2020 FierceTelecom Rising Star — Lumen’s Kevin McBride

The FierceTelecom editorial team is proud to announce our second annual Rising Stars series, in which we’re profiling up-and-coming executives in the telecom industry. We’ve selected a slate of executives whom we think are on the rise in 2020. We’ll be doling out the names of our winners, two per day, so that our readers have the time to enjoy reading their profiles. And next week, we’ll post a Rising Stars poll, giving everyone the opportunity to vote for their favorite top executive to watch in the FierceTelecom ecosystem. We hope you enjoy the series!

Kevin McBride thinks like a futurist. As principal architect at Lumen (formerly CenturyLink) his responsibilities include research, analysis, and design, with a primary focus on network proximity-based edge compute and network virtualization technologies.

“I enjoy being future-leading in our innovation teams,” McBride said. “I think my biggest strength is making sure that we have the right people at the table and taking input from colleagues.”

McBride has always had an eye on what’s next. He was working at Sprint in Orlando 14 years ago when the company decided to spin off its local communications business as Embarq. He had the choice of staying with Sprint Nextel or joining Embarq in Kansas City, and he chose the latter because it afforded him the opportunity to plan and develop the company’s first IP core network. He came to CenturyLink when the company bought Embarq in 2009.

Another CenturyLink acquisition brought McBride to Denver, his current home. When CenturyLink bought Qwest, McBride moved to Denver to build a production environment for IPTV products. He remembers that an exciting new technology was taking shape during those years. “That was taking enterprise virtualization technologies, and all these learnings that we had placing servers in the network,” he remembers. “What we didn’t have was the magic to glue that into our network in a real-time method. So around 2012-2013 I transitioned under our chief architect to start blueprinting inside of ETSI what NFV became.” 

McBride is justifiably proud of his team’s contribution to the NFV standard, particularly around Proof of Concept #4. He said that at first the PoC did not define an on-premise solution, but the CenturyLink team changed that. “We actually challenged the whole ETSI NFV specification and included the premise edge into the concept,” McBride said. He said this work has enabled many companies to cut costs by using “universal customer premise equipment.” 

McBride currently serves as a principal investigator and participant on several DARPA future-networking and computing programs. He says he knows what the internet of the future will look like: a network of secure shared compute resources that will enable users to connect with a minimal amount of hardware. He also expects networks to become more fluid.

RELATED: CenturyLink evolves its bare metal compute services

“What’s super exciting right now is composability,” McBride said. “So we’re looking to reshape composability and leverage the power of our fiber transport into metros to be able to start disaggregating and creating composable bare metal systems.”

He said the technology that’s on his mind the most right now is the thousands of remote radio heads that will enable 5G. He sees those as a way to support consumer connectivity with PON technology, and thinks this could create opportunity for Lumen. “We actually power all the mobile network operators in North America with our fiber infrastructure,” he said. “I think it’s going to be an exciting time.”