Six Executives Explore Future Network Transformation Challenges at ISE’s Exclusive Roundtable Event
At ISE EXPO 2022, I had a LIVE and candid conversation with industry executives from Congruex, Corning Optical Communications, Esri, Fujitsu Network Communications, PLP and Render Networks.
Face-to-face, we discussed challenges in design and planning, workforce and timelines, funding, technology, and more. I know you’ll find their responses insightful and pointed about what’s needed to prepare our industry for the future.
ROUNDTABLE EXECUTIVES (pictured left to right in above photo):
Michael White, SVP Sales & Marketing, Congruex
Randall René, Industry Solutions Director – Telecom & Cable, Esri
Annie Bogue, Chief Operating Officer, Fujitsu Network Communications
Dan Levac, National Sales Manager, Communications Markets, PLP
Sam Pratt, CEO, Render Networks
Joe Jensen, Director Market Development, FTTH, Corning Optical Communications
ISE: What is the biggest challenge to transforming the fixed and mobile networks for the future?
White, Congruex: The single biggest challenge to transforming these networks is the workforce planning and development required to successfully complete the volume of work needed to meet demands. Hiring from the existing talent pool does not scratch the surface of resources needed to complete the work at hand. As such, it is important for the ICT industry to attract and develop new, additive talent pools. The company that solves for this problem will be the most successful in delivering for its clients in this new ICT environment.
Jensen, Corning: Building a network is a very complex set of decisions that requires careful thought to ensure that the network does the job well today and tomorrow. To appreciate this burden, consider the process of building a custom home for your family where the number of decisions are exhausting ranging from size and location down to the tone/color of the vanity fixtures and countertops. As operators take on these complex projects, they often need help to understand which choices and tradeoffs make sense for them. Architectural decisions can affect the cost, speed, maintenance, flexibility, and adaptability of the network for many years. Further, one set of choices may work well for suburban builds but as networks begin to scale into rural areas a different set of choices can and often will make more sense. So, it's important to work with a trusted, experienced provider to ensure you get the desired outcome.
"Vendors can play a pivotal role in identifying innovative technology and implementing it in a way that minimizes operational risks." – Annie Bogue, Fujitsu
René, Esri: One of the biggest challenges that comes to mind revolves around intelligent capital and expense management. Our industry is seeing growth and competition like never before, and service providers are having to do more, faster, and often with less people, than ever before. Additionally, teams throughout organizations are having to leverage legacy and complex workflows to get the job done.
Take for instance the magnitude of densification efforts that must occur to meet current and future consumer needs. More fiber, more small cells sites for 5G and fixed wireless, mixed with increased capacity demands, community growth and movement, and increased IoT devices. Everything needs fiber.
Since everything in the telecom industry happens somewhere, service providers need to be able to leverage location as the common thread. By doing so, organizations can be fiscally mindful in their capital and expense management as they work to design, deploy, and manage their networks.
Bogue, Fujitsu: A few things immediately come to mind. Capital is the first challenge. Providers of all sizes are seeing decreased cash flow from users due to current-term inflation and the possibility of a long-term recession. Anytime there is a downturn on a macro level, companies re-prioritize projects and strategies, seeking to maximize cash flows from existing assets and safe service offerings. I’m hopeful the economic situation will stabilize, and network transformations will continue.
The second challenge is risk from operational change. I’ve built my career on listening to the operations folks and I know we must help them minimize the risk that comes with change. Providers are always seeking to balance risk with return, but where return is not clearly identifiable, they will usually opt for the technology that better aligns with their existing operating structure. Vendors can play a pivotal role in identifying innovative technology and implementing it in a way that minimizes operational risks.
Levac, PLP: There are two big challenges to transforming networks for the future that everyone needs to be mindful of. The first is how to ensure that networks are deployed in the most efficient and cost-effective manner that easily enables future growth. This includes ensuring the network and components are easily adaptable, compatible, scalable, and future proof. The second large hurdle is workforce. This includes current and future workforce availability, retention, and development.
Pratt, Render Networks: I thought Ken Paker, SVP of Information and Network Technologies and CTO, TDS Telecom, was spot-on in his welcoming ISE EXPO 2022 keynote session where he put forward that the biggest challenge and opportunity to transforming networks solving is for digital construction. A handful of quality communications networks have already been delivered entirely digitally here in the US, however, there is significant value being left on the table. It was terrific to hear an industry leader challenge the industry to find ways to digitize and ultimately reduce the cycle time of fiber deployments.
ISE: With labor issues adding to broadband deployment challenges, what are you proactively doing to address this?
White, Congruex: We have been making big investments into our training and development programs to bring 1,000 unskilled workers into the broadband construction industry over the next 12–18 months. We have identified parallel industries that have resulted in lower turnover of new hires and similar skill sets that reduce the time it takes to create a productive employee. Given the current increase in national network deployments, it is important that large GC’s develop new talent rather than pulling from an existing pool of resources—this is the only way builds will be successful.
Jensen, Corning: Corning and AT&T announced a collaborated effort to build a training program to equip thousands of technicians and network specialists across the industry with the skills crucial to design, engineer, install, and manage a growing fiber broadband network across the US. In fact, the initial training class was completed August 26th at Corning's Optical Communications headquarters in North Carolina. We also proactively support training programs through the Fiber Broadband Association. Lastly, we are constantly innovating solutions that reduce the amount of skilled labor required to build networks. For example, one of our premier cabling solutions can almost eliminate the splicing that is required in the field and accelerate deployment speed by up to 5x.
René, Esri: We’ve heard a lot about digital transformation over the past decade. However, I think what we really need to focus on to solve broadband deployment challenges is organizational transformation. Service providers must do more, faster than ever before, and often with less people. This has motivated many individual teams throughout organizations to digitally transform aspects of their workflows without understanding the impact on the entire organization. This has led to siloed data, cumbersome workflows, and frustration.
As service providers throughout the world leverage GIS to transform their companies and to provide a stable foundation for all teams throughout the organization, the need for employees who think spatially and understand GIS grows. To help ensure industries are best prepared to utilize GIS to take on challenges throughout the world, we donate software to schools and have a robust intern program to help educate and inspire our future industry colleagues.
Bogue, Fujitsu: We offer our customers a skilled engineering staff to augment their network builds. We also offer a turnkey network deployment service where we provide everything needed to design, deploy, and operate a broadband network. Both offers help our customers deploy their networks faster, with a reduction in cost.
For turnkey broadband builds, we use our own engineering staff to perform much of the work, but we rely on partners for OSP construction. We’re acutely aware of the shortage of labor, and we’re working with our construction partners to provide the best forecasts possible so they can plan their resources. We’ve also diversified our pool of construction partners to help keep our broadband projects on track. Our design and engineering services have benefitted from a very successful recruiting and hiring program we’ve implemented. Recruiting and retaining people in skilled roles has been crucial to our success.
Levac, PLP: We believe that supporting trade work for every level and from every avenue is instrumental in alleviating labor issues. Whether it’s the PCCA Workforce Development program, the FBA OpTIC Path, or the Telecommunications Industry Registered Apprenticeship Program (TIRAP), PLP is proud to support these programs any way we can. We are also actively promoting the broadband industry by making connections at high schools, trade schools, and colleges to get the word out. We want people to know that broadband industry work is in demand, the jobs pay well, and projections show that opportunities will continue to grow in this field in the coming years.
Pratt, Render Networks: The highest budget item on a project is labor and, as we know, these constraints are already impacting delivery. Render’s technology focuses on keeping field and project teams highly productive. Field teams remain fully utilized as they only receive ready-to-go tasks with dependencies built in, and with detailed work and data capture instructions that reduce cycle time.
By utilizing real-time data in the field, fewer project resources are ultimately required. Ensuring operators have access to class-leading deployment automation technology is what we’re focused on solving at Render.
ISE: Share two network-related issues the industry must solve in 2023 that it was unable to remedy in 2022.
White, Congruex: Supply Chain and Resources are going to continue to be the problem for the next 3-5 years.
Jensen, Corning: The cable capacity constraints are an obvious challenge. That's why we and others in the industry are investing in capacity to meet these unprecedented demand levels. Another challenge involves constraints in the supply of skilled labor to build and install networks. That's why a big focus of our innovation efforts is designing solutions that simplify and speed deployment, eliminating splicing in the field. It's also why we support fiber optic training programs, including the ongoing training we have created with AT&T.
René, Esri: The two issues forefront of my mind are compiling accurate broadband mapping required by the FCC and establishing a real-time, easy to use, accurate, network design source of truth for the organization. In both examples, GIS is the comprehensive ecosystem service providers need to accomplish these tasks.
For instance, currently many providers are struggling to provide geospatially compliant data for the FCC, delivering what location has what type of service available to them. Organizations not leveraging GIS are having to scramble to compile the data, often requiring work by many teams throughout the organization. However, with GIS this is a simple data pull and is done in minutes.
I’ve seen far too many service providers, and more importantly the folks working to get the job done, struggling with inaccurate design maps and info. “Your design didn’t work”, “The slice case wasn’t where you said it was”, and countless other issues delaying and driving up costs of construction or negatively impacting customer experience exist due to no simple way to submit and record as-built network design. This is where streamlined workflows in GIS aids an organization by empowering teams to easily get the as-built submitted and posted quickly.
Bogue, Fujitsu: The biggest issue is still supply chain. Raw material and logistics issues are still challenging us as an industry and will do so into 2023. The CHIPS act is a great step forward—bringing chip manufacturing capacity back to the United States along with much-needed investment in R&D. This won’t completely solve the problem and, as an industry, we need to continue to create and evolve our strategies for obtaining the parts we need to maintain our current networks and create the networks of tomorrow.
Sustainability is an issue that affects us all. It’s an initiative I hear regularly from customers, a guiding principle at Fujitsu, and something I’m very passionate about. Fujitsu’s stated purpose is to make the world more sustainable by building trust in society through innovation. We are developing technology like advanced silicon and sustainable thermal management to reduce power consumption, without sacrificing performance. We help transform customers from older power-hungry equipment to newer, more efficient hardware.
Levac, PLP: Workforce availability and adoption of various industry training programs. Investment by all parties is paramount for the success of the industry.
Planning and execution of ordering all products necessary for the deployment of your entire build. Instead, work with your distribution partners and all vendors to ensure the pipeline is fed. Meet weekly or bi-weekly with ALL of your suppliers to avoid any unforeseen delays. Be transparent, understand your run rates, and don’t hoard. Do not order similar products from multiple vendors as it strains the supply chain.
It is important to note that progress has been made on both fronts, but we still have a way to go.
Pratt, Render Networks: Planning for escalating demand in a labor market that’s already at an all-time high. With billions of dollars already in the funding pipeline through federal and state programs—including $42.45 billion in BEAD—operators looking to deploy networks in 2023 and beyond need to do everything possible to attract and maintain the skills and talent required to deliver the outcome.
Focus on network quality, consistency, and efficiency—making sure the resources we can find deliver a standard of work that minimizes truck rolls and rework, is essential to not only building a high-quality and sustainable network but doing so in an environmentally aware way that lowers our industry’s carbon footprint.
ISE: Share one problem/challenge you are passionate about solving for the ICT Industry.
White, Congruex: I am personally passionate about solving the challenges presented by the traditional, boots-on-the-ground approach to fielding and data collection. Speed to market has become the singular focus of all broadband providers with permitting being the most common bottleneck. Before permits can be submitted, the survey needs to be completed and requires, in most cases, a team of fielders to be mobilized into market in order to collect the data required for accurate permit drawings. Current day, Congruex, and most of the industry, deploys several different solutions. LiDAR, drones, photogrammetry, and traditional fielders all have their place.
Jensen, Corning: I’ve spent the last year with an increasing focus on developing optical solutions that can lower the barriers to rural FTTx deployments. Even with BEAD funding on the horizon, deploying in rural areas is far more difficult than building in largely homogenous suburban neighborhoods. The distance between homes dominates the cost but other challenges like pole spacing, road/river crossings, heterogenous lot spacing and housing density, long commutes from work centers, long drop runs to homes, and a constrained work force are all factors to overcome. At Corning we are passionate about finding ways to overcome these and other challenges and we’ve been conducting innovation experiments with some of our customers in a never-ending quest to remove barriers to deployment and allow the US to overcome the Digital Divide.
"The days of excess capacity are behind us, and we must educate end users and the distribution chain to understand that advance planning is essential." – Dan Levac, PLP
René, Esri: One area I’m passionate about is providing understanding before acting. In telecom, this comes from providing a single source of truth for the organization and comes from unifying OSS and BSS resources. Over the past 20 years, I’ve come to know that the quality of tools and resources our teams leverage in pursuit of daily activities directly impacts successful and timely task completion and affects the satisfaction of both employees and customers. This is because the quality of decisions team members through organization make are based on the information available at hand.
I have heard many times, “I want to eliminate swivel-sharing" or “the process is too cumbersome”, and “we shouldn't have to create this report manually”. When we dig into these statements to learn what drives them, we see they are a symptom of the bigger problem associated with legacy OSS and BSS workflows. These systems are far too often siloed in nature, require standalone interfaces and reports, and numerous other time-consuming and costly workflow requirements.
Bogue, Fujitsu: Our industry needs more diversity particularly in the supplier space. I’ve learned a lot from my customers in this area. I find that more balance with respect to gender, race, age, sexual orientation, and backgrounds creates more diversity of ideas, stronger teams, and is better for growing our business. STEM fields have been male dominated for decades and ICT is no exception. I believe the industry will benefit from a greater proportion of females, not just as individual contributors, but as innovators, and leaders at all levels. I’ve made it a point to advocate for more opportunities for women. I also focus within our company on bringing in more new college hires and diverse hires as well as sponsoring and promoting talent to create a more diverse leadership structure.
Levac, PLP: Managing expectations from a product availability standpoint can be challenging. The days of excess capacity are behind us, and we must educate end users and the distribution chain to understand that advance planning is essential. There are contractual obligations that are placed first, and from there, FIFO (first in, first out) is the best way to proceed. However, natural disaster recovery efforts, such as those for hurricanes, tornados, floods, and wildfire damage, take precedence. Overall, I believe that transparency is the best policy. We must also caution against ordering materials from multiple suppliers to see who can provide it first. This practice can further exacerbate and prolong supply chain disruptions.
Pratt, Render Networks: Geospatial everything—from design to construction and operations—we play a role in this at Render from construction through to maintenance, however, it’s incumbent on all of us to advocate as getting there will enable us to achieve our collective goals and deliver the world-class connectivity communities need, faster.
ISE: What have you done to proactively work through current supply issues?
White, Congruex: We recognize the impact that supply chain issues have on the successful rollout of a network build. To address this, we have extended our planning horizon further into the future so we can anticipate delays and avoid negative results. We are also working closer than ever with our manufacturing and distribution partners to provide detailed forecasts for their planning purposes.
Jensen, Corning: The pandemic rapidly accelerated demand for broadband and has shown us just how important connectivity is. US cable supply entered the pandemic with less than 10% excess. Early on, operators paused investments while demand continued to surge, resulting in a short-term cable supply shortage. As customers partner with Corning to advance their growth, we're investing in capacity—adding equipment, ramping up production and opening new facilities. Since 2020, Corning has invested $150M in cable plant expansions in our North Carolina operations and on Aug 30th, Corning announced the building of a new fiber optic cabling plant in Gilbert, AZ, which will create 250 jobs and nearly double our ability to serve the US optical cable market. Corning, along with others, will grow the cable supply over the next few years, and we anticipate the shortage will subside in time for federal broadband funding.
René, Esri: Being a software company, we’ve been fortunate not to be impacted by any supply chain issues. However, we serve many industries and customers that are impacted. Many of our customers use Esri GIS products to gain understanding before acting. When it comes to supply chain issues, GIS is often used to gain situational awareness of project status, assets and inventories, timelines, locations, and many other factors affecting their business.
To ensure Esri products are the market leading assets organizations need, roughly 30% of the budget goes to research and development. By working with, and learning from, our customers, industry leaders, and standards organizations, we’re able to ensure that we can deliver what people need.
Bogue, Fujitsu: Our entire company has been focused on supply chain. Both raw material and logistical issues have been huge challenges, but our team really rose to the occasion with virtually every organization playing a role. We have worked closely and proactively with our customers to outline the supply challenges and get long lead time purchase orders. Our executives have traveled globally for face-to-face visits with our key suppliers and partners to drive material improvements; we’ve partnered with customers on this front too. Our engineers have designed out old parts and replaced them with alternatives. Our purchasing teams continually monitor the broker market to secure needed components, and we’ve expanded our roster of suppliers and raw material parts. As painful as it has been, our operations and manufacturing expertise has differentiated us in the eyes of our customers. And the good news is we are starting to see some light at the end of the tunnel.
Levac, PLP: We have worked hard at PLP to reeducate end users and distributors to understand that we need to work together to fill the pipeline. We are encouraging customers to plan ahead or risk falling behind. As I often say, if you’re not in the queue, it’s on you. In order to secure the workforce, you must have products available to deploy, so plan ahead. PLP also utilizes acquisitions and facility expansions to increase our manufacturing footprint. Recently, we expanded our US-based manufacturing by adding a new injection molding area at our Rogers, Arkansas plant.
Pratt, Render Networks: While Render has not been impacted significantly, our customers have. One of our partners, Irby Utilities, has built a strategy and is accepting that they have to forward-order and remain agile in their approach to deployment to keep moving at a rapid pace.
Render's network construction technology enables real-time material production data to inform supply chain requirements. With this data, it’s possible to forecast delivery based on what resources and crews you have at a given phase of the project.
"BEAD is a very exciting opportunity for the industry, and it will help address the Digital Divide." – Joe Jensen, Corning
ISE: Talk about the $45B BEAD funding program and realities network providers, contractors, and vendor partners face as funds are awarded.
White, Congruex: Resources, realistic schedules, and competition will be the most important factors on the successful rollout of the BEAD funding. The pragmatic result is everyone is going to try to build at the same time; now through the next 5 years, and there are simply not enough resources nor capacity for everyone to be successful.
The ability to avoid the trap of optimism bias, and therein accurately plan and scale, is going to be paramount for many years to come.
Jensen, Corning: BEAD is a very exciting opportunity for the industry, and it will help address the Digital Divide. While the funding is critical to pay for the build, I think we will see a learning curve for the entire industry as money starts flowing. The industry will need to understand how each state will administer the programs. In addition, the logistical challenges of how to efficiently deploy planning, engineering, materials, and labor to especially remote areas will be something the industry will have to work through. Here again, it’s important to work with trusted, experienced partners to effectively navigate these challenges.
René, Esri: The ability to quickly and accurately compile, analyze, submit, collaborate on potential projects, and finalize invoicing, will make or break a service provider's ability to secure funds and resources for buildouts. What many don’t realize is every service provider, contractor, and vendor already have, or have access to, much of the data and information they need for building broadband networks. What’s often missing is a comprehensive GIS serving to integrate Operations and Business Support System resources.
Through integration of the organizations existing data and information, such as network designs, customer records, construction project records, along with environment assets such as landscape, roadways, and buildings, service providers leverage their GIS to bring the field to the engineer and deliver a powerful foundation for intelligent decision-making. Most importantly, organizations can leverage real-time and secure workflows based on identity, to safely compile and communicate sensitive information.
"The ability to avoid the trap of optimism bias, and therein accurately plan and scale, is going to be paramount for many years to come." – Michael White, Congruex
Bogue, Fujitsu: While the government has laid out the allocation and distribution rules for funding, the funds for actual buildout won’t be distributed until 2024. The rush for all resources in the value chain may create inflationary, supply chain, and deployment challenges that could add risk to the original deployment plans. The good news is we have time and close collaboration across the ecosystem that can allow us to meet the challenge.
Levac, PLP: Let’s start with mapping; the current system is not designed in the consumer's best interest. That needs to change. Most people know this about BEAD, but few talk about it—this much money hasn’t been invested in an industry or deployment strategy since the electrification of America in the 1930s. This funding is a generational investment. The work will not be completed in 4 or 5 years. The workforce needed is not currently available to complete such an undertaking in such a short period of time.
Pratt, Render Networks: Firstly, what a transformational opportunity for our industry and the communities we all serve. While it's not here and now, there is a legislative commitment to the next wave of connectivity. For a long time, incumbent networks did not have competitive forces to disrupt or evolve legacy technologies. BEAD has already changed that status-quo mindset, with the opportunity cost of ARPU being lost to potentially new and well-funded competitive players now front of mind. The race is therefore on to be the first world-class connectivity option in every one of the thousands of communities across the United States.
ISE: What is the not-so-secret secret to maintaining long-term working relationships with network providers?
White, Congruex: Honesty, veracity, setting expectations, and transparency.
Jensen, Corning: We’re guided by a set of core values, and one of them is Total Quality. It requires each of us to understand, anticipate, and surpass the expectations of our customers every day. We helped launch the telecommunications revolution with our invention of low-loss optical fiber in the 1970s and have been investing in this industry for half a century. We are in this for the long haul. We place tremendous value on the partnerships we've built and the trust that our customers place in us. They bring us their toughest technology challenges, and we leverage the capabilities of Corning’s broad scientific community to develop truly transformative solutions.
René, Esri: Our founder, Jack Dangermond, often says “it’s better to be interested than interesting”. I love this phrase. I was a customer for over 10 years before joining the Esri team, and this is a mindset I felt from everyone I interacted with. Now that I've been here almost two years, I see this mantra woven throughout the business and as the foundation in the relationships we have with our customers and business partners.
For instance, we like to suggest to our customers, understand before you take action. We believe by taking time to get to know a situation, conversation, challenge, or need, we have the best opportunity to make the best possible decision. So, to best serve our customers, we work to learn from them and understand the industry from their perspective.
" It goes without saying, under-promising and over-delivering is a win-win for all internal stakeholders and essential to establishing and building trust over the long term." – Sam Pratt, Render Networks
Bogue, Fujitsu: Building trust. This means being a good listener and helping your customers solve their problems. Network providers invest in their partners for a long time. They take big risks with those investments, and I’ve seen companies that break this trust pay the consequences for many years. Our customers are operating the world’s critical communications infrastructure and they are trusting us to be part of their team. That means we need to understand their operations and help them drive improvements and find efficiencies. They know they can depend on us to meet requirements, deadlines, and quality standards—among other things—without fail, and they expect us to be good-faith negotiators and communicators.
Levac, PLP: Be transparent by letting everyone know the truth about lead times and costs. Don’t play three-card monte, telling customers one thing to get the business and then claiming unforeseen issues that drive those promised lead times out. Deliver what you promise. Listen to the network providers—really listen—then provide a solution that fits their needs, not what fits yours.
Pratt, Render Networks: Building trust by consistently delivering value. At Render, this means simplifying traditionally complex construction processes and providing real-time transparency into risks and opportunities to improve deployment.
It goes without saying, under-promising and over-delivering is a win-win for all internal stakeholders and essential to establishing and building trust over the long term. Render is at the center of multiple projects across the country that utilize end-to-end digital construction, delivering project outcomes that are setting new benchmarks for network operators and their delivery partners—Springfield, Missouri, fiber project with SpringNet and The Broadband Group, Craighead Electric Cooperative and Southwest Tennessee Electric in partnership with Irby Utilities—to name a few. These proven results are removing the risk previously associated with moving away from traditional construction methods and embracing the end-to-end Digital approach.
ISE: What should all of us in the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) industry be talking about that we are not?
White, Congruex: The exponential benefit for all of humanity that is unleased by ubiquitous connectivity.
Jensen, Corning: Sustainability is an important topic that we aren’t paying enough attention to. It's the right thing to do and there are a lot of ways we can work together to lower our overall carbon footprint. In 2021, Corning added to our climate commitments by declaring we will reduce direct and indirect emissions by 30% by 2028. We will also work with our suppliers to reduce upstream emissions by 17.5% by 2028. It’s important to note that over 80% of the footprint of a product is decided at the design stage. As an innovation leader in the industry, we want to work with our customers to design out environmental impact at the earliest stages of innovation.
René, Esri: Environmental, Sustainability, and Governance (ESG) reporting is on the horizon and is something not a lot of organizations are thinking about or know how to compile the information needed. While this is only required of publicly traded organizations at this time, consumers and investors alike with be looking for ESG reporting from the companies they do business with.
The one thing that binds all we do in telecom, is location. Everything in telecom happens someplace. This means the industry’s greatest asset to providing ESG reporting is GIS. Take for instance performing direct and indirect analysis of a company’s supply chain. To gain comprehensive insight into where products are sourced, who is performing the work, how they were shipped, and then measure the carbon footprint of the supply chain is a geospatial problem.
Bogue, Fujitsu: Putting more focus on how we can use our services and technology to make the world a better place. COVID-19 showed us that remote work is more than possible, and more companies, including Fujitsu, have embraced it. It forced us to create new ways of working. With a better understanding of how broadband access affects people’s lives, we should do better at addressing the vast disparity in our country, which BEAD funding should help to address over time.
Levac, PLP: Funding the obsolete Universal Service Fund (USF). This fund should be renamed the Universal Broadband Fund (UBF) and funded by any broadband provider, whether your service provider is a CATV company, a WISP, a wireless provider, a satellite service, or a Tier 1, 2, or 3 communications provider.
ISE: What are your talent retention strategies?
White, Congruex: All starts with our culture. Our employees are our most coveted advantage, and we consider them as our family and we invest in their futures in many ways—industry leading benefits, healthcare, 401K with matching contributions; defined career path and mentorship program where we help inspire employees to progress in their careers; and we listen to our employees and take their concerns to heart.
Other initiatives include our Retention 2.0 program which includes our buddy system for all new employees and our employee advocates that seek to resolve any outstanding issues that an employee may have, for which they feel they have not been treated fairly, or received adequate resolution, etc.
Jensen, Corning: Earlier I mentioned Corning's set of core values, and one of them is a belief in the fundamental dignity of the individual. We make it a priority to attract, develop, promote, and retain the world’s best diverse talent. We're currently growing our workforce to give us the talent we need to fuel our growth in this time of unprecedented demand.
Additionally, we have several initiatives under way to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion, so that our employees know Corning is a place where they can bring their full selves to work. I will also note that we recently announced we have achieved 100% gender pay equity globally for our salaried employees. We're also working to expand leadership opportunities for our diverse emerging talent. You can see why Corning is a place where people stay on to build long careers, and why we're seen as an employer of choice in the communities where we operate.
René, Esri: Simply put, I believe the key is to hire good people, treat them well, empower them to make decisions and own their role, and support them in their efforts.
Bogue, Fujitsu: Leadership and a culture that attracts people. We have many long tenured employees as well as people who have left and come back. This is great when they acquire new skills and knowledge but also realize their appreciation for our Fujitsu family culture. It all plays into the diversity and balance of our workforce.
I spoke earlier about our commitment to sustainability, and to support that mission, we attract, engage, and retain people who share our vision. We offer competitive compensation, career progression, and professional development while also encouraging people to be completely themselves at work and foster communities that create a safe space to innovate and connect.
We believe in listening to our people. We survey our employees and use their feedback to implement improvement ideas and make positive changes. We also provide a highly flexible work environment that lets employees choose their best way of living (…and working).
Levac, PLP: I don’t think there is a magic bullet here. Instead, it’s a multi-faceted approach to retention that includes cross training that provides value to both the employee and the company; transparency as to what the plan is and how the employee fits into that plan; respecting each person’s contribution to the company; listening and providing a way for the individual to contribute; acknowledging individual contributions; and compensation that is based on the value the individual brings to the company, not outdated pay scale metrics.
ISE: What emerging or disruptive technology excites you the most? Why?
White, Congruex: Related to my earlier answer, LiDAR and Auto Design technology excite me the most, whether that is something on the market or something we have developed in-house. These emerging technologies help us innovate our initial data collection process to be efficient without jeopardizing quality. They also allow us to collect data in bulk, quickly allowing us to better guide our clients in decision-making as it pertains to feasibility studies, market analysis and HLD.
"One of the biggest challenges on the immediate horizon for our industry, is Environment, Social, and Governance (ESG) reporting." – Randall René, Esri
Jensen, Corning: The digitization of design and deployment of outside plant networks could have a tremendous impact on our ability to build networks more efficiently. As you look at the labor headwinds, we can’t afford to let that constraint hold us back. By applying digital tools properly to OSP builds, we can then further automate the connectivity solutions and replace “built on site” solutions with “built in the factory” solutions that deploy 3-5x faster, reduce the cost to build while also giving the network operator a highly accurate “digital twin” of the physical network which will lessen operating/troubleshooting cost in the future due to the improved quality of the as-built information.
René, Esri: One of the biggest challenges on the immediate horizon for our industry, is Environment, Social, and Governance (ESG) reporting. We’ve seen sustainability and equity requirements for many years now, however with the SEC now requiring providers to submit their ESG reporting with the end of year financial statements is a big challenge for providers. Furthermore, while this is currently only required of publicly traded companies, it’s only a matter of time before the marketplace begins to ask all companies for this reporting.
Currently, companies are being asked “what is your score?” as investors and consumers look for equitably and responsible companies to work with. More importantly, questions like “what are your goals to improve aspects of your ESG rating?” or “what are you going to do to get there?”. These are all valid questions companies must be ready to answer. So, when the industry looks for resources to use in compiling this report and considering everything we do in telecom is rooted in location, GIS is the foundation organizations need as this is a geospatial problem.
Bogue, Fujitsu: Open Networking. Helping our customer move to open programmable networks is a key building block of the Fujitsu Network Business strategy and an area where we quickly established a leadership position in photonics, mobility, and control software.
I’m as excited about ORAN as I am about the possibilities that come with it. Open technology is evolving how networks are built and I believe that ORAN can transform the wireless world by giving providers supply chain security, faster innovation, and flexibility. ORAN eliminates vendor lock-in and lowers both deployment and operating costs. ORAN also leverages automation to speed deployments and streamline operations. Separating the software from the radio unit means no one has to climb a tower once the radios are installed and ORAN’s compact multiband band radios offer an advantage over multiple single-band radios by giving operators more site selection options. Strictly speaking, ORAN is essentially about creating options, which allows our customers to create optimal network to support their business goals.
Levac, PLP: Satellite technology excites me, but while I believe it has a place in the network, it is not for all applications. This new satellite technology should not be subsidized by government funding until it can be proven effective based on a set of requirements established by the government. AI is a technology that holds promise; however, the inherent lack of control can be troubling, especially if it leads to unexpected outcomes. If either technology is deployed into the infrastructure, the deployer must pay into the USF, which should be reconfigured to the UBF, a fund that should receive contributions from all broadband providers.
EXECUTIVE ROUNDTABLE BIOS
SVP Sales & Marketing
Michael’s telecommunications career started in the field as a highly skilled fiber optic technician with VistaCare Communications and has since grown to encompass a wide range of multi-national project management, leadership, and business development expertise in North America and the Caribbean. Prior to joining Congruex in 2015, Michael was contracted to work for Sierra Support Services (now Actavo) as a splicing and testing manager for a large scale FTTH build in Trinidad and Tobago. He was responsible for managing upwards of 100 field technicians in their effort to connect the islands. Earlier in his career, while at VistaCare Communications, Michael grew their fiber division from a team of 5 to over 30 splicers.
His knowledge of the industry, passion for talent development, and his drive to stay current with successful industry trends allows him to network with leading telecommunications professionals to facilitate Congruex’s exponential growth.
Michael holds a diploma in Electronics Engineering from the Nova Scotia Institute of Technology.
Director Market Development, FTTH
Corning Optical Communications
Joe leads the Americas Market Development team for Corning. With 18 years of telecom experience in engineering, product management, and product development, Joe pioneers FTTx architectures, optical solution advancement, and design optimization for today's evolving networks. This approach to optical network evolution helps make fiber-based access networks more accessible by using innovation to lower barriers to deployment. His most recent areas of contribution focus on converged network architectures and defining potential impacts of next generation networks such as 4G densification and 5G on both the carrier infrastructure and investment business case. Joe obtained his B.S. in Electrical Engineering from NCSU and Executive MBA from UNC Chapel Hill.
Industry Solutions Director – Telecom & Cable
In his role at Esri, Randall is responsible for understanding telecommunications industry structure, culture, workflows, and requirements. He helps organizations with their geospatial strategy, serves as a thought leader, and demonstrates how the adoption of GIS, mapping, and location analytics can transform and modernize operations within the telecommunications industry. Randall brings a love of situational awareness and understanding, GIS mapping and analytics, efficient process design, change management, and over 20 years of experience in the telecommunications and cable industry.
Prior to joining Esri, he worked in several areas of the telecommunications industry holding positions and many levels throughout his career. He’s been a field installation tech, worked in and supervised headend and hub site teams and facilities, led serviceability and planning and design teams, led GIS application innovation and development, as well as managed business operations and development.
Whether he is at work or serving the community, Randall loves to help others grow and achieve their best. When he’s not working, you can find him volunteering in the community or enjoying outdoor activities.
Since 1969, Esri has helped customers unlock the full potential of data to improve operational and business results. Today, Esri software is deployed in more than 350,000 organizations including the world’s largest cities, most national governments, 75% of Fortune 500 companies, and more than 7,000 colleges and universities. Esri engineers, the most advanced solutions for digital transformation, the Internet of Things (IoT), and location analytics to inform the most authoritative maps in the world. https://www.esri.com/
Chief Operating Officer
Fujitsu Network Communications
Annie Bogue brings over 25 years of business leadership experience to her role as Chief Operating Officer at Fujitsu Network Communications. Her organization emphasizes deep understanding of networks, commitment to driving successful customer outcomes, and the power of collaboration.
After joining Fujitsu as a production planner in the Operations group, Annie found her calling in sales, quickly establishing herself as a leader and working her way up. She has been a key contributor to Fujitsu’s rich history of loyal customer partnerships from multimillion-dollar accounts to small local telcos. Throughout her career, Annie has led, inspired, and energized her teams in developing creative strategies, navigating challenging transitions, and co-creating with clients.
As a founding member of the Fujitsu women’s advocacy organization for the Americas, known as the Women’s Innovative Network (WIN), Annie is strongly committed to balance, inclusion, and diversity in the workplace. She is an alum of the University of Texas at Austin, where she received her BBA (Engineering Route to Business).
National Sales Manager, Communications Markets
Dan began his career in the telecommunications industry as a cable splicer with Bell Canada in 1980. After cutting his teeth in the splicing trade, Dan transitioned to a career with PLP in 1990. He began his PLP career as a field service representative, where he was able to utilize his decade-long experience as a cable splicer to provide exceptional training, troubleshooting, and customer service to PLP’s end users. Dan was quickly promoted to Field Sales Representative in 1991, where he was responsible for sales and product support for the five-state region of IN, IL, MI, OH, and WI. He was promoted to Western Regional Manager in 1998 and to National Sales Manager, Communications Markets in 2017, where he is responsible for implementing PLP’s national sales strategy. Dan also has extensive international sales experience, helping to grow PLP’s Communications market abroad. In addition to his impressive sales and product support career, Dan is also focused on developing new products for the communications industry and currently shares six patents for OSP products developed by PLP.
A passionate telecommunications technology leader, Sam believes in the power of innovation to transform the way we work and communicate. Sam and his team at Render are focused on partnering with the industry and making Render’s network construction and maintenance platform available for the benefit of the global telecommunications infrastructure sector.