Global Connected Series: From Britain to America - ETI

Want to take a Self-Guided tour?

July 20, 2023

Global Connected Series: From Britain to America

The following transcript has been edited for length and readability. Listen to the entire discussion here on The Broadband Bunch. The Broadband Bunch is sponsored by ETI Software.

Joe Coldebella:

Hello. Welcome to another episode of Broadband Bunch. I am at Connected America in Dallas, Texas along with my co-host, Brad Hine. We are joined by one of the key drivers of a brand-new event, Connected America, Rob Chambers. Rob, welcome to the Broadband Bunch.

Rob Chambers:

Thanks a lot, Joe. Thanks for the invitation.

Joe Coldebella:

Hey, it’s great to have you. It’s a great event that you guys are putting on. I was wondering before we dive into the event itself if you could sort of give our listeners a background on Total Telecom and tell us your story.

Total Telecom’s Evolution and the Remarkable Growth of the Connected Series

Rob Chambers:

Yeah, sure. It’s a pleasure to be here. Our background is really a traditional publisher. We’ve been publishing as Total Telecom since 1997 but really started taking a leap into events about 10 years ago.

Joe Coldebella:

So this isn’t your first rodeo, that’s what you’re saying?

Rob Chambers:

It’s not our first rodeo, no. Total Telecom Grand basically has evolved a bit from being a publisher to more being an events company that also publishes. I think that’s how I’d like to position it. And the big driver behind our business these days is a Connected series. We kicked that off with Connected Britain, which we launched in 2015. We launched it in a ballroom much, much smaller than this. And I think we were incredibly pleased with about 300 people that came along. We thought that was great.

Now nearly eight years later, I suppose, for Connected Britain and one pandemic in between. We are going to be occupying seven halls of London’s biggest exhibition center.

Joe Coldebella:


Rob Chambers:

5,000 delegates, 300 speakers. It’s quite big now.

The Expansion of the Connected Series and the Rise of Connected North

Joe Coldebella:

Awesome. Obviously, it’s super popular and well-attended. Then that spawned some other directions as well. I would love it if you could touch on those as well.

Rob Chambers:

Yeah, it has. It has actually spawned some events which have become permanent events and some that have been done for a particular purpose. So we’ve done a couple of little niche events where it’s been a particular need in a market for a particular moment in time. So we did a Connected Ireland event and a Connected Italy event.

But the big ones that have really grown into ongoing continuous exciting events are Connected North, which is again, for the UK it’s like Connected Britain, but it’s aimed at the Northern part of the UK.

I don’t know if anyone who listens to your show would recognize the phrase Northern Powerhouse, but it’s been a big thing in the UK that the area around the North Manchester, Leeds, and Liverpool area has quite a different economy to the rest of the UK. And so we’ve developed an event for that’s going into its second year, this year, twice as big as it was last year.

From Venue Expansion to International Ventures in Connected Germany

Joe Coldebella:


Rob Chambers:

We’ve just signed off the venue for next year, which is going to be twice as big as the venue we’ve got for this year. So that’s growing well.

We also have an event called Connected Germany, which we launched the year before the pandemic struck, so that gave it a tough inauguration if you like.

Joe Coldebella:


Rob Chambers:

But we ended up running it twice last year instead of once, because we had one that was hung over from the pandemic, and the second version of it last year was about the size of this. So about a thousand people. And again, we are looking to double it in size again for next year.

Unveiling the Motivation behind Launching Connected America

Joe Coldebella:

Fantastic. All right. So you started with Connected Britain, went to the North, headed out to Germany, and other European countries, and now you’ve decided to hit the States. What was the reasoning behind that?

Rob Chambers:

We must be mad, that must be why.

No, in all honesty, we’ve looked at the States for a long time. The business plan for the States initially was probably written around about the same time as Connected Britain’s was.

Joe Coldebella:

Oh really? Wow.

Rob Chambers:

But we didn’t do anything with it for a long time. What’s really changed now, is what’s happened in the States. The funding available now in the marketplace, the increased interest, and the driver for better internet here.

All of the things that we’ve been talking about over the last two days are really what flagged up to us that now is the time to bring the connected brand to North America.

The Joys and Challenges of a Successful Launch

Brad Hine:

So we’re here in Dallas. Awesome event. A tremendous amount of buzz.

One of the things that I got a kick out of when I first got here was I opened my computer and the first action post that I saw was a post by you. And it was you behind the registration desk and it was like, when you throw a party, you hope somebody shows up.

How gratifying is it for you and your team that you’re having such a successful event the first time around?

Rob Chambers:

It’s beyond gratifying. It’s always a concern as an organizer of events. Your biggest concern is that people don’t come. Like every business we set targets, and we know what we hope to make financially. We know how many people we hope to come.

Realistically, you can survive the fact if you don’t hit the money target that you want. If you don’t get the people there, well forget it. There’s no point in coming back and doing it again next time.

And so having the queue of people standing there waiting to register and come on-site was incredible. And it was just what we wanted to see.

Exploring the Funding Landscape for Broadband Expansion

Brad Hine:

Now, Rob, you mentioned the amount of money that’s in the market now in the US, and obviously, that’s the reason to come up and start Connected America. For those of our listeners that aren’t listening abroad, what are some of the different models in Europe? Is it the same kind of funding going on? What’s the environment in Europe right now as compared to America?

Rob Chambers:

Look, I think the financial model differs a bit in different countries.

In the UK, the driver wasn’t so much money in the first state. The initial driver was the change in regulation that gave other operators access to the backbone network, to the BT Openreach, to the boxes in the road fundamentally, and just made it possible for other people to come.

But that’s been largely driven by VC money, pension funds, that kind of thing.

Aligning Political Will, Funding Opportunities, and Public Demand for Improved Internet Access

Brad Hine:

I see.

Rob Chambers:

And I did notice actually in one of the sessions earlier on today, they had Kim McKinley from Utopia and Frontier and people down there. And Kim in particular flagged out and said, “Well, actually the government money isn’t actually the be-all and end-all.” She thought it was going to take too long. She’d find the money somewhere else.

But I think from our point of view, the driver behind it being a suitable time for us to launch a Connected event is that combination of factors all coming together. The political will to make it happen, yes. The fact that people can find the funding and that might of course get harder with interest rates being higher at the moment, but probably fundamentally the money’s still there if people want to.

And also the will. The demand from the public, and the fact that people can’t live now without better internet.

Balancing Star Power with Engaging Content and Deal-Making Opportunities

Joe Coldebella:

Circling back to the conference itself, I have to say I was really impressed with the list of speakers that you were able to line up for a first-time event.

What was the planning behind that? What was the objective in terms of bringing such big names?  I saw that you had gentlemen from AT&T in the opening session, Kim, and all the different folks, great speakers.

What was the thinking behind that?

Rob Chambers:

Well, I guess there are two things when it comes to thinking about speakers.

Yes, you need the big names because they’re really what stands out to people. People see the marketing, and they see names that they can relate to. They recognize them and think “I’ve got to come and listen to that.”

But when you get to it, beyond that, you need to drill down a little bit. And there need to be people who are interesting.

And they’re not necessarily going to be the biggest names in the world, but they’re the people who can tell someone in the audience something they’re going to walk away with. You come to an event, and you want to walk away and think, “I learned that. I met him, and I did that.” And that’s really what we want to see.

We want to see people doing deals as well. And we’ve seen a good number of those here as well today.

Contrasting Federal Support in the US with European Market Dynamics

Brad Hine:

I went to a session yesterday that was interesting to me because we talked about the amount of funding that is coming into the space in the US, but of course, that funding gets divided up between the States.

And so I think there might’ve been six or seven folks, which is a lot for a panel-

Rob Chambers:

That’s a lot for a panel.

Brad Hine:

But what’s interesting is each one represented a different state. And so I’m curious how the money funnels down and how the states are using it.

But let me jump over to Europe. How is the money being used in Europe? Maybe the UK versus Germany, Connected Germany, different requirements depending on the different areas, how the money’s being used?

Rob Chambers:

Yeah, well it is different because you don’t have this massive tranche of federal money. That as far as I’m aware, doesn’t exist anywhere in Europe, not in quite the same way.

There’s a lot of investment from the incumbent operators if you like. So BT Openreach in the UK, Deutsche Telecom in Germany, they’re investing a lot. But they’re not necessarily getting huge amounts of funding from the central government in those countries.

Most of the funding is coming from the people who are investing in these markets, and they are pinpointing different kinds of requirements. There’s a company that’s become very well-known in the UK called Hyperoptic, and they specialize in multi-dwelling units, blocks of apartments.

So you’ve got that kind of thing. You’ve got people like CityFibre who’ve without a doubt become the biggest alternative network, altnets as we call them in the UK. And yeah, they’ve built, I think, all that on investment from VC funds and things like that.

And they basically build out networks which they then essentially wholesale to other people. They don’t sell directly to anyone. So it’s very much a case of horses for courses. It’s not one size fits all.

Fiber Dominance with Growing Interest in 5G and Emerging Potential of Leos

Brad Hine:

So are you seeing a predominance of any type of technology? Meaning there are certain shows that are promoting fixed wireless here in the States, certain promoting fiber, lot of projects going on in the US right now that have different types of networks that these providers are having to manage all at once, now.

In Europe, are you seeing a focus on one or the other, or just both?

Joe Coldebella:

To add on to that as well, in terms of Leo’s what is the take? Should we be agnostic? Should we lean towards one way or the other? I would love to get your opinion.

Rob Chambers:

Well, we are certainly agnostic in terms of a show. There’s still a leaning from the exhibitors to be fiber companies. That tends to be where most of them are still coming from. We are actively going out and trying to encourage more of the wireless companies to get involved, actually.

But across Europe, I think there’s a lot of interest both in fiber and in 5G in particular in wireless networks. There’s less interest probably in the whole fixed wireless thing. But it is there. And I think that Leos and that kind of thing is very much in its infancy. They probably haven’t got the space requirements that you’ve got in America.

That’s where it’s really going fit, I think, to actually fill in those gaps which just are too hard to reach and too far apart.

Exploring Niche Applications Beyond Residential Connectivity

Joe Coldebella:

That’s interesting. And I could be totally wrong, but I actually think the Leos are going to be less about residential. I think that they’re going to find another niche to fall into. I could be wrong, but it is interesting, like you said, in its infancy.

Are there any Leo companies? I thought you said there is one firm in Britain.

Rob Chambers:

There is. And you push me down because I can’t remember the name of that. But yeah, there are a couple out there, and I agree with you. I don’t think it’s a residential play particularly. Not unless you live at the end of God knows where.

Addressing Regional Differences in Industry Focus

Joe Coldebella:

Right. I’ve read that some get Starlink, and then all of a sudden, they get fiber to their home. Then they immediately go to fiber as well.

Rob, some of the panels that you’re having are standing-room only, which has been fantastic. What was your approach in terms of selecting the different topics? When we talked about Europe versus the US yesterday, I was really excited about the idea of agriculture and broadband. You said that it was not on your radar that it wouldn’t be a key driver.

I would love it if you could talk about your decisions in terms of the different topics that you guys decided to address because you did a phenomenal job.

Rob Chambers:

Thank you. The model, the template if you like, for the different events is usually similar. We have a big track which is called project rollout that runs through all the events and that’s actually about building networks.

We also then will always have something about connected society. It’s about closing the digital divide, and how people are using the internet. So those kinds of things are common. The issues are different slightly, but they’re common tracks across different events.

Agriculture’s a particularly interesting one because that sort of falls into the connected industries, the utilities kind of tracks and that’s where you get some real differences between the different events.

Agriculture is obviously huge here in the US. Agriculture isn’t such a big thing in the UK. Yes, we have farms, but they’re not on the same scale. It’s like in Texas, everything’s on a bigger scale.

Farming just isn’t that big a driver, and it’s a different kind of farming here as well. So it isn’t such an important thing.

Whereas manufacturing, particularly manufacturing and 5G and things like that, are huge drivers in the UK. Transporting logistics are huge drivers, all those kinds of things.

Regional Dynamics

Joe Coldebella:

In the UK, you’ve got the Southern part and then the Northern part. And you said those are served two different ways. So in terms of driving adoption, in the South of England is it more about homes? And the North, it’s more about industry, or is it both? It’s just a different way of going to it?

Rob Chambers:

It’s both for each. But yeah, Connected Britain’s supposed to be for the whole of the UK, and Connected North is for the North of the UK.

And so we are looking to cover both things on both. But the dynamic is slightly different. The Connected Britain event, because it’s based in London, will tend to attract an audience that is more from the Southern part of the UK.

And the economy there is more service-driven. There are lots and lots of banks, advertising media companies, you name it, lots of tech companies as well down there.

Whereas when you go to the North of the UK, traditionally, it’s been more industrial. It was the industrial heartland of the UK. But that’s all changing anyway, because there’s been a big push from the central government to move a lot of things that were centralized in London, out of London. So you’re seeing things like the BBC, the British Broadcasting Corporation, have moved most of their base to Manchester, now.

Now you’re getting a big boom in media in there and lots of government departments being moved out of Central London to other locations as well. So it is all changing, and both events cover both parts of the market, but there are just subtle differences to it.

For example, Manchester as a city has the highest proportion of social housing anywhere in the UK. And so again, a lot of the issues that were being talked about on one of the panels I listened to here earlier on about the cost of access for people in multiple occupancy dwellings.

Making an Impact

Joe Coldebella

The digital inclusion question.

Brad Hine:

As representatives of the Broadband bunch, Joe and I like to walk around the show floor and speak to all the vendors, all the booths, and all the service providers and check the level of enthusiasm they have.

Obviously, I’m already hearing stories about how people have been positively impacted by Connected Britain, folks that have come over from there. Do you have any special stories about how you’ve positively impacted businesses, or service providers that are just on the tip of your brain that you could share?

Rob Chambers:

Not sure this is quite what you’re after, but I think one of the funniest ones that I came across was last year at Collective Britain. There was a very large UK operator who came over to us and said, very interesting, “We are going through a quotation process with some vendors for a project we’re working on.”

There were three contenders for the project, two of them are here. So now there’s only two contenders.

Brad Hine:

Oh wow.

Rob Chambers:

So hopefully it’s where we’ll get to on this, as well.

Joe Coldebella:

Wow, that’s great.

Brad Hine:

That’s a tough room.

Impressions and Insights from Connected America

Joe Coldebella:

Yeah, that is. What are some of the takeaways that you’ve gotten here at this event? Has anything surprised you? Has anything gotten you excited? What are some of your general impressions as well?

Rob Chambers:

Everything about it has me excited. General impressions… I think firstly the world has been so warm. It’s been great to be here. The people are fantastic. It’s a very different crowd from what you get in Europe, generally.

I think the other thing that I’ve really taken away as well is the amount of business that’s visibly being done.

You walk past people, and they’re having conversations about business deals that are happening.

Colleagues of mine and I have been told openly that there are deals that have been done on the stands by people.

Joe Coldebella:

That’s great.

Rob Chambers:

And that’s what you want to hear. And I came across earlier, which was at the transport panel and two of the panelists were sort of mid-banter, suddenly said, “We should actually have a conversation about this properly off the stage.”

But yeah, if we can make those kinds of introductions, then that’s great, really, isn’t it? It’s what it’s all about, bringing people together and getting them networking and making it all happen.

Evolving Workspaces and Shifting Dynamics

Joe Coldebella:

Selfishly, Brad and I are peppering you with different questions, because we want to know how other areas do it as well. How do you tackle the problems in the UK, in the Northern part of England, in Germany? It’s awesome for you to come here and spend time with us.

I’d love to ask just a couple more questions.

The first question is the idea of workspaces in Europe. One of the things in the US is obviously remote work is big here. How are you guys dealing with that as well? Is it hard to get people to come back to the office? Or does everyone want to get back because they’re tired of looking at a screen full of people?

Rob Chambers:

I think it varies by sector, and I also think it probably depends on the timeline as well. We are further away than North America is now from the end of the pandemic scenario.

It certainly has been harder to get people to come back into the office. And I think there has been a real change in people’s working patterns. If you look at us as a business, for example, we used to be religious about going in to work. We wanted everyone in the office five days a week unless you were out in client meetings, at a show, or whatever.

We’ve gone to a hybrid pattern where office refurb-allowing, they’re in three days a week.

And that seems to be very, very common. I think what I find interesting about that, and I don’t know if you’ve seen it, so I’ll turn it around on you guys, but in London, certainly, and in other cities, it’s changed the dynamic in the city.

You go into London now on a Monday, it’s really, quiet. You go into London on a Friday, then it’s quiet, early, busy later, when people come in for the evenings out, that kind of thing.

And I think what is very interesting about that is how that’s impacting other businesses. And this is almost an analog question because this isn’t the businesses that need internet connectivity. This is things like the sandwich shops, and the cafes and stuff like that who I think are having a really hard time.

Redefining Work-Life Balance

Joe Coldebella:

And commercial real estate. It’s like it’s gone on the back burner, but eventually, if you’re three days a week, you know might have needed a whole building, but now it’s one floor because everybody is jockeying in and out, or they work from home.

So for me personally, it’s been an interesting journey because I came onto the Broadband Bunch during the pandemic. And so for the most part I’ve always been remote, which is something that I’d never done before. And it definitely has its pluses and minuses. But I will say that come the winter months in Connecticut, living in my basement, I want to see people.

So my hope is that we edge closer back to going to work. Because I think when you breathe the same air, just like we are here today in terms of making deals, making connections, networking, that’s when the real magic happens.

So I would hope we have the remote, but we go back to a more traditional sort of setting.

Brad Hine:

I will add an observation that I had maybe one that’s changed because of the pandemic and because of the push for everybody to go remote. I won’t say “Push,” I would say it’s a necessity. It was pushed on us, but pre-pandemic, I would do business 8:00 to 5:00 on my laptop or on my phone, 9:00 to 6:00, maybe 7:00, or something like that. On weekends, we’d pretty much shut everything down.

Everything got pushed to remote, apps, social media, and things like that. I use my LinkedIn around the clock now, not just from 9:00 to 5:00. It’s constant.

I have gotten used to using it more often. So if someone reaches out to me on the weekend going for a walk in the neighborhood, I respond right back. Business happens 24-7 now. But it may not happen in those dense periods between 9:00 and 6:00. As far as the study goes, people staying connected and being connected allows us to view business more as a social aspect, instead of just a 9:00 to 5:00 commitment.

Rob Chambers:

Yeah, I think I’d agree with you. I’m not sure it’s necessarily healthy, but yeah, it’s true.

People log in first in the morning, they see what’s happening, and they’re doing it at any time of day, wherever they are. It’s the advantage of technology, but whether it’s necessarily good for sort of the work-life balance is another issue, isn’t it?

Brad Hine:

Yeah, we’ll see, won’t we?

Rob Chambers:

We will.

The Future of Connected America and the Growth of Broadband Initiatives

Joe Coldebella:

Yeah. Rob, it’s been a phenomenal visit. I can’t thank you enough for having us here. I’d love to end it with the question, is there a Connected America 2.0?

Rob Chambers:

There is, indeed. We’ll be back next year. Yeah, we see a great deal of growth in Connected America. You might even see the scenario we have in the UK where you see more than one of them.

Joe Coldebella:

Awesome, awesome. All right, I’m Joe Coldebella that’s going to wrap up this episode of The Broadband Bunch.

From Brad and me, until next time, thanks so much. We’ll see you later.