ICT Visionaries — Part 2

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What do 6 telecom leaders say about COVID-19’s impact on the network, The Edge, and 5G? ISE asked this year’s ICT Visionaries to answer 3 of these questions. Learn their network know-how in this second of our 3-part series.

Topic: COVID-19 Pandemic Impact

How has the COVID-19 pandemic this year impacted both your company and team members?

Topic: Mobile Edge Computing

By 2022, more than 50% of enterprise-generated data will be created and processed outside the data center or cloud. (Source: www.gartner.com) When it comes to monetizing The Edge, which comes first: the applications, or the infrastructure? Share why and how this impacts your organization.

Topic: Network Investment Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic

In mid-March, Verizon said it would speed up its 5G deployment to help support the economy during the coronavirus pandemic. The company announced that it has increased its capital guidance range from $17 billion-$17.5 billion to $17.5 billion-$18 billion in 2020. Will your company change, or stay the course on your CapEx spend throughout 2020? What are your network priorities for the rest of 2020?

Topic: Cultural Transformation

Explain why cultural transformation is as important as technical transformation is to ensure success in the digital economy. Share an example of what you are doing in this area.

Topic: Balance ?!

Have you ever had your success outpace your ability to manage it? How do you attend to the things that matter — while balancing everything else and NOT sacrificing your health, sanity, and relationships?

Topic: 5G Infrastructure Growth

The global 5G infrastructure market size is projected to reach over USD 48 billion by 2025. The market is witnessing a lot of investment in the 5G infrastructure by MNOs to upgrade its core and access networking infrastructure to support new services for consumers and businesses. The infrastructure includes core network and radio access network components, including base stations and antenna arrays. The North America region is the largest region in the global 5G infrastructure market in 2019, and is expected to dominate the market during the forecast period 2020-2025. (Source: https://www.globenewswire.com/news-release/2020/02/04/1979330/0/en/5G-Infrastructure-Market-to-grow-at-63-CAGR-to-48-billion-by-2025-Global-Insights-on-Size-Key-Trends-Key-Stakeholders-Growth-Opportunities-Drivers-Restraints-and-Future-Outlook-Adr.html) How does your company plan to move-the-needle related to 5G infrastructure growth?


Sheilon King
Director, Mobility Transformation
AT&T

Topic: COVID-19 Pandemic Impact
In April 2020, AT&T President/COO John Stankey said that coming out of the COVID-19 event there will be permanent “consumer behavior change…which will drive different business models”. This change is evident right now. Our entire technology industry has seen unprecedented demand for broadband capacity to allow people to continue working remotely. AT&T’s services are Essential, and we continue to enable connectivity. To meet this demand, our AT&T teammates are working tirelessly daily on the frontlines in all communities. For these customer-facing heroes we are providing a 20% bonus and more flexible time-off structures to handle family situations. Beyond bandwidth, consumers are demanding more content and more variety, which AT&T is uniquely positioned to enable. In Q2, we launched HBO Max, which provides a highly curated set of premium content from 2 of our most familiar brands: HBO and Warner Brothers. During these difficult times, AT&T continues to support our customers and our team members in everything that we do.

Topic: Network Investment Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic
Between 2014-2018, AT&T invested over $130B in capital and spectrum expenditures. Since the beginning of the year, AT&T has continued to expand and invest in our network and our 5G deployment. Our network build is designed to easily flex with demand due to our Software Defined Network (SDN). For example, with many employees working from home during this pandemic, VPN demand is surging. We are using a Network-based IP Remote Access VPN solution, and an industry-standard IPsec (Internet Protocol Security), along with a client’s software application on premise to provide capacity expansion on demand. This solution is enabled due to SDN and network virtualization. Our CapEx spend will enable us to continue to respond quickly to our customers.

Topic: Cultural Transformation
Cultural transformation usually follows technical innovation. For example, our world evolved with the advent of personal computing. Right now, the pandemic has radically changed how we live and work. Some of these changes will not continue after COVID-19 passes (i.e., we will eat in restaurants again). But how we collaborate and engage has been forever transformed. The technology innovation will accelerate global connectivity. However, this transformation is highlighting the digital divide between those with access and those without, especially for online learning. So AT&T has created a $10 million fund aimed at helping families and teachers with remote learning tools. Removing barriers will help everyone to participate in this cultural evolution.


Anil Simlot
Vice President of Virtual Services
Development and Support
CenturyLink

Topic: COVID-19 Pandemic Impact
CenturyLink operates one of the world’s largest and most interconnected networks, and as a Designated Critical Infrastructure Partner, we are positioned for the situation the world finds itself in today.

We are approximately a month into a big spike in traffic volume across our network due to the many stay-at-home and work-from-home situations around the globe. We have seen increased traffic across our IP Backbone, as well as voice, conferencing, collaboration, and residential platforms. Due to CenturyLink’s focus on Software Defined Networks (SDN), our network has been performing well because of our flexibility to add capacity, modify paths, and adjust traffic, based on utilization. We are continually refining our approach. This flexibility was visible when we connected the U.S. Naval Ship Mercy just hours after it arrived in Los Angeles to help support healthcare professionals during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Topic: Mobile Edge Computing
To monetize any service, the application comes first. Email and similar applications do not require an edge-computing solution. However, an application, like inventory management for a local retailer that has multiple locations in a metro area, is an excellent use of a locally deployed edge compute environment. The applications could also drive requirements for specialized hardware in The Edge infrastructure like GPUs, etc.

Because of the importance of applications, we are constantly talking to our customers to identify which of their applications would be good candidates for The Edge. Using the applications’ requirements, we will determine the most relevant locations and infrastructures to be deployed.

Topic: 5G Infrastructure Growth 
5G enables the transmission of data between smartphones and cell towers at extremely high speeds. But the high frequencies employed by 5G can’t maintain their strength over distance and require fiber networks that can carry that data at maximum speeds. Think of 5G as a side street, good for going short distances, and fiber as the interstate.

To enhance the power of 5G combined with fiber, CenturyLink is continuously deploying more fiber and is turning to edge computing. Fiber-based edge computing involves these companies — including retailers, financial service providers, health care service providers, and even 5G carriers — placing servers physically closer to the cell towers that deliver data to end users via 5G. Since the fiber carrying information between servers and cell towers is shorter, the transmission is faster. With the ability of CenturyLink to provide fiber and edge computing, the 5G carriers can deliver better service and grow their infrastructure in a cost-effective way.


Johnny Hill
COO
Clearfield

Topic: COVID-19 Pandemic Impact
We have found ourselves to be remarkably resilient and efficient in moving into our home work environments and maintaining the productivity level we established before COVID-19. Additionally, I am extremely proud of the care and work we did early on with our manufacturing environments with respect to using social distances, equipping our workers with PPEs, and creating a safe environment that our manufacturing personnel are comfortable with. While there is still a concern, we are doing everything we can to address it. Early on we proactively addressed the potential disruption of supply chains by adjusting our min/max, safety, and on-hand inventory positions with suppliers. Our vendor redundancy for all critical raw components has paid off as we have seen no disruption in our ability to produce while maintaining average lead times across most of the product lines. Custom products or products we do not stock that we source overseas have been impacted slightly, but our strong vendor relationships, so important to Clearfield, have greatly mitigated the impact that I believe is hitting harder for a lot of others in our space.

Topic: Network Investment Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic
Clearfield recognizes that the pandemic will open the eyes of the world to the critical nature of broadband infrastructure and the ability to stay connected — alone. Clearfield has doubled down in many areas of manufacturing from personnel, equipment, and stocking positions. We continue to drive down the cost of deploying broadband infrastructure, with product development efforts aimed at that initiative. This means the rapid deployment of broadband services at the lowest TCO and highest reliability. As an example, we recently introduced a Home Deployment Kit with social distancing in mind, making it easy for a consumer of broadband services to provide the final passive connection to their active in-home equipment once fiber has been delivered to the outside of their home.

Topic: Mobile Edge Computing
Separating the intelligence from the hardware allows for a modular approach — Clearfield’s product mantra — and allows for infrastructure to be rapidly built ahead of the application turn-up. The separation of labor at The Edge is an additional element of modularity that allows 2 workforces to build independently of each other. Clearfield is ready for this, and continues to listen to and work with customers to help define the best path forward.


John Robbins III
Senior Manager
Network Engineering for City of Fort Collins
Fort Collins Connexion

Topic: COVID-19 Pandemic Impact
For the City of Fort Collins, COVID-19 has resulted in temporary telecommuting for most staff, following CDC, State, and County direction. As a key contributor to critical operations for the City, Fort Collins Connexion has been busier than ever scaling systems to ensure City staff are able to stay connected and productive from remote locations. For example, migration to IP softphones have helped extend City business lines to home offices, reducing the strain on mobile networks; and split-tunneled VPNs have reduced contention on City internal networks, redirecting Internet traffic to the local carrier.

Fort Collins Connexion partnered with the local school district to address a lack of Internet access for children in several underserved communities. Resources were redirected to deploy outdoor APs via GPON backhaul at mobile home parks, increasing Internet availability and capacity for children to access their virtual classrooms.

Topic: Mobile Edge Computing
As IoT Edge devices continue to gain traction, with high bandwidth and low latency demands, it becomes imperative to start with fast, secure, and reliable, infrastructure. Platforms capable of securely retaining large data in smaller, distributed Edge cores closer to end users, will reduce strain on transport networks.

Several key applications look to redefine network requirements, shifting centralized core computing to Edge cores. For example, advances in VR/AR technology and telesurgery prove to test the limits of high bandwidth demand at Zero Perceived Latency (ZPL), further driving the need to maintain and process data locally or as close to The Edge as possible.

Topic: Cultural Transformation
Fort Collins Connexion, as a new utility for the City, has been a clear catalyst in cultural transformation. New to the arena of competing with strong incumbent providers, the City leaders, staff, and stakeholders, have carefully rolled out broadband services without disclosing the exact blueprint for competing providers to target and disrupt. Delicate planning and release of Internet, voice, and video services in a strategic fashion will help protect the initial financial investment along with honoring a commitment to transparency and clarity for the community. The City has the challenge of incorporating long tenured world-class municipal service into a new business model delivering broadband services in an ultra-competitive environment, all while upholding the City’s vision, mission, and values.


John Greene
Chief Executive Officer and GM
New Lisbon Telephone Company, Inc.
New Lisbon Broadband and Communications, LLC

Topic: Network Investment Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic
The COVID-19 pandemic has had little effect on our 2020 CapEx program. NLTC has continued with building out our FTTH network (both ILEC and CLEC), upgrading backhauls and sectors in our CLEC FWA network, and upgrading our backbone Internet connection (finished just in time for the Internet bandwidth surge). Our 2020 CapEx plan was well positioned to enable us to handle the increased demand from existing customers due to work at home, study at home, and play at home, and allowed us to add new customers who needed additional bandwidth. Our plans for the remainder of 2020 are unchanged from what was originally approved.

Topic: Balance?!
As I have said before, we are really a startup company, so we deal with this issue every day. We are always having growing pains and primarily what keeps the employees balanced at NLTC is 2 things.

  • First, we all row in the same direction. Everyone at NLTC understands that our success if dependent on everyone giving their best effort every day to offer a better product to our customers.
  • Second, we try at every opportunity to remember that family always comes first. From family-oriented activities to offering flexible benefits that enable employees to spend more time doing fun things, we try to keep things in perspective and to not allow the stress of the job to overwhelm anyone.

Topic: What has COVID-19 forced us to do as a company that will become the “new normal”?
COVID-19 will eventually go away (although we don’t know when), but its effects will last for generations.

  • NLTC now does do more work from home. At one time, 2/3 of our employees were working from home. In the future, some jobs will remain remote and many could be a part-time mixture.
  • The second is the ubiquitous use of video conferencing for management meetings, employee meetings, and even Board meetings. There is a learning curve, but there are real advantages, such as reduced travel and associated costs.
  • Finally, we have been able to transition more customers to non-physical contact ways of doing business, meaning making electronic payments, using our web site more, and just calling us on the phone. This has been a paradigm shift for many of our customers, but it has enabled us to be more efficient in our day-to-day interactions.

Curt Christensen
Customer Network Manager
Norvado

Topic: COVID-19 Pandemic Impact
Norvado set up a geo-isolation plan for our operations teams. Our COE, Engineering, Business techs, and Installers, were divided into 4 locations to minimize cross-contamination. Our internal management and support work mostly from home.

This was a challenge; we did not have enough PCs/Laptops for staff to bring home, and home personal PCs were either old or they only had tablets. Staff also did not have the luxury of multi monitor screens in their homes. We also moved to customer-assisted installs where the tech did not go into the customer prem. Our company’s efficiency went down greatly during these process changes.

Topic: Network Investment Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic
Norvado accepted the FCC’s Keep Americans Connected Pledge. We are offering free Internet install and first 3 months free for new customers, as well as free speed upgrades for current customers to the next tier. Along with that, we expedited the upgrade of our recent purchase of PCTC Telephones network from 1G to 10G/100G to match our Norvado Cable exchanges. This will help alleviate bottle necks for the influx of new Internet customers as well as customers upgrading to the next tier. We are also fast tracking our residential-managed Wifi deployment. Managed Wifi will lessen truck rolls and keep our techs out of the customer premises, and lessen the risks of COVID-19 concerns for our customers and techs.

Topic: Cultural Transformation
Our Cultural Transformation is focused on the customer experience. We all want happy customers, so we are focusing the customer experience with our services, on-site technicians, and support. Rather than just hooking up the wireless router, which used to be the utility area, we make sure we have the equipment in the optimal location in the customer’s home. We educate our customers on services, and spend that extra time educating them on Wifi.

We are rolling out a residential-managed Wifi product that we look at as table stakes in the Internet market. This helps support the better customer experience with our services. A Norvado customer experience app comes with the router also. It’s not just about getting the service installed in the customers’ home in a timely manner for your business metrics to look good. It’s making a great customer experience with the service we provide.


LaTanya Buggs
Director of Operations
Global Network and Technology Division
Verizon

Topic: COVID-19 Pandemic Impact 
At Verizon the coronavirus pandemic has transformed daily work life and changed how we communicate with consumers and our teams, as the physical connection experience is restricted due to social distancing. To ensure the safety of all employees we quickly developed a work from home strategy for the majority of our workforce. For frontline employees we shifted to a dispatch-from-home strategy, where company vehicles will serve as the technicians offices. On service calls we restricted the in-home dispatch experience and moved to virtually assisting customers via video chat. We have limited the number of retail locations, and in those that are open, we have enforced strict social distancing practices. That includes: limiting the number of customers at the store at once, spreading out kiosks and help desks, and, most importantly, creating ways for companies to self-checkout and do contactless payment.

The world is relying on our services now more than ever. We have experienced increased usage of our network with consumers needing to remain connected to loved ones, students and educator remote learning, and professionals working from home. As a business we are learning new ways to deliver on the customer experience, and to ensure the safety and wellbeing of our employees.

Topic: 5G Infrastructure Growth
Verizon has committed to accelerating the 5G deployment to positively impact the economy during this pandemic. We have increased the capital spending range to $17.5 Billion-$18.5 Billion to continue to build our network infrastructure, which includes 5G. This will aid in increasing the connectivity of businesses and consumers across the country, as digital business practices become the lead source of driving revenue.

Topic: Cultural Transformation
Culture influences performance in technology in a variety of ways. Diversity of thought and the flexibility to be ones true authentic self allows individuals to bring their best selves to the office and to the table. When teams are comfortable and know their ideas and work are valued, they are more encouraged to drive change and innovation. Innovation is a critical component in technology and will ultimately make or break the digital economy. Innovation drives new ideas, products, and processes, which positively impact the growth of all technology companies. To drive culture, I encourage my teams to foster a diverse and inclusive environment. There is no idea or question that is off the table. We work closely together to drive innovation and authenticity, which stimulates morale, creating a better employee experience. When employees are happy and motivated, performance is at its best.


For more information on the 7 participants and their companies, including contact information, go to: https://www.isemag.com/special-sections/. Scroll down to the ICT Visionaries special section.

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