Fiber Connect 2019, sponsored by the Fiber Broadband Association, is a great opportunity to meet some of the leaders in Municipal Broadband. In this episode, we speak with Patrik Lowenborgg, VP, Customer Solutions at Biarri Networks as well as Bernie Arnason, Principal, with Pivot Group. Click to listen or read the transcript below.
In this episode recorded at the Fiber Connect 2019 event hosted by the Fiber Broadband Association we meet with Patrik Lowenborgg, VP of Custome Solutions at Biarri Networks as well as Bernie Arnason, industry expert and Principal from the Pivot Group.
Craig Corbin: Fiber Connect was the first event on behalf of IT that, ETI rather, that I was part of. And seeing what went on in Nashville just really made me excited about this version, because additional attendees already signed up, and the excitement obviously within the company, setting the stage for what I think will be a phenomenal show. They’re saying they hit record numbers of 1700 people. And the expectation for walk-in traffic I think is even higher than what they had anticipated based on what was seen yesterday. It’s very unusual in the Sunday afternoon sessions, which are very dry, well attended. And not to cast aspersions on the speakers, but it’s pretty basic information. I attended the presentation by Brian Taylor with CDE Lightband out of Clarksville, did a phenomenal job setting the stage for utilities that were looking to get into the broadband world, a nice Q&A at the end, but he recognized right off the top of the bat. He said, “I send out huge kudos to everybody in this room for being here on a Sunday afternoon.”
Pete Pizzutillo: It sounds like there’s a whole wave of utilities looking to get into broadband.
Craig Corbin: There are. They have the infrastructure in place, so for example, one of the questions that he fielded from the floor at the end of the presentation was, did you have to purchase easements in order to run your fiber? They did not spend a nickel on easements, everything was done over the existing electric infrastructure.
Jeff Fraleigh: What did you take away from Fiber Connect 2018 event last year?
Craig Corbin: What was interesting to me was the dependence on the exhibitors that those who were considering getting into broadband, how much value they placed on this type of event. Either from doing basic upfront research, or to confirm what they had found, either from consultants or from peer conversations. But many of the people that I had direct contact with were looking to get confirmation on the direction that they were going to pursue in that. It’s such a huge investment. You don’t want to make that first step a bad one. And so that was something that they were looking for reassurance if you will.
Pete Pizzutillo: Besides being able to connect with other peers in different geographies which they’d never get to meet, this event is impressive. I mean, the hardware, software, services support, it’s the whole gamut of anything you’d be looking for. It’s here.
Craig Corbin: Well, that’s the nice thing too from a comparison standpoint. Being able to, apples and oranges, between the different hardware providers that are out there. Many have a stronger reputation that might not necessarily be backed up by reality in the field. And so that’s a great chance to be able to talk to the peers, their experience, and see whether or not what information they’ve been given from a consultant is actually the way that they want to go.
Pete Pizzutillo: Are there any presentations that you’re looking forward to?
Craig Corbin: Noted about four that were of interest, many that were designed for entry-level organizations, and that’s typically … for example, yesterday, met … not Brian Taylor, but Gary Taylor from city of Lakeland. He asked a leading question that made it very obvious that they were looking to transition from dark fiber into residential, commercial, so he and I just happened to bump into each other at the end of the presentation as we walked out of the room. And so that’s typically the opportunity to find those that are in that mode of operation.
Pete Pizzutillo: I sat through a presentation about the soft skills about selling the concept, right? And there’s an interesting idea about focusing on the market pull. You’ve got to convince not the municipalities and citizens, but they’re convincing the businesses and the realtors of all people to say, okay, if we can get that demand coming from the consumer, then it really makes our case back to the municipalities and local authorities about the business-case value, right? And so there’s some interesting tips and tricks that are being shown here.
Craig Corbin: And typically to that point, you’ll find within the communities that, using municipalities as an example, not just utilities but municipalities. They will have a groundswell of response from their constituents that are looking for alternatives to the 800-pound gorillas, the incumbents. And so that is, to me, what is refreshing about this part of the industry, in that the end user, the residents, the constituents are the ones that are benefiting directly by having municipalities, utilities, get into the business, because they’re going to be, nine times out of 10, much more concerned with the finished product, how they go about customer service, and the end user wins in that situation.
Jeff Fraleigh: I’ve been so impressed to see, at least the few municipalities that I’ve met with, they’re so proud of their community. They want to make it a better place to live. And I have a lot of respect for that. It’s fantastic, especially where you and I come from, which seems to be so far away from anything real. You’re really talking to these people who are just trying to provide more services, and attract good talent back to their community. I mean, how can you not support that? It’s amazing.
Pete Pizzutillo: It’s a bit patriotic and reminds me of working in the defense world, where the folks are really about the people, making life better, the quality of life better.
Craig Corbin: You hit the nail on the head with pride, loyalty … GBTC, that we’ve worked with near San Antonio, instituted a program called Fiercely Loyal. And their customers are now so tied into supporting GBTC that they’re defending them on social media. You never see that, you never see that. But when you look at the pride that the support team, the customer service teams, take in their day-to-day way of doing business knowing that they’re serving friends, family, and they are invested in the community, as opposed to how much they can take out of the communities.
Pete Pizzutillo: We’ve got Patrik Lowenborgg from Biarri Networks. We ran into Patrik at the Fiber Connect 2019 event sponsored by the Fiber Broadband Association. Is this your first time here?
Patrik Lowenborg: No. I’ve been to several of these events. I’ve been in the industry for like 20, 25 years.
Jeff Fraleigh: So yeah, give us your background. Why are you even here?
Patrik Lowenborg: I spent 11 years with Erickson. Swedish guy, Swedish company. Came out to Dallas, Dallas headquarters Erickson. That’s where they are. Hello. And yeah, Erickson got out of the fiber business, and now I’m working for Biarri Networks.
Pete Pizzutillo: The search and gather network.
Patrik Lowenborg: The search and gather networks, you’re right.
Pete Pizzutillo: Apparently Biarri means search and gather in Aborigine.
Jeff Fraleigh: And what are you searching and gathering?
Patrik Lowenborg: Data. Biarri network specializes in design optimization, specifically using mathematical algorithms. So I would say that 90% of our staff is mathematicians. They would probably kill me for saying that, but essentially, it’s mathematical algorithms. And we use that to create designs very, very quickly. So normally, the way that you would do design is you’d have an engineer and you use AutoCAD, you use one of the fantastic products that you see here in the floor to do your design. But this is slightly if in that you gather your data, your points, your routes, and then you click a button, and then it creates your design for your networks. The optimal route using whatever architecture you want, and then constantly in the background you are picking up the building material to show you the length of fiber, and the duct sizes used, whatever. So yeah.
Jeff Fraleigh: When do clients engage you, at what part of the life cycle are they in when they would use Biarri?
Patrik Lowenborg: The main thing that we’re showing today is feasibility design, and that’s really at the planning stage of any fiber networks. So if you are thinking about doing a network and you’re not really sure about what products to use, what designs to use, you can use our tool to do feasibility studies, because it’s so quick. You literally change something in five minutes, whether it’s one thousand houses or 10 thousand houses, it’s just as quick. If you think about how long time you do that manually, it’s a lot longer.
Pete Pizzutillo: So you’ve been in the business 20 years, a lot of different roles, you’re optimizing networks. What are you hearing now that you think is most encouraging about people seeing things the way you see things, about understanding how to optimize and how important that is? Is there any trends that you see?
Patrik Lowenborg: Sure. I think it’s fantastic, this whole new future aspect of internet of things, about cloud-based services, getting away from the paperless society. I think that’s really where my heart is, and this is where I think Biarri Networks is doing fantastically good. I’m the rookie by the way in Biarri Networks, but I’m still a huge advocate of that kind of cloud-based software. I think that’s fantastic.
Pete Pizzutillo: And do you think that’s up and down the food chain? So tier one telecoms, the municipalities, are all thinking that way?
Patrik Lowenborg: I think so, yeah. And sometimes, I’ll tell you what. I think the new players, the municipality networks, the city networks, the smaller players like tier threes for example, they’re sometimes more the early adopters. The incumbents, typically they have their ways that they’ve been doing for 50, 100 years, right? So-
Pete Pizzutillo: They might not have the legacy infrastructure and assets, and they could be cloud-native if you will.
Patrik Lowenborg: But I think the biggest topics at the moment in 5G, just because people are exploring that, they want to understand how many fibers to each cell site, what does this new densification program look like, fixed wireless access versus fiber in the home, that’s a big debate. So from an architecture perspective, that’s where my mindset is. I’m not really an active guy if that makes any sense.
Pete Pizzutillo: What do you think the timetables are on 5G? There’s a lot guessing if that’s kind of a long-term play, there’s a lot of short-term benefit, any thoughts on that?
Patrik Lowenborg: I think it’s going to come, I think it’s just a matter of time. It might be, my view is, at a bit of a hype at the moment, but I think it’s important that we stay ahead of and understand what those networks look like so that we can start planning for how to build those networks.
Pete Pizzutillo: Any observations between international thinking and domestic?
Patrik Lowenborg: Not on 5G I don’t think, I think that’s a global phenomena. I that some countries are a little bit more advanced on the whole. So if you look at Europe for example, there’s a lot of much much more built out than here in the US, meaning they’ve started address points in the rural areas more. I know that here in the US, we do the Connect America foundation, so that’s obviously ongoing and is being built as we speak as well. But I think there’s much more to be done here in the US.
Jeff Fraleigh: We do have work to do. Well, where can our listeners find you, Patrik? Where can they find you?
Patrik Lowenborg: Website is biarrenetworks.com.
Pete Pizzutillo: Welcome to Fiber Connect 2019. We’re here with Bernie Arnason from the Pivot Group, thanks for joining us. What brought you to Fiber Connect 2019?
Bernie Arnason: Pivot Group works with a lot of the companies that are here today in helping them with their marketing, go-to-market strategy, lots of new entrants into the fiber business. A lot of them need help in terms of things like branding and go-to-market and marketing support. The fiber broadband industry is so active these days, and this is probably the best event for that to really connect and network with companies who are making it happen in the fiber world.
Pete Pizzutillo: Can you walk us back and tell us how you end up a fiber marketing specialist?
Bernie Arnason: I’ve been in the broadband industry, telecom industry, for every bit of 25 years now, and Pivot Group’s a company that some partners and I launched almost 15 years ago. At the time, fiber wasn’t as popular as it is now, but we’ve had a history of working with what we call the broadband ecosystem. Whether that’s service providers, whether that’s suppliers, hardware, software suppliers, everybody that’s in kind of the broadband industry. When we launched, we noticed there was a little bit of a void in marketing support. Companies do real well in building networks, but then when it comes time to selling that network, some of them need some help there. We identified that opportunity, and so we launched our company, and here we are 15 years later going strong. We’ve got several municipality clients right now, both kind of the traditional utility municipality, but also the electric cooperative, companies that are all … not all, but many of them getting into the broadband business, many of them doing fiber, many of them doing wireless.
Jeff Fraleigh: What do municipalities typically struggle with? Is it the value of … why me, versus somebody else that I’ve heard of, or what are you trying to communicate to their client base about why they should accept or want broadband services from a municipality?
Bernie Arnason: It’s telling their story. In the case of the newer entrants, they really don’t have a story yet, so it’s about establishing a story, establishing a brand, establishing a brand that … they have this long history of kind of the utility business, but that’s not necessarily associated as a technology brand. And so it’s trying to establish them as a technology company that their members and customers can look to to deliver the services, and really the life experience that broadband brings. And so you want to craft a whole story around that, and then get that message out to their communities. There’s a lot there. Quite frankly with the newer entrants, there’s just so much other stuff to learn, basic kind of stuff, and once you get … the broadband business is so much different from the traditional kind of utility business. It’s much more competitive, it’s much more product-focused, it’s much more market-focused. And so there’s just a lot to kind of figure out and learn, and we partner with them and do that.
Pete Pizzutillo: We had the opportunity to talk to the Greenlight community as well as the CDE Lightspeed. So one’s a utility, one’s more a municipality, and there’s a lot of pride. There’s a lot of community pride about improving the quality of life within these communities. And to me, that’s an interesting motivation. Not everybody has that, organically, that kind of motivation. Outside of that, what are the big drivers that you see that people are saying, hey, this is a reason why we need to start fighting for, either at a federal level, a state level, local level, to be able to provide the services. Is it just pride and quality of life?
Bernie Arnason: Well I think it is, but I think it is part and parcel with their DNA. The DNA of their company, the history of their company. Many of those companies were formed to bring service to markets, communities, that absent them, they would’ve never had that service, right? So they kind of have this history of providing for the community. And it’s more than a business to them, right? It’s about empowering the community. And so it’s kind of a natural extension of what they already do. It’s what they’ve been doing for decades, it’s just it’s kind of the newest kind of the block of what to provide. And oftentimes you hear, which I agree with, that broadband is the new electricity. And so they have this kind of history of electricity, and so this is that kind of natural extension. And they look at it as critical to the long-term success of that community, and who better than them to bring it there?
Jeff Fraleigh: Aside from the municipalities, how does Pivot help companies?
Bernie Arnason: We have a big practice that is on the service provider side, but we also have a practice that serves companies like ETI who are selling into that broadband community, who are selling to the service providers. Software solutions, hardware solutions, professional services. And we have a long history of kind of really knowing and understanding the broadband industry, particularly what we call the tier two and three broadband industry, kind of the smaller players, where there’s this whole community of, if you look at between telco, electric, cable, wireless, there’s two to three thousand companies out there offering these types of services, and we know that community probably better than anybody. And we can help companies get their message out and communicate the value you bring and how you’re going to empower them to deliver the services they need to to be successful. And we help craft messages, get your message out. Really we’re big on content marketing and building thought leadership, and we think it’s critical that companies don’t just be a vendor, right? Be a partner. Add some value, deliver some that people can use to be successful in their business, and we help companies do that. And as a result, they’ll thrive and their business will grow, too.
Pete Pizzutillo: Being in the market for 25-plus years, coming to this event this year, what’s the biggest observation, the biggest shift you’re seeing right now that you’re excited about?
Bernie Arnason: Well, fiber broadband is really hot right now, and particularly rural broadband is really hot. It’s got the attention of policymakers, both on the federal level and the state level, and it’s conquering this digital divide that’s out there. There’s a lot of attention, there’s quite frankly a lot of funding available. I think it’s created this kind of boost into the whole ecosystem. And so everybody’s trying to figure out how to best take advantage of those programs, because that’s going to help them build the networks of the future. These are expensive networks to build, so it’s an exciting time. In my 25 years, I don’t think I’ve seen as much attention … well, I should say this. There’s always been a lot of talk, but I think there is definitely more momentum, and there’s kind of more action taking place in terms of, people are putting their money where their mouth is. And there’s still some big potential programs to come with things like the infrastructure program that’s being talked about in Washington and some other … even other funding sources that if they come to fruition, we’re going to see even more momentum. So it’s really exciting, it’s really an exciting time.
Jeff Fraleigh: What’s your opinion of 5G?
Bernie Arnason: On the one hand I think 5G is probably the most over-hyped technology I’ve ever seen in history. It’s off the charts in terms of the hype factor. I do think it’s real, I do think that it’s kind of the natural evolution that we’ve seen with all wireless technology, beginning with 1G, and here we are at 5G. So it’s going to be here. It’s going to take more time than I think people are hyping it up to be, but I think it’s going to be an important technology for our future, and there’s going to be a lot of opportunity, particularly along the lines of fiber, that in order for it to reach its maximum potential, true potential, you’re going to have to see just significantly more investment in fiber, which is good for all of us. So I kind of have a mixed view I guess. It’s important technology. I don’t look at it as as revolutionary as some people are calling it, but I do look at it as evolutionary. It’s the evolution of 4G, it’s real, it’s just not as hyped up as I think as we’ve seen in the press, and the larger carriers really trying to push it more than-
Pete Pizzutillo: What do you think of 5G, Jeff?
Jeff Fraleigh: I would agree, because I think so much more foundation even has to occur in order for 5G to get to the places that we even want it to go, right? It’s sort of like talking about step five, but you really haven’t done step two yet. I think thinking about fiber by itself is incredible innovative, and still so needed across most of the United States. Those of us who live in bigger cities sort of take that stuff for granted, right? And it’s not everywhere by any stretch.
Bernie Arnason: I don’t look at it as a race or as if is one over the other. They’re very complementary, fiber and 5G. They need each other, right? You’re not going to have one without the other, so they’re kind of tied together. And I hear a lot of that, 5G’s going to replace fiber, and when you hear somebody say that, you can kind of draw the conclusion that they don’t really get it, right? Because you can’t have 5G without fiber. And so to suggest that one’s going to replace the other just doesn’t make a lot of sense.
Pete Pizzutillo: You mentioned the digital divide, and kind of closing that gap, and I don’t think 5G is the answer to that. The technology capability exists today to do that, and as you mentioned, there’s a ton of funding, both rural and urban, that’s available for folks to start closing that gap. And there’s this wave of 5G, which seems to be driven by the mobile carriers, or a lot of good story, plus China is pushing that. So there is a hype cycle that’s coming, but I think you definitely need to separate the two, and there’s a lot of work to be done.
Bernie Arnason: Exactly. It’s going to be quite a few years before we see the true implementation of 5G.
Jeff Fraleigh: How do people find you Bernie?
Bernie Arnason: Well, I can be reached at, askpivot.com is our website. I also publish a blog called Telecompetitor, which follows the broadband industry pretty closely, so that’s a free online publication and newsletter at telecompetitor.com. And email-wise, firstname.lastname@example.org.