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Carl Grivner reflects on exploding global bandwidth demand and an era that sees blockchain and AI finally arrive.

If Carl Grivner, CEO of Colt Technology Services, has his way, enterprises can expect a one-click provision of high speed, sophisticated network services worldwide. In his view, network provisioning would become a self-service, on-demand capability, and look much like an Amazon order system.

It represents a radical future clearly aligned with major opportunities in terms of digital transformation, he acknowledges, but also a massive change to how service providers have traditionally operated. On a global scale, it will clearly challenge technology boundaries, business models, and probably even organizational designs.

For Colt, Mr. Grivner says, it’s another stage as well. The company’s current journey started in 2016, when it recognized the future represented very high bandwidth demand from international customers, and went about building a global network to service it.

What’s important?
Building a global network is an undeniably deep pocket activity, but inherent in establishing a network is thinking how such network-based service providers should be run and what they mean in competitive terms. “I think [owning the network] is more important now than it ever was,” he indicates, specifying rationales: “Firstly, you can control your costs and your pricing to customers much better. Secondly, the overall customer experience is better because you can control the network, you can provision, monitor, fix all the aspects of the network when you have all the pieces. Thirdly, from a technology upgrade perspective you can upgrade the network faster [and not wait on other suppliers to do so].”

But allied to this is a focus on what the company should be doing: “We want to build and manage the best network in the world and provide the customer with the best customer experience overall.” This also means not pursuing different areas: “We won’t get into content, into data centers, or cloud computing,” he says. “We are not going to be everything to everyone. We are only going to stay focused on customers that need high bandwidth, and being multi-regional is our advantage.”

This focus, he says, is a competitive edge. Additionally, he underlines strategic failures—particularly in the incumbent telco community—that did not adequately focus or segment the market, and instead pursued a “fool’s gold” approach of endless new strategies, often globally, yet all invariably destined to fail. “This industry has [had] a tendency to repeat itself in terms of history,” he says, pointing to recurring ideas of service providers wanting to supply everything in every market.

Instead, Colt’s customers are relatively self-selecting; they come from a variety of sectors but share similar requirements in needing high bandwidth, low latency networking, particularly between disparate sites on an international scale. Consequently, a sensitivity to local requirements is important.

Networks may be seamless, but markets rarely are, he notes. “Regulation is different from market to market [but] there is a tendency [in the industry] to look at certain markets in a homogeneous way,” he cautions. “I think our advantage is knowing how regulation works in each of those countries and getting things done because they are not all the same. It’s an advantage for us.”

Does the future mean blockchain?
Colt’s push for new technology applications may be a good indicator of how he wants the company to develop structurally, and in its customer relationships. In commoditizing network and service components, differentiation and the competitive edge in the market depends on how providers put elements together and exploit them.

That Amazon analogy in his mind remains an emphatic one: “That’s kind of where we think the industry should go. The customer can provision, bring bandwidth up, and take it down, and change location [of service delivery].” Consequently, the entire provisioning cycle for services will be time-compressed but capability-expanded as the new technologies take hold. In the current technology cycle, he sees blockchain and AI as being particularly important.

Colt has been involved in various proof of concept projects working in back office applications with providers, including Clear, in settlement applications. In October, Colt and Zeetta Networks claimed a world first on a carrier marketplace application, enabling network carriers to buy and sell network services in a secure, distributed, and trusted marketplace. He says Colt has also been developing expertise in-house.

Some in the community see these technologies as relatively experimental and untried, or even unnecessary. But he emphasizes the practicality of future developments exceeding specific, relatively small-scale projects: “We’ve launched blockchain and focused our perspective on the back office applications to ensure we can gain experience with it. But the next frontier is to make it more customer facing and available to our customers.”

Managing, in an enormous boom
Meanwhile, a market boom is in progress, but with new and large demand, steps are continuing to emerge and be supported. Mr. Grivner indicates, “We are starting to see 5G rollouts crystallize, and also starting to see IoT take a larger role.” There are big implications ranging from bandwidth needs to support cells to a near literal land grab of street level facilities that is only now being appreciated. “There’s no such thing as a wireless network, it ultimately needs wires [to function],” he points out.

In such a boom, there is no shortage of challenge to management. He says he sees his leadership role as variously (and constantly) pivoting between the strategic and the tactical: “The market is enormous, and it’s a matter of attacking it in the best way, with a constantly improving go-to-market strategy. So, it’s about strategy. It’s also about communication. It’s about how we get the whole company  focused on attacking the opportunity we have in front of us.”

There may be little time for predictions in all of this. But, he muses, the next era will see unprecedented combinations of the (to date) separate technologies now entering the space. “I think blockchain, AI, and SDN will be put in the same mixing bowl at some point and start to create new capabilities for customers, and new ways to run networks, that we just haven’t seen before,” Mr. Grivner concludes.