Introducing 2020’s ICT Visionaries — Part 1

April 1, 2020
Welcome to our 7 new ICT Visionaries for 2020 from AT&T, CenturyLink, Clearfield, Fort Collins Connexion, New Lisbon Telephone Company, Norvado, and Verizon. ISE asked this year’s ICT Visionaries to […]

Welcome to our 7 new ICT Visionaries for 2020 from AT&T, CenturyLink, Clearfield, Fort Collins Connexion, New Lisbon Telephone Company, Norvado, and Verizon. ISE asked this year’s ICT Visionaries to answer 3 of these questions. Learn their network know-how in this first of our 3-part series.

Topic: Reinvention

In the face of disruptive new competition, many service providers are adopting disruptive strategies of their own — and essentially reinventing what it means to be a telecom service provider. (Source: Nokia.com) What is your company doing in this area to reinvent itself?

Topic: Network Optimization

In the age of disruption, service providers need to simplify and optimize their network operations. How are you doing that, or what are you contributing to it as a vendor partner? If your company is not there yet, what do you hope to do in the near future across your network(s) to create efficiencies and optimize operations?

Topic: Skills Gap

According to a recent research study, 60% of business leaders believe IT is leading their organizations’ business transformation strategy. Yet 93% of executives say the skills gap is preventing their teams from transforming fast enough. What gaps are you addressing across your teams? What do you suggest for those who do not have the opportunity to take advantage of formal training and educational enrichment opportunities?

Topic: Investment for the Future

What are your company’s investment priorities for 2020?

Topic: Artificial Intelligence

AI across the worldwide telecom market is expected to grow from $235.7 Million in 2016 to reach $2,497.8 Million by 2022, at a CAGR of 46.8% during the forecast period. The increasing adoption of AI for various applications in the telecommunication industry and utilization of AI-enabled smartphones are expected to be driving the growth of the market. (Source: www.marketsandmarkets.com) Why is this critical, and in what areas across the network(s) do you see AI being used in the future (or already today)?

Topic: SD-WAN 

As service providers focus on their core telecom and networking services, they’ll be relying on SD-WAN more and more for intelligent path control and traffic-steering based on the application. At the same time, these providers are also selling SD-WAN to their end customers, too. IDC has predicted that the SD-WAN infrastructure market will grow to $4.5 billion by 2022. Carriers and cable giants, including AT&T, CenturyLink, Comcast, and Verizon have all mentioned SD-WAN as one of their strategic IT solutions that are leading in their business customer segments. (Source: www.idc.com) Talk about this trend. Share what your company is doing to address SD-WAN, and the challenges that go along with embracing it.

Sheilon KingDirector Data Insights,
Chief Data Office

Topic: Reinvention
At AT&T we believe that innovation drives reinvention. In 2017, as streaming services disrupted our television business, (DirectTV and IPTV) we launched AT&T TV Now (formerly DirectTV Now) to provide a customer-friendly service that is cloud-based and more cost-effective. AT&T TV Now includes live HD TV and a Cloud DVR. Customers have choices to fit their individual lifestyles — from "skinny" packages to robust international options. Later in 2020, AT&T will launch additional offerings to continue to widen the gap to all other streaming. By choosing to be a disrupter, AT&T is exerting control and redefining the definition of a telecom service provider.

Topic: Network Optimization
Network virtualization allows AT&T to use our internally developed Enhanced Control, Orchestration, Management & Policy (ECOMP) platform, which is now part of Open Network Automation Platform (ONAP), and software-defined networking (SDN) to virtualize and enable critical network functions. This move to SDN drives down network operational costs while enabling AT&T to quickly deploy new customer-facing offerings with greater flexibility, automation, and security. AT&T’s 5G network deployment relies on the learnings so far and is more robust because of cloud computing. As we drive towards 75% network virtualization by the end of 2020, AT&T’s efforts are key to being nimble, future-focused, and customer centric.

Topic: Skills Gap
Futurists have stated that over the next decade and beyond more than 60% of current work activities will be impacted (directly or indirectly) by AI improvements. It is incumbent upon us as leaders to prepare our workforces for these changes. Seven years ago, AT&T committed to aiding ALL our employees with this skills pivot. We developed partnerships with key universities to build Masters programs in Analytics, Data Science, etc. AT&T also worked with online learning institutions to develop shorter, more targeted programs (nanodegrees, certifications, and individual classes) that allow all employees to enhance their skills in diverse areas such as Digital Marketing, Machine Learning, and Web Design. In 2018, AT&T spent ~$200M to enable 16 million hours of employee training both technical and non-technical. As an industry we are all looking for employees who can analyze situations quickly and data-power the decision-making process. AT&T is leading the way to enable the next generation of employees with these capabilities as well as strengthening the skills of the current workforce.

Anil SimlotVice President of Virtual Services
Development and Support

Topic: Reinvention
CenturyLink is transforming itself from a telecommunications provider to a technology company that delivers hybrid networking, IT agility, and security solutions. Instead of providing fragmented services, we are leveraging the latest technology to build powerful digital experiences for our customers. Our advanced products, such as SD-WAN, Business Engage, Dynamic Connections, and others, improve customers’ experience by providing them the ability to grow and add services on demand. CenturyLink’s Edge Compute with Cloud Connect provides a platform that enables organizations to host latency-sensitive applications while continuing to maintain their data centers or third-party clouds. Through our investment in Black Lotus Labs, we can offer customers rapid threat defense to secure their network connections. In short, CenturyLink is continuously looking to provide solutions that solve business needs while leveraging a compelling digital experience.

Topic: Network Optimization
CenturyLink is constantly evaluating our networks and operations to promote further optimization, and we continue to simplify our products and services to make it easier for our customers to order and manage them. We are simplifying our network as well by moving more buildings and data centers on-net. In addition, CenturyLink is creating more digital tools by leveraging robotics process automation (RPA), which reduces the number of manual steps required of our Operations teams. Every day, we are focused on developing highly satisfying digital experiences for our customers and employees alike.

Topic: SD-WAN 
CenturyLink was an early adopter and provider of SD-WAN services. Since we launched SD-WAN in 2017, we have diversified our portfolio while developing robust operational support capabilities. Today, we are able to sell the service globally via 3 different technical solutions.

We believe that as customers begin to leverage the "software defined" nature of the service, especially application-based traffic steering, the market will grow and we will start to see stringent requirements from them. As more mission-critical applications leverage SD-WAN, there will be a need for more concrete SLAs. Those that offer on-net facilities with proven QoE will be preferred by customers.

Johnny HillCOO

Topic: Reinvention
For Clearfield, it’s more a realignment and focus of our fiber management expertise we have gained over the years in deploying FTTx networks towards the obvious fiber challenges associated with 5G deployment. Meet me points, quick access, rapid deployments, and aggregation/distribution challenges remain the same in a new application environment. The strategies are not fully defined, and we are doing our part in the discovery process to deliver the most economical, speedy, and reliable fiber management platforms against current requirements in this evolving network architecture. Make no mistake — what we are doing today will look much different 3 years from now. It’s our job to anticipate and stay ahead of it.

Topic: Artificial Intelligence
The adoption of and use of AI across all areas is not in question. It will continue to explode. The more important question is Are we going to keep blurring the lines on the ethical and moral decisions that we will ask AI to make? General AI, multiple simple AI streams to present a set of decisions options that human judgement rules on, is where AI needs to be limited in my opinion — Alexa, Uber, Amazon, location services, traffic shaping, etc. We are pushing so hard to reach AI’s theoretical potential when we should first be working to establish an ethical framework on which AI systems are built. This topic on AI is going to get a lot of attention in the coming years by the public, industry, and world governments. I hope they will be able to come to a consensus on how it will be applied.

Topic: SD-WAN 
As the intelligence becomes separated from the hardware in favor of SD-WAN strategies, the impact of utilizing redundant pathways for traffic shaping becomes more and more desirable. In traditional networks, this pathway waited for the other to fail. Clearfield continues to provide increasing density to its product platform without sacrificing the important elements of consolidation, distribution, access, and protection. A labor-lite approach via pre-terminated, plug-and-play products reduces the network costs of deploying increased physical connectivity. With the ability to exchange high-cost, skilled laborers for lower-skilled laborers, the speed to deploy, troubleshoot, and restore, improves.

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

Topic: Reinvention
Rooted in the principles of equitability, net neutrality and local investment, municipal broadband is a clear disruption in the traditional Service Provider footprint — and Fort Collins Connexion is leading the charge in Northern Colorado. As one of more than 20 states where incumbent ISPs have managed to limit local governments from competing with private sector to provide high-speed Internet, telecommunication, and cable services, Colorado towns keep voting down the state ban SB-152 put in place in 2005. As of October 2019, more than 140 municipalities and counties have voted to reclaim local authority from the state, with Denver looking to join the pack in 2020.

With a keen eye on underserved communities, disadvantaged households, and thoughtful use of existing infrastructure, Fort Collins Connexion is perfectly positioned to provide ubiquitous world class services to all City premises.

Topic: Skills Gap
When hiring today, we choose candidates with excellent customer service along with creative mindsets that demonstrate the ability to include automation in their work. Coding skills and systems experience, allow us to build custom solutions such as network operations dashboards. An innovative and out-of-the-box mentality is encouraged, leading to better processes and procedures, and ultimately to better service our customers.

For staff looking to build deep technical skills through non-traditional means, I recommend open-source simulation tools with well supported communities. For example, GNS3 with novice to expert level routing and switching labs, paired with any number of virtual systems, are available to anyone with little to no investment on the part of the lifelong student.

Topic: Artificial Intelligence
AI technology, with its powerful learning algorithms, has long held great promise of more than just a mathematical paper exercise. Yet the adoption of AI has struggled to gain traction except in the most sophisticated networks. Today; we are seeing AI technology introduced in practical, off the shelf tools and applications, ready for even the smallest Service Providers. Examples include alarm correlation and security threat management, where AI helps identify trending of network anomalies and risks. In some cases, platforms may now take immediate action to remediate problems automatically, such as applying critical security patches.

With thoughtful implementation by tool vendors, AI technology will become even more integral in helping Service Providers address threats more efficiently, and free up technical staff to focus on innovation and customers.

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

Topic: Reinvention
My company is the poster child for reinvention of a telco and I tell people that NLTC is a 119-year-old start-up company. With our small size, it was necessary that we reinvent our company, becoming more competitive and expanding our service area, and we had to do that at lightspeed. Today, we have expanded into several surrounding counties with both fiber and fixed wireless Broadband offerings — and our customer base increased by a factor of 6.

From a technology standpoint, we are always very inventive and forward-thinking. FTTH is our go-to technology, but most of our customer base is actually on our fixed wireless network. We even deploy hybrid networks using FTTH in some communities with a licensed wireless backhaul. We are currently deploying a 200 Gbps backbone transport network to provide plenty of bandwidth headroom for future growth.

Finally, we are launching our own Over The Top (OTT) video product this year. We will eventually migrate all our traditional digital video customers to the OTT platform, eliminating the need for dedicated bandwidth, set-top boxes, and truck rolls for video installation and maintenance. Plus, it will be available to our entire
wireless customer base.

Topic: Skills Gap
With our phenomenal growth over the last 5 years, filling job openings and training new employees has been one of our biggest challenges. Technology skills are always a major part of our focus, and we leverage many sources for that training, including vendors, local colleges, conferences, and training conducted by our own employees. However, soft skills are key to any start-up organization’s success, as we merge new employees with old and evolve our corporate culture. So our biggest challenge overall has been the teaching of soft skills dealing with corporate culture and interpersonal relations, (i.e., building a team). Utilizing local HR training organizations, and even personality tests, has helped in this endeavor. Another "tool" has been employee-based events, from lunch meetings to family cookouts.

Topic: Investment for the Future
More of the same. We continue to grow our fiber network, always looking for good opportunities, and adding wireless sites if there is a need. Our ILEC FTTH buildout will be completed in 2020, reducing costly copper maintenance, and allowing more services to be offered. We will also continue looking for acquisitions to help us expand and grow our profitability.

Curt ChristensenCustomer Network Manager

Topic: Reinvention
As a rural service provider of Voice/Internet/Video, we are meeting many industry challenges — including competition from the big wireless carriers as well the national broadband companies. With the competitive pricing of High Speed Internet, we have upped our unlimited High Speed fiber packages recently as well as a path for future upgrades. Offering 1G High Speed and symmetrical High Speed Internet packages. Additionally, we are offering a residential-managed Wi-Fi product that is built into those High Speed Internet packages. We look to manage Wi-Fi as table stakes in providing the customer with the best experience possible on our network.

As an IPTV video provider with small revenue margins, we are encouraging our customers to use a streaming provider for their video content. We are creating a streaming concierge app that will help the customer choose what programming they may want. With more customers streaming, we will be able to guide them towards a larger High Speed Internet package and increase our monthly revenue. Once a telephone company, now a broadband service company.

Topic: Skills Gap
Keeping up internal IT skill sets, as well as hiring individuals with those skills, is a focus and challenge. We are in a 5-7 year window where 50% of our staff may retire. We have started intern programs with the local schools in the area. We have had a career day where interested students attended along with educational staff from those schools. We also had teachers do externship programs with us in gaining knowledge of the industry and what Norvado has to offer. Basic IT networking courses at a technical school are a great start. Norvado has done a good job sending staff to training on products we offer as well as credited IT courses like Cisco CCNA courses.

Topic: Investment for the Future
Fiber-to-the-business and fiber-to-the-home. We are currently 95% FTTH in our Norvado West locations with the goal of 2020 completion. Recently purchased Norvado East locations are at 30% FTTH with the goal of 2023 for completion. In the rural area we believe fiber is king. Our focus is also on business where we are installing fiber, and turning up business service product offerings like managed Hosted PBX, Managed network, and 1G and 10G High Speed services.

LaTanya BuggsDirector of Operations
Global Network and Technology Division

Topic: Reinvention
We said we would lead on 5G and we are. We were the first in the world to launch a commercial 5G mobile network with a commercially available 5G-enabled smartphone and currently we offer 5G mobility in over 30 cities as well as in over 20 arenas and stadiums. We were also the first to provide a commercial 5G service with Verizon 5G home, which we launched in 2018.

We were the first company in the world to launch a Mobile Edge Compute service (MEC) with AWS. In November, we announced that we’re working with AWS to bring cloud computing services closer to the edge of our 5G network. We’re calling it Verizon 5G Edge. (See "Verizon and AWS team up to deliver 5G edge cloud computing," https://www.verizon.com/about/news/aws-verizon-5g-edge-cloud-computing.)

The 8 currencies of 5G allows it the enabling power to drive effectiveness and efficiencies for all. Autonomous cars, smart communities, the industrial Internet of Things (IoT), and immersive education will all rely on 5G. 5G will usher in the fourth industrial revolution, paving the way for unprecedented innovations that will reshape the world.

Topic: Investment for the Future
In 2020, we will continue to support the launch and build out of Verizon’s 5G Ultra-Wideband network, continuing to grow the number of 5G cities, as well as launching new 5G supported devices. Verizon was recently recognized by OpenSignal and Nielsen as having the best 4G streaming experience among all US wireless carriers, and we are committed to supporting the growth in data and video traffic on Verizon’s 4G LTE network.

We also will continue deployment of significant fiber in markets nationwide as well as upgrade Verizon’s Intelligent Edge Network architecture.

Topic: Artificial Intelligence
AI has the potential to become breakthrough technology. It will be able to empower smart devices, and can be integrated into many facets of our everyday life like social media and digital assistants. The opportunities for AI in business are vast. AI can be used to improve productivity, streamline operations, and assist in customer service. Health Care systems can benefit from AI to assist with diagnostic decisions and surgical procedures. In the future, AI will empower more machines to make human-like decisions that will continue to influence customer products and technology.

For more information on the 7 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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Part 2 — July 2020
Part 3 — October 2020

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ISE Staff