Big Interview

Fail fast, move quickly

Oliver Cantor (1).jpg

Sat firmly at the helm of Verizon’s mission of transformation, Oliver Cantor speaks to Capacity about the road to that journey and how other companies can do the same.

Capacity last spoke to Oliver Cantor, associate director of product strategy at Verizon, back in 2017. At the time, he said a number of things.  

One, carriers needed to transform themselves in order to enable business transformation for enterprises and that Verizon was in the midst of transformation of its own.

“We talk about our own transformation,” he said at the time. “To break the ice we say ‘look at what is happening to us’. We have invested heavily in all of these other areas and services, as well as our network.”

Now in late 2019, I was curious to know how that journey of transformation was going and much did the company have left to achieve.

With Hans Vestberg, former Ericsson executive of Ericsson, now firmly at the company’s helm, Cantor says he is ushering in the next wave of development.

“Just selling on technology, traditional technology like networks, wireless networks, MPLS, and these things that is not where it is at anymore, we need to be more in the digital transformation that the world is undergoing, industrial revolution – the 4.0 and all of that.”

Though Cantor says no one can be sure of how long this transformation will take, he says that Verizon is putting its customers at the heart of it, with the launch of Verizon2.0.

Verizon2.0 now focuses on two critical market segments – consumer and business – rather than on the traditional wireless and wireline divisions.

In order to reach that desired level of intelligence and integration aka ‘Nirvana’, Cantor says. “We have got to turn ‘the network’ into software”. According to him, the cloud has set the direction.

“The cloud has come along and offered this utility-based service driven and user friendly way of saying get your software or infrastructure here, and by the way we have got a lot of compute / storage power so you can get that here as well,” he says. “Everyone has gone to the cloud like the megastore at the edge of town like the giant hypermarket, it’s brilliant because it’s so dense it gets such a scale you can really buy a lot of good stuff cheap.”

But not everyone wants to travel all the way to the Cloud (especially with IoT and Industry 4.0 use-cases), so now we have the Edge. To continue the store analogy it is like having the local supermarkets near to your house (like Tesco local), which are more convenient and for can offer niche use-cases like ultra-low latency machine telemetry or video capabilities.

But Verizon is also playing to its strengths with roll out of 5G everywhere, which as Cantor puts it “in pure physics, the things it can do at the edge is quite transformational, even if it only achieves half the hype because we know it is in a hype cycle.”

Move beyond the network

One of the other big takeaways from his previous interview was the idea that

‘carriers need to ‘evolve from just offering a network then you’ll be dead in a few years’ and unsurprisingly that message remains that same. 

“We have made the shift, thanks in part to Hans, to talking about ourselves as being a technology company but we are very much still about our network,” he says. “You run away from the network at your peril because it is the core money but we are now more of a technology partner to these customers as well.”

To Cantor, it’s all about diversification – for example over the top content and media. “When you look at the media side of it, which you know in principle isn’t attached to any particular network it is just about how you make money in this digital world, that is a completely new business play,” he explains.

Another example is Verizon Connect, which offers GPS tracking for connected cars. Though this is an offering more closely connected to the network, Cantor says its “abstracted a little bit from the networking” and adds to the diversity.

Lest we forget, Verizon played a major part in the demonstration of two-way inter-carrier software-defined network (SDN) orchestration last year.

During the showcase, the two companies where able to make real-time bandwidth changes in each other’s networks through real world live interconnects. It also marked the first time two-way network orchestration between carrier production networks was ever been demonstrated, a first step towards enabling real-time cross-carrier automation.

Speaking to Cantor about the significance of that trial and what it all meant, he explained,

“That test was us saying, we are going to have to work together. The customers want us to be more like a utility, they don’t want to know that it took us so many weeks to deliver a circuit because we don’t work well or we are not properly bonded with each other.”

“If it is going to be a true utility you plug in and get the service that you need when you need it, we have to play better together as an industry. It is only through bodies like MEF and CNTT doing this carrier-to-carrier kind of work that we are going to achieve that,” he continues.

Though carriers, last-mile providers and CSPs sit at different ends of the supply chain, when it boils down to the needs for business transformation, they are ultimately the same.

“Both sides need more agility,” says Cantor. “If we didn’t need agility and speed we wouldn’t have to virtualise particularly fast or we could let that happen more organically if you like. You would have time and space to put boxes in place and grow and plan those boxes and change those technologies, the need to automate and have far more flexibility for enterprise. We have to move at the speed of software!”

Culture, legacy networks and technology all factor in as some of the challenges in properly initiating business transformation. But above all Cantor says it’s the aversion to risk.

“We have to change culturally, not shy from risk in certain areas and say no let’s move a bit quicker, let’s not blame each other for this risk. Let’s get away from the old cultural existence in engineering, which is engineers should resist change because it means risk. We have to give engineers, planners and operational teams more room to manoeuvre.”

Part of that aversion could be that many are still trying to keep with the ever-changing cloud and other such key technologies. Perhaps that could be why the proliferation of the hybrid cloud only continues to accelerate, because it is the middle ground between risk and safety.

“We absolutely do the hybrid network between MPLS and public internet; eventually it will all just be network in the end of the day.”

The MPLS versus public internet debate continues to wage on, particularly when it comes to matters of security. Often increased digitisation and virtualisation leads customers to fear increased security risks – a fact that Cantor does not entirely agree with.

“If I take it as a whole system whether that is hardware or software – virtualisation just means I will do more of it in software irrespective of the hardware. It is not because we are creating software that it is creating larger attacks surface per se, it is just that the whole system is getting bigger because there are more digital end points and more use cases.”

No conversation on transformation could take place without mentioning 5G and IoT. On the former, Cantor says that its impact on things has yet to be realised and that technology does not really drive change initially but it enables it.

The enabler of change

“I don’t think technology really drives change, it may enable change. Technology only stays around if it is useful and if it is used – think 5G will be the same. Like with 4G you have to get the use cases. But we believe that 5G will ultimately be transformational.”

He says that it’s a similar story with IoT, adding that we’ve had the capability for this technology for years, we only now have the need.

“We have been able to do IoT for years you can do it with 2G networks, 3G – if what you need to do is just control things wirelessly.

Looking ahead, the roadmap for Verizon and particularly Cantor’s area of focus is virtualisation all the way.

“So we are integrating SD-WAN with 5G slicing, enabling a business to define a user group or a type of traffic, so we’re adding that to 5G. In addition, everyone wants SD-WAN.

Customers need to solve their core business ICT problems, so why should they need to learn about this SD-WAN provider and all of their new APIs or that firewall provider. So Verizon are writing is a Policy Engine which is vendor agnostic and has a simple API. You will see a lot of work from us on what they call Intent Based networking.”