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Digital Transformation: Telecom Executives Sound Off

Thought leaders from AT&T, PCCW and Verizon Partner Solutions talk with MEF about their priorities for now and the coming year.

Stan Hubbard

December 26, 2018

8 Min Read
Digital Transformation: Telecom Executives Sound Off

Service providers need to partner with enterprise customers to help them transform their businesses. That requires service providers to transform themselves.

To help meet those needs, MEF18 recently wrapped up its annual event in Los Angeles, where programming focused on enabling agile, assured and orchestrated communications services for the digital economy.

In the first of a two-part series, MEF18 sponsors and key members of the organization discuss industry trends and emerging technologies that are shaping the market and how they address their customers' needs.

We spoke with Roman Pacewicz, chief product officer, AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T); Shahar Steiff, AVP New Technologies, PCCW Ltd. (NYSE: PCW; Hong Kong: 0008); and Eric Cevis, senior vice president and group president, Verizon Partner Solutions.

MEF: What are the top service capabilities your enterprise and/or wholesale customers are looking for in this era of digital transformation?

Steiff: Customers are looking for speed of delivery, automation wherever possible, diversity of options while maintaining simplicity of ordering.

Cevis: In the digital economy, what's obvious to us is that digital is going to continue to transform entire industries. Think about the impact IoT, AI, VR is already having around the world -- you can probably multiply that a thousand-fold over the next ten years, and especially as 5G enters our world. What our customers want most of all is a technology partner who can help them gain an advantage in the digital economy. Yes, they want innovative solutions -- software-defined networking capabilities, IoT solutions, built in security, managed services -- but they also want someone with the experience and expertise to help them make the most of their business opportunities. Verizon expects that digital technology will continue to be a business enabler, but also that it will become ever more firmly embedded into our customers' business. It won't be a question of building out a technology deployment to enable a solution -- in a virtual world, the technology will all happen invisibly behind the scenes.

MEF: How is your company responding to address customer requirements? (Network transformation, business processes, cultural change, training, etc.)

Pacewicz: AT&T has a combination of a next-generation network, the technology and global reach that can bring it all together for customers. Our intelligent network platform brings everything together for our business customers -- edge to edge -- from the end points, to connectivity and to the cloud, wrapped in security. In addition, our transformation to software-defined networking is well under way. Our goal is to virtualize 75% of our network by 2020, and we hit our mark of 55% in 2017. Our software-centric network enables us to deploy new capabilities and capacity faster than we could before, while quickly identifying and addressing issues to minimize customer impact. At the same time, we're moving to a "white box" approach for hardware where possible. Rather than the traditional, proprietary vendor model, we're creating open specifications for our routers and other equipment that any manufacturer can build. It's faster, more flexible and less costly.

Steiff: PCCW Global is responding to the challenges in many aspects of its operations, processes and corporate culture. On the service diversity side PCCW Global has introduced a new business line that addresses the media and security markets in parallel to our traditional transport services, leveraging on both sides to increase value. On the service automation side PCCW Global has launched its Console-Connect platform that has enabled portal-based ordering and activation of services on-demand. Those services include connectivity between thousands of end points, and public cloud connectivity. We are enriching the capabilities to include multi-domain services through our established array of E-NNI partners. In addition to that PCCW Global is leading the blockchain-driven wholesale carrier settlement initiatives which drive automation in wholesale transactions such as voice, mobile and data-on-demand. Our PoC at the MEF18 showcase demonstrated blockchain-based federated BSS functions (through the LSO Sonata IRP) such as inquiry, quoting, ordering and settlement across a chain of E-NNI-connected carrier networks.

Next page: Key trends driving industry transformation

Cevis: The Verizon Partner Solutions team is dedicated to delivering a best-in-class experience for its customers and, in support of this, has had three key priorities in 2018:

  • Leveraging Verizon's network investment to deliver more services to customers at more locations, including Verizon's Intelligent Edge Network.

  • Bringing new enhanced solutions to market to expand the offerings that connect our customers to the digital world.

  • Transforming the customer experience with new APIs and tools to simplify the day-to-day interactions our teams have together.

MEF: What do you see as the key trends and technology disruptors driving industry transformation? (automation, AI/machine learning, intent-driven network, 5G, etc.)

Pacewicz: 5G, intent-based networking, automation, customer accessibility to their assets and decision making.

For example, with 5G, we've stated our goal to launch standards-based mobile 5G service in parts of 12 cities this year, the first service provider in the US to do so. We think 5G will have a huge impact on a variety of industries. For example, we recently announced a project to test 5G in a "smart" factory in Austin, enabling what's known as Industry 4.0. The goal of the testbed will be to provide a real-world understanding of how 5G can impact manufacturing and provide insight into the future of a smart factory.

Steiff: Automation is definitely the key word here. All of the trends currently seen revolve around it, either as a result of automation (5G, data-on-demand, autonomous systems) or as the underlying prerequisites (Industry-Wide Unified Information Model, Unified Process, Federated Catalogues).”

Cevis: We've been watching 4 key areas this year:

  • Flexible networks: With networks continuing to evolve, we're seeing a major shift in thinking around the importance of network and infrastructure ownership. Service providers have been increasingly deploying open-access networking and hosting structure and, with software-defined networking (SDN) deployments now live around the globe, companies are beginning to explore what they can really do with the security, agility and flexibility of virtualized network services. We've also seen increased implementation of application-aware networking, with the objective of managing application performance, capabilities and security to make the most of bandwidth.

  • Measuring the effectiveness of security: We've also seen a continued focus on security, and particularly security embedded into the platform. We've also seen a focus on measuring security effectiveness, so that cyber-risks can be integrated into enterprise risk assessment.

  • Customer experience journey transformation: We've also seen a collaboration transformation in 2018, with organizations thinking about how they can deliver multi-channel access to improve both user experience and productivity. Software-defined networking has played a role here, facilitating intelligent data management and multi-platform call routing for more effective collaboration.

  • Scalable, global solutions: Finally, in the increasingly complex and interdependent world of telecoms, technology and media, we've seen a intensified need for wholesale services, and network solutions that are both flexible and scalable enough to deal with not only technology trends today, but also whatever the future holds.

Moving beyond 2018, it's obvious that digital is going to continue to transform entire industries.

Next page: Business challenges for next-generation networks

MEF: What are the most significant business challenges for migrating to dynamic network services that provide greater customer control over network resources and service capabilities?

Pacewicz: Any network technology migration takes time and resources to implement. There is a lot of planning and coordination required. Moving to a dynamic model requires more granular level of understanding of application performance and capacity requirements. Dynamic services enable a customer to have greater control, but it requires leveraging tools and processes to ensure that the desired outcomes are delivered. Most customers need a trusted partner to implement their transformation strategy.

Steiff: The most significant challenge is getting the industry to change its development methods and models. Currently the industry is developing isolated silos for isolated services. Alignment does not exist and is not actively pursued. Integrating automated silos is just as difficult as integrating manually operated silos, and the operational benefits of automation are thus limited to the confines of each silo. It may take years of (expensive) failures for the industry to forfeit the individualistic approach and adopt a collaborative approach.

Cevis: We believe that dynamic network services -- software-defined networking -- is really about meeting market demands, which are evolving with the upsurge in demand for mobile devices and cloud computing. In this environment, companies are looking for more flexible networking solutions to help capitalize on the promises of the dynamic marketplace.

The key challenge for organizations in deploying SDN is actually taking the plunge. SDN is the next shift in networking technology capabilities, helping organizations increase business agility and accelerate innovation. It has the potential to overcome the many limitations of traditional networks through cost-effective, dynamic routing that is ideal for today's high-bandwidth applications. But it also demands a change in how organizations view their network, and a move away from a "command and control" approach. Organizations need to be able to think differently about how they use IT if they are to be able to make the shift, but those who do will be poised to see fast ROI.

Verizon has been a leader and active participant in software-defined networking industry forums and is implementing SDN technology into our networking service platform which will enhance our ability to provide industry leading products and services. SDN enables our customers to address key business challenges and move more functionality into software, optimize traffic and treat network resources as "on demand."

— Stan Hubbard, Director, Communications & Research, MEF, and MEF18 Program Director, is a communications professional with more than 20 years of experience in industry analysis, forecasting, strategic marketing, and event programming.

About the Author(s)

Stan Hubbard

Director, Communications & Research, MEF

Stan is a communications professional with more than 20 years of experience in industry analysis, forecasting, strategic marketing, and event programming. In 2013, he joined the MEF, where he is directing program development for MEF global networking events, managing industry analyst relations, and developing research and other initiatives to help accelerate MEF 3.0 adoption and LSO development. Prior to the MEF, Stan was a Senior Analyst at Heavy Reading for 9 years where he focused on carrier Ethernet services and network equipment markets and SDN. He chaired about 20 major Light Reading technology events. Before Heavy Reading, Stan was the director of market intelligence at Ciena. Hubbard holds a B.S. in political science from Texas Christian University and a Master's in international diplomacy and security from The Fletcher School of Law & Diplomacy at Tufts University in Boston, MA.

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