Mike Millegan, Verizon Global Wholesale: Leader of the pack
Big Interview

Mike Millegan, Verizon Global Wholesale: Leader of the pack

Mike Millegan honed his competitive edge as a defensive cornerback with the Angelo “Rams”. Winning the race to 100G was just as important, he tells Richard Irving.


When students at Mike Millegan’s former college ask for tips on how to succeed in business, he has a ready response: Dream big.

In March, the president of Verizon Global Wholesale showed them exactly what he means when Verizon Network Technology engineers in his group set a new record for capacity, sending a mind-boggling 21.7 Terabytes (T) of data a second down a 1,503km fibre in the Dallas area. For the record, that’s the equivalent of transmitting Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven to every man, woman and child in Denmark at the same time and all in the space of a single second. Or the equivalent of transmitting all 22 million books in the US Library of Congress, twice over, in just the blink of an eye.

Even for a company that has been pushing back the boundaries of bandwidth capacity for the best part of a decade, the latest field trial is big. And Millegan is justifiably excited: “We’ve been beating a path down this road for a long time”, he boasts proudly. “There is a certain value in being way out in front of the rest of the pack and nowhere is that better understood by customers than when you can offer them an abundance of capacity ahead of their needs.”

News of the trial with NEC will silence some analysts, who had suggested that Verizon would look to curb further investment in new technology and stay with 100G for the rest of the decade.

“Our Verizon engineers are the ones who keep us ahead of the competition. We want to deploy the latest and best technology possible on the network for all of our customers,” Millegan says. “We have a very robust investment programme in place to ensure that we can keep ahead of bandwidth demand for the foreseeable future.”

Setting the pace

In 2009, Verizon became the first provider to deploy a commercial 100G ultra-long-haul optical system for live traffic and fifteen months later, the telco deployed a standards-based 100G Ethernet link on the same 893km network route between Paris and Frankfurt.

Last year, engineers completed a key European ring when it added 100G to two additional routes spanning London to Paris and London to Frankfurt. It has also been busy enabling the technology on many of its US backbone network routes and will continue that work throughout 2012.  Next year Millegan is expected to turn his attention to several key metro areas.

At the same time, the wholesale chief continues to push his engineers to break new ground in network architecture by combining multiple optical carriers to get to connection rates of 21.7T, a process known as building “superchannels”, Verizon has also proved it possible to run different wavelengths of capacity along a single strand of fibre. “Part of this is about our need to be a visionary company – you can’t innovate on behalf of your customers unless you have the technology in place to begin with,’ Millegan avows. “That’s why we have pursued 100G so vigorously.”

Verizon will not say how much it has invested in its 100G upgrade. Neither will it give details on the cost efficiencies it hopes to generate from operating fatter pipes, although analysts say the company is particularly good at squeezing every last byte of capacity out of its network.

Traffic patterns shift and hot spots change, whether it be the younger generation camping out on Facebook or the explosion in demand for video streaming. To stay relevant, Millegan maintains, Verizon must continue to invest: “We don’t believe in building new infrastructure just for the sake of it. But we believe in next-generation services because we already know that that’s what our customers want.”

Getting things done

At 53, Millegan is clearly a man who is used to getting things done. In the dark days following the terror attacks in September 2001, it was Millegan who took charge of Verizon’s logistics efforts to help reboot communications on Wall Street as well as in Washington DC.

A photo of Millegan next to the opening bell of the New York Stock Exchange, taken exactly a year after the market shuddered to a halt, is testament to the success of the team Millegan was part of that worked with White House officials to bring new equipment into the stricken area. In all, Millegan oversaw Verizon’s efforts for six crucial weeks, instilling his trademark “can do” attitude in all around him.

Millegan earned a Bachelor’s degree in business management and a master’s degree in business administration from Angelo State University, putting himself through college on the back of a football scholarship. A former defensive cornerback, he helped take the Angelo “Rams” to their first NAIA national championship in 1978 and briefly signed as a free agent with the Houston Oilers.

In 1980, he joined GTE (formerly the General Telephone & Electronics Corporation), at the time America’s largest independent telephone company, progressing through a succession of jobs and surviving the merger with Verizon on his way to heading up the telco’s massive wholesale operation.

Today, Verizon Global Wholesale is one of the biggest service providers in the wholesale carrier Ethernet arena with around 24% of the entire market - a position that Millegan intends to defend with all the tenacity he honed on the football field: “It’s clear that 100G will go mainstream in time and we are determined to remain ultra competitive so that we do not afford our rivals the chance to leapfrog past us.”

The drive to remain competitive is a theme that Millegan comes back to time and again. Does the pressure to constantly stay ahead of the competition ever get to him, one wonders? “Not to sound arrogant, but we live in a world here at Verizon where staying ahead of the game is why we get out of bed in the mornings. It’s what we do. We lead. We are blazing a trail in 100G because our customers want it right now.”

Those customers, Millegan points out, include a broad array of government departments, enterprise verticals and wholesale providers. Late last year, incoming chief executive Lowell McAdam restructured Verizon’s disparate customer operations under a single operating unit with responsibility for enterprise mobility, cloud, IT, strategic networking and advanced communications offerings. Now, the unit is charged with finding customers to fill its 100G pipes: “These are all very important drivers as to why we need so much additional capacity”, Millegan explains.

An early pointer as to how this reshuffle will play out emerged in April when Millegan signed a deal under which CornerStone , a small provider of advanced communications services based in upstate New York, will sell cloud computing services developed by Verizon’s recently acquired IT services subsidiary, Terremark, to its own customer base.

Specifically, CornerStone will resell Terremark’s Enterprise Cloud, a web-based platform that offers security, redundancy and support services. “Connectivity to the cloud has been a key driver in terms of what we wanted to achieve from our 100G technology deployments,” Millegan explains.

But the deal also underscores the need to drive innovation forward yet further – and that comes at a price: “Clearly early adoption has its challenges in terms of standards and interconnects, but there is a flip side. You have people who are very keen to work with you. There are plenty of people out there who want to innovate with us and if there’s one thing we’ve learnt on this journey, it’s that leadership has its own unique rewards.”

For Millegan, those rewards include the opportunities for innovation that 100G capacity rates can nurture: “For me, it’s all about the technology you can lay over a 100G network. It’s an immensely exciting time. At Verizon, we are in the process of transforming the company from a basic telecom transport provider to a technology innovator.

On a personal level, I find that particularly motivating because technology changes lives and enhances the ability of the world to operate freely and efficiently. “It’s very exciting to see that some of the next-generation applications that are currently under development will soon be offered over our 100G backbone network.”




Financial highlights (year to Dec 21, 2011) »

Wireless revenue:
$70.1 billion

Wireline revenue: $40.6 billion (of which Global Wholesale $7.9 billion)

Operating cash flow: $29.8 billion

Capex: $16.2 billion

No. of staff: 193,947

No. of wireless connections: 107.8 million

Total voice connections: 23.7 million

Broadband connections: 8.7 million

FiOS TV customers: 4.3 million

FiOS internet customers: 5.0 million

Network: Spans more than 500,000-route miles linking 2,700 cities in 150 countries across six continents. Traffic runs along 80 subsea cable networks. Verizon was the first telco to deploy optical mesh networking in under sea systems. The company was the first to trial 100G capacities in the field and is set to begin a new phase of roll-out involving US metro areas.

Customers: Provides voice services including long distance, broadband, video, and data, IP network services and network access services to 99% of Fortune 500 as well as to tens of thousands of businesses, government agencies and carriers in more than 150 countries.

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