ICT Visionaries 2020 Roundtable Highlights

Dec. 1, 2020
Network Executives Gathered Virtually to Share Pain Points and Passions — Like the rest of us, our 2020 ICT Visionaries have adapted to working in a hybrid environment. Most are […]

Network Executives Gathered Virtually to Share Pain Points and Passions —

Like the rest of us, our 2020 ICT Visionaries have adapted to working in a hybrid environment. Most are combining a Work-from-Home (WFH) model with working from the office. All of them have learned much about leadership, walking their talk and learning what really matters in this COVID-19 era.

Fittingly, our annual ICT Visionaries roundtable event was intended to be a videoconference gathering. But, we ran into the typical challenges you’ve likely hit before. Platforms didn’t "talk" to each other; participants’ firewalls prevented them from easily joining us. We sent instant messages and texted each other while we tried to problem-solve platform glitches. After trying a few work-arounds, we ditched the videoconference notion and joined a good ol’ IP audio conference. Still, the latency gremlin got in the way of our verbal spontaneity. (There’s nothing like the audio black hole when you say something you hope is clever, only to hear silence and a late awkward laugh.)

None of that was surprising. By now, we all know how technology can help and hijack our best efforts to communicate.

What was happily surprising was the patience and light-heartedness I saw amongst our ICT Visionaries after many minutes of waiting and problem-solving. They were easy-going despite having to-do lists pinging them in the background. They were collaborative and honest with each other even though they represented competitors. And when we had to sign off because of time constraints, many were open to virtually gathering again.

THAT is what I adore about our industry. Nuff said.

Check out a few nuggets they agreed to share in print. After you read their insights, think about what you, or someone you know, could add to this discussion. Then, consider nominating someone extraordinarily good at what they do for the ICT Visionaries 2021 program. Email me: [email protected].

ICT Visionaries Attending ISE’s 2020 Virtual Roundtable Discussion
Johnny Hill, COO, Clearfield. Johnny kindly sent his written responses so we could share them here.
Brian Schrand, VP of Application and Field Engineering, joined us during the roundtable discussion.

John Greene, CEO and GM, New Lisbon Telephone Company, Inc., and New Lisbon Broadband and
Communications, LLC

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

Curt Christensen, Customer Network Manager, Norvado

Johnny Hill

Topic: Vendor and Contractor Partner Wishes
What do you think vendor/contracting partners need to understand that they don’t?

It’s no secret that when a service provider finds the right combination of vendor and contractor it takes something very drastic to get them to deviate from not using either party. Now more than ever, service providers are being pressured to build their networks faster and more cost effectively.

There are considerations that providers weigh when constructing a network. First, there is speed of deployment. With bandwidth consumption going up exponentially, there is a need to build out quickly. Second, there is network reliability. Vendors will collaborate with service providers to develop products that will allow them to do both functions: build quickly and reliably. In most cases, those products come with some amount of plug-and-play. This can be an issue with contractors who traditionally hard splice network elements.

Contractors need to be included in the conversation when developing network solutions.

Last, there is the mean time to repair. Customers have grown very dependent on their high-speed connection so, when service is affected, they expect it to be restored as quickly as possible. Rapid restoration can be achieved by the ability to simply plug in a replacement for the faulty network element. No matter what network architecture is chosen, all parties need to communicate with one another to ensure that all network demands are being addressed. Providers place a high value on having solid relationships, knowing they can trust both their vendor and contractor.

Topic: Industry Challenges
Which ONE of the opportunities noted below do you believe is the most important for our industry to advance in 2021, and why?
5G Mass-Market Rollouts

Edge Computing
Network Transformation
Public Private Partnerships
Telecom Cultural Transformation
Wireless/Wireline Integration

I believe wireless/wireline integration is the most important. Mobility and speed are the 2 elements that subscribers are demanding.

Across the globe, the number of mobile devices accessing the web continues to increase. Today, that number is roughly 90%. This statistic would suggest that a wireless network is the best answer for delivering high-speed services.

Cleary, a fiber-rich network is required to backhaul wireless traffic. As network speeds continue to grow, fiber is the best option for future-proofing a network. Unlike wireless technologies, single mode fiber has stayed consistent since its development, and hasn’t yet reached its physical capacities. Many networks are still utilizing fiber cables that were installed in the 1980s. So, the question is: If you’re building a dense fiber network for wireless backhaul, why not plan for the future, provision for FTTx, and pay today’s labor rate instead of tomorrows?

John GreeneCEO and GM
New Lisbon Telephone Company, Inc.
New Lisbon Broadband and Communications, LLC

Topic: Your Take
Share one problem/challenge you are passionate about solving for the ICT Industry.

The number one issue, in my opinion, is the Digital Divide across Rural America. As a small provider in rural Indiana, I see the positive effects of providing reliable and affordable Broadband to our customers. But I also see the large numbers of customers that cannot obtain this essential service, due to a lack of network facilities in those areas.

The issue is, and always will be: how to fund these expensive network build-outs, and to choose the right technology that will provide what is needed today and allow for upgrades and expansion in the future. From fiber to fixed wireless to satellites, everyone has a plan that they think will work.

Many different technology advocates are pressing both the States and Federal government agencies to support their technology with funding. Unfortunately, there is not enough money to go around, so these technologies, while they should be complementary, are in competition for the scarce assets.

Fiber optics technology has been, and will always be (IMO), the penultimate technology for high-speed Broadband connections.
However, the costs to build fiber networks is high, and is not always economically feasible.

Fixed wireless and satellites seem to be a lower-cost solution, but they may not be easily upgradable to meet the needs of Broadband users in the future.

Disbursement of the necessary governmental funding still lacks accuracy in many rural areas of the country due to inaccurate self-reporting and poor technology assumptions, meaning many areas that are shown to be adequately served and not eligible for government funding are actually underserved or even unserved.

Finally, politics are playing a bigger role in determining the haves and have nots for Broadband, something that should not happen.

While I don’t agree that Broadband access is a right, it is certainly an essential service, and determining who gets funding should not be based on what party is currently in power at the state and Federal level.

I am passionate about Rural Broadband, and my company will continue to do what we can with limited resources to build out to as many rural residents as we can. But until we solve (or at least streamline) the funding issues associated with Rural network build-outs, the US will continue to struggle in getting ubiquitous Internet to all its citizens.

John Robbins IIISenior Manager,
Network Engineering for City of Fort Collins
Fort Collins Connexion

Topic: Digital Divide Urgency
Share your thoughts about this pressing issue.

As a municipal provider, equitability and inclusion is second nature to Fort Collins Connexion. Providing high-speed Internet to the unserved and underserved population while offering a digital equity option to low-income residents has been part of our plans from launch.

On a larger scale, the reality is that many State and Local municipalities are not prepared to deal with the overhead that comes from operating and maintaining a fiber backbone.

Another common challenge for disadvantaged populations is accessible fiber due to geographic footprint. For example, many mobile home parks in Northern Colorado reside just outside of City boundaries, and therefore are out of reach to City broadband.

The COVID-19 pandemic has compounded the problem for these communities, and has exposed the fact that millions of kids across our nation have little or no access to Internet for on-line school.

Public Private partnerships and Intergovernment Agreements (IGAs) between State and Local officials may help solve some of the accessibility challenges. But to truly bridge the Digital Divide, all service providers, public and private alike, need to go all in with effective plans to address this crisis.

Topic: Automation
Many providers are focusing on cost reductions. They aim to drive savings through software-based technologies, automation, AI/AR, and other solutions. What are some successful strategies you’ve seen executed in these areas? What are we NOT doing that we should be doing to effectively reduce costs?

Small and large providers alike have adopted virtualized, cloud-based management into their production networks. As cloud-based IP traffic explodes, putting pressure on edge networks, so too does the need for better integration of software-defined-networking technology (SDC) into ready-to-use network solutions.

SDN and AI bring the promise of service delivery automation and user-friendly provisioning that provides control over an entire life cycle, from service creation to configuration, administration, and maintenance.

And while these technologies may lower OpEx and provide tools normally out of reach to providers, equipment vendors have been slow to provide off-the-shelf solutions that leverage network virtualization in a practical way. Most small- to mid-sized ISPs do not have the experience with network service abstraction tools, such as use of NETCONF protocol and YANG modeling language, and are reliant upon vendors to build SDN and AI into their offerings. Doing so has clear advantages for the equipment vendor in staying competitive and potentially lowering their own development cost, while at the same time providing operators better automation tools for network orchestration and end-user provisioning.

Curt ChristensenCustomer Network Manager

Topic: BEST OF
Share the "best of" network solution/technology/tactic you or your team embraced during this very interesting year. If there isn’t one, what solution/technology do you wish existed in 2020?

Best of 2020, was there really any? For Norvado, it was expediting turn-up of our managed residential Wi-Fi. This was a multi department effort to enable managed Wi-Fi so we could assist customers remotely and limit truck rolls to lessen COVD-19 exposure for our customers and technicians.

We also implemented additional remote support tools which allows us to send a link to the customer’s device that opens as an App, and we have live video access to what the customer was pointing their device at, as well as do a network scan on the customer network equipment remotely.

We have a very successful Hosted PBX (HPBX) offering, and we put in effort how to support training customers remotely better. All our HPBX turn-up training used to be on site but now we are able to do much of this remotely. Updating our company’s website knowledge base support with How-To video guides was a key for supporting all types of customers better efficiently.

Topic: Vendor and Contractor Partner Wishes
What do you think vendor/contracting partners need to understand that they don’t?

We have used contractor/consultants in many of our departments over the years. Contractors need to understand that we are a customer and that their employees are an extension of our company. Contractors are in demand throughout the industry, and it is hard for them to find skilled technicians for engineering, installs, and fiber splicing. Many of their staff are not seasoned and experienced, so there is a lot of training that we call the "Norvado Way" when they work our jobs. We demand a lot of our install contractors doing fiber conversions. We expect testing of existing Cat5 infrastructure, and customer training. It is not just get the customer converted and on to the next. We also use those contractors for Service Order and Trouble Ticket overflow support. Contractors need to follow the same procedures and process that our own technicians do. From using our billing Apps to update Service Orders and Troubles with information and pictures, to training and upselling services to customers and providing an excellent customer experience. We have moved on from individuals if they could not produce the work we are expecting.

Consider nominating someone extraordinarily good at what they do for the ICT Visionaries 2021 program. Email: [email protected].

About the Author

Sharon Vollman | Editor-in-Chief, ISE Magazine

Sharon Vollman is Editor-in-Chief of ISE Magazine. She oversees the strategic direction and content for ISE Magazine. She also leads the educational content development for ISE EXPO. Vollman has created educational partnerships with the major communications and entertainment providers including AT&T, Verizon, CenturyLink, Frontier Communications and Cincinnati Bell. She has covered the telecom industry since 1996. Prior to that, she worked in advertising with Ogilvy & Mather and CME. Vollman has a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Advertising from the University of Iowa.