, Senior Engineer – ICEP, GROC, CenturyLink: One of CenturyLink’s focus areas in 2019 is fiber deployment, so we continue to expand fiber facilities into additional communities. We’re completing a fiber overbuild in Boulder, Colorado, for delivering faster Internet speeds to homes and businesses and are planning to build out fiber in additional markets. We also continue to look for FTTH opportunities in new subdivision developments and existing brownfield multi-dwelling units near existing fiber. In addition, with the help of CAF funding, CenturyLink has been able to push fiber deeper into rural markets.
Scot Bohaychyk, Manager, Product Marketing, Clearfield: This is analogous to the same “last mile challenge” we see every day with FTTH rollouts — except on steroids. The challenge is getting fiber closer to the end user. Substitute network element in place of home and the challenges are very similar. Space is a large consideration as well as minimizing disruptions to communities and businesses while deploying the required network elements. When looking at 10-20 (or more) nodes per route mile needed to service a coverage area, success gets measured by speed of deployment. With craft friendly products such as Clearfield’s FieldShield pre-connectorized pushable cable assemblies and microduct, service providers are able to meet the fiber deep demand and turn up their network services on time.
Jeff Chapman, EVP, Operations, NorthState Communications: Working with existing fiber infrastructure can be challenging. High fiber count cables and multiple conduits are the only way to construct network today, however legacy cables are typically lower in count and could be in the most populated areas where larger cables weren’t required during the initial project. With the increasing demand for fiber along those lower count routes, most providers will undergo a reclaiming process or technology enhancement such as DWDM. Both can be costly, but necessary to address the low fiber count issue.
NorthState’s fiber expansion encompasses dense fiber penetration to aggressively embrace the future of C-RAN, 5G, and high-bandwidth services throughout our markets. Our robust growth and deployment of intelligent edge equipment is providing NorthState the ability to deliver low-latency/high-bandwidth services to wireless, enterprise, and residential customers.
Ben Goth, VP of Network Services, TDS Telecom: There’s no denying it, consumers and businesses want access to faster, more reliable, high-speed Internet and wireless services — at competitive prices. Driving fiber deeper is the answer, but doesn’t come without challenges.
In northern states, where the ground freezes and snow accumulates for multiple months, challenges relate to above ground enclosures and the requirements for buried construction to install customers while providing access to the network.
In deploying fiber deeper, another challenge is that residents don’t want to see access points or infrastructure in their yard. Clear communication, a quick restoration plan, and solid understanding of the available options are paramount to mitigating friction. A good relationship and frequent communication with the municipality is also critical.
A third challenge is the areas and rights-of-way where utilities have been in place for decades. Records might be outdated. Access to utility pole routes or underground facilities can be an intricate mix of equipment managed by power, gas, water, sewer, and other telecommunications providers. Wireline and wireless providers are trying to coexist in spaces that are already full or not easily accessible.
While not insurmountable, these challenges require planning, ongoing communication, and flexibility, to successfully deploy fiber deeper into the network to satisfy the customer’s appetite for faster, more reliable Internet service.
Ashley Travers, Director of Network Engineering & Operations, Verizon: We’ve announced 22 cities to date where we will be bringing 5G this year and have promised to announce at least 30 by the end of year. To bring 5G Ultra Wideband service to more than 30 US cities before the end of 2019, we’ve deployed thousands of small cells and thousands of miles of fiber. Some of the ways Verizon is building a deeper network is leveraging our strategic partnerships to facilitate our fiber infrastructure build program at the speed of light. It takes immense collaboration and strategic alignment with our internal partners such as Supply Chain, Finance, Engineering, and Go-to-Market teams to deliver for our consumers and enterprise customers. Critical partners in deploying fiber are the municipalities with which we work. Streamlining licensing and zoning requests and agreeing to mutually beneficial rates and fees speeds deployment of this next-gen technology. In fact, we have recently announced public private partnerships with Boston and San Diego in which we were able to settle on mutually beneficial rates, streamlined the licensing process and provide additional support through some of our smart cities technologies to the residents there. A well-planned-out public private partnership can greatly improve access to technology for residents, businesses, and visitors in a community, and will greatly advance the speed at which we can deploy.
AR/VR IN NETWORK OPERATIONS
AR, VR, and Virtual Assistant applications have the potential to help deliver training more effectively, enhance employee communications, improve operational readiness, simplify processes, and increase efficiency, that leads to better experiences for customers. Field Service Technicians that build, install and maintain advanced fiber networks capable of supporting 5G and other important emerging technologies can benefit from practical uses of AR, VR, and Virtual Assistants applications.
What is your organization doing in this area, or what plans does it have to embrace these new tools?
Ashley Travers, Director of Network Engineering & Operations, Verizon: Verizon is committed to providing the best customer service in the industry, and so we are committed to using the most advanced technologies including Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality to train the best employees in the industry. This program helps improve communication and enhance engagement by empowering front-line employees to create and publish their own AR/VR content by leveraging Verizon’s proprietary technology, products, and existing brand portfolio. The Verizon New York City field operations group was the first to launch these tools and content, which was eventually rolled out to over 4,600 Verizon technicians and construction employees in 40 work locations in the 5 boroughs.
NETWORK AS A SERVICE
The global Network as a Service Market is expected to grow from USD 4.3 billion in 2018 to USD 21.7 billion by 2023, at a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 38.3% during the forecast period. The key factors driving the Network as a Service Market include accelerated adoption of cloud services among enterprises, and an increase in the development of new data center infrastructures.
What do service providers need to do to tap this potential?
Source: The report Network as a Service Market by Type, Application (Sales & Marketing Management, Customer Experience Management, Competitive Intelligence, & Risk Management), Organization Size, Industry Vertical, Deployment Model, & Region – Global Forecast to 2023. (https://www.marketsandmarkets.com/Market-Reports/network-as-a-service-market-94208411.html)
Daniel Ashton, Senior Engineer – ICEP, GROC, CenturyLink: Service providers need to offer a wide range of network services such as SD-WAN and MPLS/IPVPN, along with offering multiple layers of cloud services. Investing in or partnering with data centers, along with a worldwide fiber network, is needed to support the demand for these services. Partnering with companies like Cisco, IBM, and Google, help to expand available products and services to customers. CenturyLink continues to improve its portfolio by finding innovative solutions in the ever-changing evolution of the ICT industry.
WIRELESS AND WIRELINE REALITIES
5G is here. Unfortunately, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to deploy it cost-effectively to the masses. Think of the factors that come into play at both the national and local level: fiber availability, spectrum availability, local regulation, and more. With all of those variables, one thing is certain: 5G requires the wireline and wireless networks to work in concert. And though we may want to think they are unified, there’s still work to do to make that a reality.
On the ground and in the field, what are the top 3 variables for the evolution of the wireline networks?
Daniel Ashton, Senior Engineer – ICEP, GROC, CenturyLink: Deployment of 5G may be challenging depending on the availability of optical fiber cables, space on joint use poles for safely mounting antennas, and collocation space in local Central Offices for 5G equipment. Advanced planning is critical to building the 5G network. Engaging with the local exchange carrier very early in the process will help avoid delays due to last-minute changes to engineering and installation of the 5G equipment. LECs will need to communicate requirements for placing equipment on joint use poles and in Central Offices which will, again, help avoid last-minute changes to engineering and installing the 5G network.
Jeff Chapman, EVP, Operations, NorthState Communications: Wireline providers have to be nimble and adapt to 5G deployment requirements. As a wireline company, NorthState is heavily engaged with wireless providers and other carrier partners to address the demands of 5G. Here are the top 3 things all wireline providers should be focused on.
1. Wireline providers must streamline pole attachment processes and assist with the development uniformed regulations.
2. Build fiber with high strand counts that are required for 5G and other technologies.
3. Embrace One Touch Make Ready (OTMR); it’s better for everyone.
Kim Shepherd, CEO, SkyLine / SkyBest:
Fatter pipes: Wireless carriers will demand large data connections to their small cells and full-blown 5G, encompassing an abundance of available fiber and a network capable of transporting this data from the network’s edge to the wireless provider’s core.
Quick response: The 5G evolution could occur quicker than many may imagine. Wireline companies with a willingness and ability to respond quickly to the needs of the wireless providers as they evolve to 5G will likely thrive and may see new opportunities arise.
Customer shift: The traditional end user for our services may disappear. With the bandwidth and portability 5G affords, many of our broadband customers may shift those connections to the 5G provider. Our primary customers may become the 5G providers, representing a radical shift in our culture and mindset.
Ben Goth, VP of Network Services, TDS Telecom: The number of wireline and wireless providers needing fiber to connect their networks to customers will continue to grow. The wireline network must continue evolving in order to deliver the connectivity that 5G requires today, while anticipating and preparing for changes to future-proof the network for future needs.
Ashley Travers, Director of Network Engineering & Operations, Verizon: We have spent the last several years working towards our Intelligent Edge Network (IEN), which addresses this precise issue. With the advent of our IEN we have been able to unify transport and virtualize and unify many network core functions so that both our wireless and wireline networks are running on the same foundation and centralized support systems. This is a critical move as we look at the future of technology and how our customers want to utilize communications solutions. On the heels of these changes to our network, we have strategically realigned our organization with the launch of Verizon 2.0 to provide greater access for our customers to our overall portfolio of services.
SMALL CELL CHALLENGES
Initial small cell deployments were 300 to 400 in number per mobile network operator (MNO) but plans for deployment in the next couple of years now call for 5X to 10X that number per metro area, according to Kevin Smithen, partner on the executive team at Digital Bridge. “We have seen an inflection point in demand for small cells. We are on pace to get to north of half of a million nodes in the coming years,” Smithen told eDigest, owned by AGL Media Group. “The only thing that is a restraint is a lack of metro fiber and the municipal pole attachment processes are not as seamless as they could be. Right now, demand is outstripping supply. That will sustain us for the next couple of years.” (Source: https://www.aglmediagroup.com/small-cell-rollouts-to-grow-dramatically-in-2019/)
What are some additional challenges still confronting service providers in this area? What can be done to help?
Lisa Truppa, Asst. VP – Technology, AT&T: We’re coordinating closely with local officials on our small cell investment plans in hundreds and hundreds of municipalities from coast to coast. Momentum is steadily building while conditions vary with some communities leading and others following. This fragmented framework creates deployment and cost challenges for providers, however as more communities and the industry gain experience we expect the process to only get smoother and faster. The immediate benefits from accelerated small cell deployment mean higher connection speeds and improved customer experience while laying a foundation for networks to handle the technologies of the future — such as 5G, Smart Cities, autonomous cars, and the Internet of Things.
Scot Bohaychyk, Manager, Product Marketing, Clearfield: At the risk of sounding like a broken record: the amount of Small Cells needed to support the MNOs plans will require fiber deployments as close to the antenna as possible, as soon as possible, at the lowest cost possible. The best way to approach this challenge is to align CapEx with take rates — or in this case fiber-to-the-antenna rates. Using a modular carrier class fiber platform that scales with demand is ideally the best way to go. We don’t know for sure what the future fiber requirements will be as we roll out these small cells. As attractive as direct placement of flat drops and other cheaper fiber assemblies are, the need for updating or adding to the network is still somewhat of an unknown. So having a structure in place that allows for adding to or replacing those fibers in an easy, craft friendly fashion is critical.
NATURAL DISASTER READINESS
The nation saw multiple, unprecedented natural disasters in 2018, from the deadliest wildfire in California’s history to the worst hurricane to hit the East Coast since 1969. Dr. David Easterling, a physical scientist with NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information said, “We expect to see not necessarily more … but the ones that we do have are going to be more powerful. You’re going to have stronger winds and heavier rain. And on top of that, as sea levels continue to rise, then storm surge from those storms will also get worse.”
Given these facts, what can the telecom industry do better to respond to these natural disasters?
Lisa Truppa, Asst. VP – Technology, AT&T: Disasters will happen — it’s a fact. At AT&T we want to keep our customers connected, and we understand connections matter most at these critical moments. To do that we have to ‘prepare’ 365 days a year — running drills, consistently training our front-line employees on service restoration in challenging situations, making sure we have clear plans in place for communication and smart decision-making during disasters. Preparation and staging is everything. It also goes beyond the network. When a disaster strikes, customers and first responders see our trucks rolling in and they immediately know we will do whatever we need to do to get service restored. We have amazing employees who volunteer to go into difficult situations to support our customers and others affected by a disaster. This includes setting up cell phone charging stations, replacing damaged devices, and even providing simple necessities like water while other disaster service organizations get set up. The network is important; however we take the human side of the disaster just as seriously.
Jeff Chapman, EVP, Operations, NorthState Communications: Disaster response is a direct reflection of preparedness. If a service provider is not prepared, the event will be felt throughout the company. While most telecom companies have disaster recovery plans, keeping them up-to-date and engaging in ongoing training is key to being ready for these events. As a robust, fiber-based company, NorthState has transitioned to constructing more underground facilities to reduce the impact of natural disasters. Aerial cables are exposed to Mother Nature’s wrath, while underground facilities generally remain untouched.
Ben Goth, VP of Network Services, TDS Telecom: To better respond to natural disasters, a plan must be in place. Beyond a list of tactics that need to be deployed once disaster occurs, the plan should also include a schedule of activities that need to take place regularly. This includes testing backup power sources, ensuring equipment is operational, confirming the accuracy of employee contact information, and reviewing lists of potential third-party vendors that might be called upon for assistance. Doing these things regularly will help uncover issues that would only otherwise arise during an actual outage. Along with monitoring for potential natural disasters, and knowing when to begin implementing the plan, collectively it will add up to faster service restoration.
To learn more about our Visionaries, please visit https://www.isemag.com/special-sections/.
Look for additional insights in the October issue.
Thank You to our 2019 ICT Visionaries.