Grant Seiffert, President, Telecommunications Industry Association
The SUPERCOMM tradeshow may be relegated to a footnote in the telecom history books, but that isn't stopping one of its organizers--the TIA (Telecommunications Industry Association)--from launching a new event centered on the larger telecom industry. Dubbed "Inside the Network," the new event, which takes place next week at the Gaylord Texan in Dallas, is what Grant Seiffert, President of the TIA describes as a way to look at how the network service providers build affects not only the services they deliver to customers, but also how they can ensure network security and be more environmentally friendly. FierceTelecom editor Sean Buckley caught up with Sieffert to talk about the new show and the themes the TIA is driving at the event.
FierceTelecom: Grant, TIA's new event is called Inside the Network. How significant is this title and how does it tie into the theme of the show?
Grant Seiffert: The question we posed ourselves a year ago in talking with our members, we looked at ourselves and what are our key core competencies in the industry and it all tied back into the focus on the network and infrastructure behind that network. "Inside the Network" came from the membership and reflecting members we represent in the industry so Inside the Network is a play on what's inside the TIA; what's going on inside your network--(for companies like) AT&T (NYSE: T) and Windstream (Nasdaq: WIN)--and what's going inside the network in terms of sustainability and security-related issues we are facing as an association and as an industry.
"...if you don't have a network that is robust, scalable and fast combined with a solid policy framework then we have nothing."
That's really where that came from and we also felt like no one was really filling this gap we are filling by focusing on the network. We can have conversations about all of these new apps that are on these smartphones and other devices, but if you don't have a network that is robust, scalable and fast combined with a solid policy framework then we have nothing. That's where it comes from.
FT: In talking with your members, what are their key concerns about their respective businesses and the telecom industry overall?
GS: It's always investment in innovations and that leads to R&D and providing the latest and greatest technologies to our customers and helping them think about the future and their investment plans in the next 18 months. Those cycles are becoming shorter every year. In terms of concerns, things are changing in terms of who is a traditional customer and who is driving traffic. We obviously are very focused on the big verticals such as healthcare, education, and transportation. Those are areas that are I don't want to say new markets, but are markets that are growing because of the nature of Information Technology enabling those verticals. At the same time, traditional telecom is not traditional telecom, but it's still there. Then, I would say capturing and delivering services to these new emerging markets whether it's in Asia Pacific Rim, Brazil or India and riding those aggressive growth rates that are taking place in those parts of the world whereas in the U.S. it's much more mature. I think change is really one of probably the biggest concerns. Are you catching the changes or are you falling behind? Some people are waking up and found out they missed a trend or an opportunity and that hurts.
FT: What do you think will be some of the main themes of this year's event?
GS: When we developed our education track, we focused on issues we thought would be timely and relevant to the industry including: converged networks, mobile backhaul issues and we are very interested in how this convergence of the utility and the telco markets come together under the smart grid. I also see a lot of promise in the M2M space and smart device space. Those are going to be the hot topics along with some of the other issues we focus on from a policy perspective.
"...the two industries (utilities and telcos) are still learning about one another and I think people are aggressively going into it and there are other groups watching what happens."
FT: You mentioned the alliance between utilities and telcos working to advance the smart grid. Are you seeing a greater emphasis on that and what's driving it from TIA's perspective?
GS: I think we're going to see more and more of it. In our conferences as well as in the exhibits, we're curious to see what new players will show up. What I mean by that is the two industries are still learning about one another and I think people are aggressively going into it and there are other groups watching what happens. I think the government with the stimulus funding for smart grid initiatives is forcing this to happen. From a standards perspective, there's a lot of education and best practices sharing going on and people trying to understand each other. They can then apply the best wares to solve problems and create future opportunities and partnerships. I think it's all the above. I think there's great promise in what we do as an industry that can help and give insights as far as managed services, interoperability and security that the utilities side does not have as much experience in.
FT: Wireless backhaul may be gaining a lot of attention from large wholesalers, but we are seeing the opportunity for smaller CLECs and even rural carriers. Would you agree?
GS: From the TIA's (view) the independent community is a community that our members care a lot about. They buy a lot of our equipment. There's a lot of government funding that goes into that space that we benefit from as far as equipment sales. And at end of the day, I think we would like to see everyone put their best assets forward to solve this accessibility and capacity issue for the consumer. The rural community is an important part of the U.S. and there's government policies that supported that space for hundreds of years and will remain supportive of that segment. The dollar signs may change a little bit from rural utility or Universal Service Funding (USF), but I think as a technology industry and as an association we ought to be working together. We have worked very hard over the past year building those relationships. The rural telcos came to SUPERCOMM for years.
"(Data centers) are replacing the old Central Offices (CO). That's being driven by this enormous amount of data that needs to be housed somewhere and it's going to be housed in the data center."
FT: The cloud services space continues to ramp up, with CenturyLink (NYSE: CTL) purchasing Savvis and Verizon (NYSE: VZ) acquiring the former Terremark. Do you see more activity in the cloud service space this year?
GS: I think people are still trying to figure it out: that is a new frontier that people are investing a lot of money and time into to make sure they get it right, and it's not going away. It's going to create lots of opportunities. People are still arguing over the definition of the cloud, but that's where we all are. It's going to take time, but I would say we see continued growth in data centers redeploying, which are replacing the old Central Offices (CO). That's being driven by this enormous amount of data that needs to be housed somewhere and it's going to be housed in the data center.
FT: Sustainability is also another topic of interest. How do you see service providers following this drive to go green?
GS: It is front and center as an issue for lots of different reasons. One is dollar signs, whether it's cost or revenue. I think it's really a differentiator in the marketplaces if you can reduce your customer's expense on the energy side. If you're also branding yourself to the cause of reducing your carbon footprint, these are trends that are forcing our members to rethink how to become more efficient and not draw as much from the power grid. I have seen service providers like Verizon say 'we want data centers to reduce their energy bill by X.'
Along with the federal government the TIA also has its own teleworking policy. Did I do it because I want to be able to say I am green? No, not necessarily. I did it because it makes sense and we're taking a few people off the road a couple of days a week. TIA itself has a lot of Green standards. When the issue became cool to talk about a couple of years ago we looked at our standards portfolio, and we've been working on Green standards for cooling and cables in data centers. I think people are investing a lot of time and resources on becoming more efficient and more sustainable in becoming more efficient energy users.
The Telecommunications Industry Association's (TIA) Inside the Network event will be held at the Gaylord Texan in Dallas, Texas from Tuesday, May 17 through Thursday, May 19.