ICT Visionaries — Part 3

Oct. 1, 2020
Read what our 6 telecom leaders have to say about fiber deployments for 5G, COVID-19 network challenges, and ways to help your team pivot during unprecedented times. ISE offered the […]

Read what our 6 telecom leaders have to say about fiber deployments for 5G, COVID-19 network challenges, and ways to help your team pivot during unprecedented times.

ISE offered the Visionaries several topics for discussion, and asked each of them to address 3 of the topics.

Topic: Pivot for Meaning

The Big Pivot is a term that describes how all businesses, both big and small, must learn to adapt and thrive amid many unknowns. Today, pivoting also connotes more than that: it also means adapting your business purpose to serve others.

Question: How is your company and team pivoting with purpose in this unprecedented environment? Please share an example.

Topic: Fiber and 5G

Post COVID-19, the 5G Infrastructure market is estimated to grow from $12.6 billion in 2020 and projected
to reach $44.9 billion by 2025, at a CAGR of 28.97%. The projection for 2025 is estimated to be down by
22.79% as compared to pre-COVID-19 estimation.

Question: While 5G is being slowed by COVID-19, there is still the need for 5G infrastructure preparation. What are your teams doing to adopt innovative deployment approaches for FTTx and next-gen wireless networks?

Source: https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20200424005429/en/COVID-19s-Impact-5G-Infrastructure-Market-Communication-Infrastructure

Topic: In-Home Network Upgrades and Troubleshooting

Today, only 7% of civilian workers in the U.S., or roughly 9.8 million of the nation’s approximately 140 million civilian workers, have access to "flexible workplace" benefits, or telework, according to the 2019 National Compensation Survey (NCS) (https://www.bls.gov/ncs/ebs/) from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. Those workers who have access to it are largely managers, other white-collar professionals and the highly paid. ("Civilian workers" refers to private industry workers and state and local government workers combined.).

Remote work will continue to drive demand for higher symmetrical connectivity speeds and improved IP video services. However, the demand could also strain the system and lead to negative brand perception issues if reality doesn’t meet expectations.

Question: Talk about in-home upgrades and troubleshooting strategies providers can use to increase home network speeds, reduce latency and decrease packet drops in the COVID-19 environment. Share new things your company is doing in this area, or what you think could be improved so other companies can learn from yours.

Source: https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2020/03/20/before-the-coronavirus-telework-was-an-optional-benefit-mostly-for-the-affluent-few/

Topic: Cost-Cutting

As more businesses enable remote work, and consumers switch to unlimited plans, telcos have an opportunity: if they can support remote work while giving consumers a positive experience throughout the crisis, their brand perception is improved.

Still, telcos face financial uncertainty caused by the pandemic. So, they must plan accordingly. In the long term, challenges include cost-cutting, as commodity services likely become cheaper.

Question: What does this mean for you and your teams?

Topic: Internet Traffic Levels

Internet aggregate traffic volumes have stayed above 25% since COVID-19 lockdowns started, according to a study done by Nokia. (See Figure 1.) This reflects ongoing network use throughout the day — during both weekdays and on weekends.

Figure 1. Courtesy of Nokia.

Question: Given this, share your thoughts about how network service providers should prepare for the post-COVID-19 future. Will Internet traffic return to normal levels or will this new aggregate traffic pattern (shown in Figure 1), be permanent?

Source: www.nokia.com

Topic: Rethinking CapEx

Please read the comments below from the report, Telecoms Operators Rethink Their Next Two Years, by Rafael Asensio and Maarten de Wit, analysts from Oliver Wyman, a management consulting firm.

"In a recessionary environment, conservative cash management is imperative. In the capital-intensive industry that telecom is, this means at least reconsidering how much CapEx will be deployed in the next couple of years and what for.
    If used discretionarily, capital spending can be used to shield operating cash flow. In a typical operator, a reduction of four to eight percent in CapEx is needed to offset a one-percent revenue hit by itself. While it would be ill advised to rely only on investment cuts, most operators are considering reductions following lowered expectations of return on investment (ROI). Several large telcos are assessing downward adjustments of two to four percentage points in CapEx/revenue during the downturn, although these will vary greatly among markets.
     CapEx, however, is discretionary only to a limited extent, given that operators compete against each other by investing to create network parity or advantage. Thus, each needs to assess different paths to rationalize investments. In markets with high fiber penetration, slowing down 5G will be an option where it does not degrade mobile competitiveness. In areas with low competitive pressure in fixed lines, slowing down fiber might be an option. Other ideas are on the table too, like co-investing with financial sponsors, infrastructure players, or competitors; pushing for relaxed coverage obligations or delayed spectrum auctions; and pruning CapEx not essential for revenue competitiveness."

Source: https://www.oliverwyman.com/our-expertise/insights/2020/jun/Telecom-Operators-Rethink-Their-Next-Two-Years.html

Question: Share your thoughts about the above. How is your company addressing this challenge, or how do you expect it to impact your company?

Topic: The Ultimate Takeaway

Question: What have you learned the most as a professional during this unprecedented time related to COVID-19 and your role?

Sheilon KingDirector, Mobility Transformation

Topic: Pivot for Meaning
Cybersecurity is one of these pivot areas. With more people working remotely, cyber criminals have found new vulnerabilities to exploit that were not there before. The AT&T Alien Labs’ Open Threat Exchange (a global intelligence-sharing community) recorded a 2,000% spike in indicators of compromise between February and March of 2020. In response, AT&T has implemented additional cybersecurity training for ALL employees, increased endpoint security to help protect laptops and phones as well as expanded IT infrastructure for additional support. All of these measures along with more targeted solutions are being shared widely to allow all companies to better plan their investment in and implementation of new technologies to combat the increased risk.

Topic: The Ultimate Takeaway
With the twin impacts of Covid-19 and Social Justice movements, NOW is the time to change the way we think and operate. We have a small window of time right now to drive significant change within the industry and our own companies. Customers are more willing than ever to bridge the digital divide and try new things. We need to Engage, Educate, Experiment and Evolve, both personally and professionally. The future will look back on 2020 and the question will be: how did we harness the Power of this moment to define the next 10 years of technology evolution?

Johnny HillCOO

Topic: Pivot for Meaning
Nimble. Quick. The ability to pivot. Usually associated with product, applications, and market strategies, Clearfield’s best and most recent example of pivoting in a COVID-19 world is what I am most proud of. Starting in January when COVID-19 began affecting the supply chain through "Stay at Home" orders, we anticipated, adjusted, and pivoted, through the COVID-19 fog, and were fortunate to have had minimal impact to our entire Clearfield community. Social distancing measures within our production workforce, nurses on-site, proactive weekly plant disinfecting, and work-cell realignment, are many of the pivots we had to perform to keep our capacity stable. Additional pivots by adding manufacturing locations for redundancy to support inventory are some of the things Clearfield did early and fast. It seems some days we are pivoting by the hour as new information and potential risks are uncovered. Nimble is what we live every day. The ability to adjust to these challenging conditions is what makes Clearfield so unique.

Topic: Internet Traffic Levels
At first, I doubted anyone’s ability to work from home and maintain the same productivity level as in the office. I was wrong. I’m amazed at our ability to maintain and even improve productivity. It has been so successful that we are now planning our post-COVID-19 strategy with tiger teams determining what the optimal work-from-anywhere world looks like. This view is not unique to Clearfield. I see many companies coming to the same conclusions and planning for the same. The new normal is here to stay.

Topic: The Ultimate Takeaway
I have seen all the emotions that this pandemic brings across the organization. Doubt … Fear … Uncertainty of What happens if I get it? All real emotions and concerns that must be acknowledged and dealt with head-on. I was most surprised by the amount of rumors and misinformation being spread. It was important to present the facts and educate. Being genuinely concerned and showing it with your words and actions is the only way to lead. At the end of the day, the virus is no joke but understanding it, the risks, and how to mitigate the risks has put our company into a cautious "ease" that allows us to be as productive as we have ever been, while keeping our eye on the target and potential hazards in front of each. Every hour of every day.

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

Topic: Fiber and 5G
The City of Fort Collins anticipates mobile providers will attempt to use existing fiber infrastructure where possible, regardless of 5G rollout delays due to COVID-19. Last-Mile RF solutions may play an integral part; however, fiber to small cells is the key transport for 5G to ensure high capacity. Rather than overbuild, deploying a converged design model with FTTH broadband networks may allow for a more rapid and cost-effective deployment of 5G.

Potential benefit to the City is a new Quad Play revenue stream, with mobile backhaul added to existing Triple Play services. Using network design techniques, such as MPLS pseudo-wires, traffic engineering, and separate routing planes (VRFs), fixed broadband and 5G mobile data may coexist on the same fiber pairs without compromising capacity and security.

Topic: In-Home Network Upgrades and Troubleshooting
Most tech support calls received at Fort Collins Connexion entail WiFi performance concerns. Rather than guiding customers toward new hardware, we tend to focus on optimization of their existing home network. Default settings on gateways often use congested spectrum where interference leads to a poor experience. One common adjustment we recommend is switching from 2.4GHz to 5GHz, and enabling auto channel selection for lower utilized channels.

Propagation may be improved with simple strategies such as better AP placement, antenna manipulation, removal of RF barriers, and deploying a mesh solution if necessary. Video teleconferencing, the new norm for a remote workforce in COVID-19, may benefit from advanced AP optimization including use of QoS markings, placing audio and video traffic ahead of best effort Internet data.

Topic: Internet Traffic Levels
Internet traffic has held up well during the COVID-19 surge in demand to wireline networks. While some reduction may be expected as the immediate global threat subsides, I believe traffic will maintain the new aggregate pattern. When you consider new video applications demanding increased bandwidth and low latency, we may even continue to break new record traffic levels in certain industries such as medical and education. Investments in edge networks may further spike bandwidth demands, albeit in a more distributed fashion.

Thankfully, most providers plan out infrastructure growth about 18 months ahead of demand, preventing major congestion scenarios. Where there continues to be a significant gap and need for more investment is with Last Mile solutions to address accessibility challenges and bandwidth concerns in our underserved communities.

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

Topic: In-Home Network Upgrades and Troubleshooting
Wired connectivity inside the home with CAT 5/6 has been replaced almost exclusively with WiFi. Electric providers responsibility stops at the meter, but Broadband providers are responsible for the entire network, including inside the home. Gigabit fiber networks are useless if the WiFi component in the home results in lower speeds, higher latency, or poor connectivity.

WiFi-enabled residential gateways not only provide better WiFi coverage in the home but also allow the ISP to monitor and troubleshoot that network. NLTC is placing gateways in every FTTH residence at no additional cost to our customers, so we initially design the network for complete home coverage, and have remote test and troubleshooting capabilities long term. This is especially important as more customers use their in-home WiFi network for video conferencing, OTT video, gaming, smart appliances, etc. The result is better customer satisfaction with our service, fewer troubles calls to our offices, and less time spent on wasted dispatches.

Topic: Rethinking CapEx
Failure to upgrade a network to keep pace with technological changes or to stay up with the competition ultimately results in fewer customers and less revenue. The bill always comes due, and reducing CapEx spending now just means the bill will come due later, and often at a higher cost.

In today’s marketplace, a reduction in CapEx spending is exactly the opposite of what is needed. With opportunities such as 5G backhaul, increased state and Federal Broadband funding, and a fundamental change in how America works, telcos need to increase CapEx to build out networks, especially in Rural America. NLTC and other small providers are taking advantage of all these opportunities to build out our FTTH networks, in our regulated areas and our CLEC areas. This means an increase in CapEx spending today but higher revenues and lower operating costs in the future.

Topic: The Ultimate Takeaway
First, the ability to change and adapt during times of adversity. We have had to develop new "standards" in providing service more efficiently. These changes have brought us closer together as a group. The second is the ability of Americans to come together in times of need and this pandemic has been no exception. Whether it is Broadband for Rural Americans or supplies for the needy, Americans keep meeting the need. We are resilient and will recover from this pandemic stronger than before.

Curt Christensen
Customer Network Manager

Topic: In-Home Network Upgrades and Troubleshooting
Currently, Norvado has 85%-90% of our office staff working from home compared to 5% pre-COVID-19. On April 16, 2018, Bayfield Cty Wi. (Norvado) became the first Telecommuter Forward Community in the country. Prior to COVID-19, we completed a core network upgrade as well links to our access equipment. This set us up well for the influx of users from home. We also bumped individuals to the next Internet tier free to help accommodate their increased needs from working or schooling from home. Our network did not have a hiccup on latency or packet drops as well peak network utilization. This is something we are monitoring 24/7. Having a good WiFi router and ACS partner enable a better customer experience with remote support when needed. Norvado recently rolled out a customer support tool where we can control the customer device and see what the customer is seeing, and access a network scan of the customer network.

Topic: Cost-Cutting
The move to work from home and online schooling, the need for an excellent customer experience, was needed. Having no data caps puts us in a position to bump the customer to the next Internet tier package for free, as well as promoting customer self-installs. We are in the middle of rolling out our managed WiFi product line with parental and network protection apps. These apps, with our Apex WiFi managing app, gives the customer a hands-on experience of their services. These add-on options will bring in monthly revenue as our Internet prices stay the same for higher speed services.

Topic: The Ultimate Takeaway
Having learned how to adjust to changes immediately. COVID-19 brought immediate changes from PPE and safety for staff and our customers, as well as making sure our customers have a great customer experience with their services. We still have weekly Monday morning COVID-19 team meetings with our field techs, which covers COVID-19 procedures covering CDC and state guidelines to install practices where we implemented customer-assisted installs or self-installs. When COVID-19 started, we were starting to roll out our managed WiFi service, so this product needed to be expedited. Overall, our residential services did not slow down; rather it increased with first time Internet customers and our marketing promos. Our business side is starting to pick up as well.

LaTanya BuggsDirector of Operations
Global Network and Technology Division

Topic: Pivot for Meaning 
Through the COVID-19 pandemic, my team of essential frontline employees demonstrates creativity, resilience, and ingenuity, providing an exceptional customer experience and network reliability to consumers. The Citizen Verizon Initiative, created in 2020, provides literacy training for parents, remote learning resources for teachers, content for under resourced youth, and technical guidance for school districts. Our goal is to provide 10 million children with digital access and skills training by 2030. From an environmental perspective, Verizon will reduce carbon emissions and invest in renewable energy, to become carbon neutral by 2035. Verizon has also made a commitment of $10 Million in support of 7 organizations working to advance equality and social justice. To date, Verizon and the Verizon foundation have provided over $55 Million in contributions and donations to COVID-19 global relief efforts.

Topic: Fiber and 5G
Verizon remains focused on our commitments to 5G. We are ahead of schedule and have accelerated our 5G build. Through the pandemic, the value of a strong network, solutions, and applications, that it enables are highlighted, and Verizon remains committed to strengthen the network and the value that it provides. The demand for a reliable in-home network has increased with a large portion of our consumers working and learning remotely. Our continued focus will be to propel wireless and in-home 5G networks to the next level as automation and remote work stations become a growing priority for many consumers and businesses.

Topic: In-Home Network Upgrades and Troubleshooting
With in-home network effectiveness as a top priority for all consumers, Verizon provides a variety of data speeds to meet the needs for all. The mix-and-match product options gives consumers the freedom to design plans to fit their lifestyles. Self-installations options provide the flexibility for consumers to install products safely themselves. Additionally, with FIOS and Ethernet, our customers can request speed upgrades that can be processed remotely without the need for a dispatch. Also, at installation, Verizon leverages enhanced tools and diagnostics that identify optimal equipment placement, and also ensure that once deployed that all equipment is operating for peak performance. When a customer does experience an issue, they have the ability to troubleshoot service issues themselves, or remotely with technical assistance, in many cases eliminating the need to wait for a physical dispatch and addressing any service related issues immediately.

For more information on the 6 participants and their companies, including contact information, go to: https://isemag.com/special-sections/. Scroll down to the ICT Visionaries special section.

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