Podcast: Tackling telecom pain points to aid new services

Telcos worldwide are facing competition over their new services from agriculture to telehealth logistics to manufacturing. It’s vital for them to roll-out new services quickly, reliably, scalably and interoperably with their partners. This kind of openness can only be built on common frameworks, micro services, APIs, and configurable multi-capabilities. Fortunately, Sunil Diaz, General Manager Enghouse Networks, can guide us through this, joined by IoT analyst Josh Taubenheim from US firm MachNation. Enjoy our podcast as it’s time to look again at the serious and the far-less-serious Tech News.

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Podcast transcript:

Jeremy Cowan, Tech Trends Podcast  0:04  

Hi, and welcome to the latest Tech Trends Podcast brought to you by VanillaPlus, IoT Now and The Evolving Enterprise. I’m Jeremy Cowan and I am delighted you’re joining us for today’s sometimes serious, sometimes light-hearted and look at digital transformation for enterprises. Our first guest is Sunil Diaz, General Manager of Canada-based Enghouse Networks. Enghouse Networks offers a wide range of OSS and BSS software applications, Geographical Information Systems, network infrastructure, IPTV, and video collaboration solutions. Enghouse Networks are our sponsors for today’s podcast. So, big thanks to them, and in particular, a warm welcome to you, Sunil.

Sunil Diaz, Enghouse Networks  0:58  

Thank you, Jeremy.

Jeremy Cowan  0:59  

And our other guest may be new to the pod but he’s from an analyst firm we know well, that’s MachNation. Josh Tuabenheim is an IoT analyst who’s joining us from North Carolina, and recent visitors to IoT-now.com may recognise his name, as Josh has written a great article for us recently on Optimising IoT deployments, and we hope we’ll persuade him to do many more. So welcome to you, too, Josh.

Josh Taubenheim, MachNation  1:30  

Hey, Jeremy. Thanks for having me.

Jeremy Cowan  1:33  

It’s great to have you both. And later on Josh and I will be interviewing Sunil exploring his vision for 5G and IoT (the Internet of Things) and much more, and asking about the arrival of new players in the telco space, and what this means for new services. And finally, in ‘What The Tech?’, we’ll share what’s made each of us smile, or maybe frown lately. Anyway, let’s dive straight into the news headlines. Sunil, what have you spotted in the news?

Sunil Diaz 2:05  

Most recently, I was reading about Alphabet, that’s Google’s subsidiary that launched their internet balloons service Loons to cover and in partnership with Telecom Kenya launched their stratospheric balloon project. So the launch took place from Puerto Rico and headed south to Peru,  circumnavigating the globe and landing in Baja, Mexico, almost a hundred flight systems in the air. And the main purpose of doing this was to beam internet connectivity into rural and remote and underserved areas. So pretty interesting use case given, you know, what’s happening with COVID and the work-from-home environment, and the challenges that many areas of the world are facing in internet bandwidth and connectivity. 

Jeremy Cowan  3:14  

I find it fascinating that they’re able to circumnavigate the globe. When you say a hundred flight systems, does that mean 100 aircraft that are interlinked and handing off to one another?

Sunil Diaz 3:29  

Yes, it’s they call it a fleet. So, I’m not sure if it’s aircraft or if it’s a fleet of balloons. Dig more into it. But, you know, it certainly seems like a massive fleet that’s circumnavigating the world.

Jeremy Cowan  3:38  

Yeah, I understand. Actually, from what I’ve read that it is balloons, but I hadn’t appreciated before you raised this and I had a look at what you wanted to mention that it was such a complex dance that seems to be going around the stratosphere. I find it absolutely amazing. And keeping that for 312 days is pretty amazing.

Sunil Diaz 4:12  

Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. I believe their prior record was for 89 days.

Jeremy Cowan  4:20  

And even better Loon is, from what I understand, already earning revenues. You’ve mentioned, Telkom Kenya and anyone familiar with the mobile comms environment will know that Kenya is not, it’s not the first time in the headlines for innovation because Kenya was one of the first countries in the world to launch mobile money and banking services. So, I for one plan to watch this with some seriousness and growing interest. Josh, is this something that you’ve come across before?

Josh Taubenheim  4:52  

I was actually kind of curious how it relates to, are you guys familiar with the Starlink Project that Elon Musk and SpaceX have launched when they’ve launched all these satellites to provide a, you know, internet connectivity around the globe. But this is actually like in orbit. It kind of reminded me of that.

Jeremy Cowan  5:12  
Yeah, you’re absolutely right. That’s an orbiting link, and obviously comparable in its intention and its goals. I’m not sure how far they’ve got with that. But I know that it certainly hasn’t been dropped. There’s another service I might mention later, because there’s a very similar sort of thing going on in other quarters. But we’ll come to that in a while. Josh, what tech story’s caught your eye?

Josh Taubenheim  5:41  

Well, so something I saw recently, and it’s really something I’ve been following, sort of throughout all of 2020 is this issue of cybersecurity in connected IoT devices. And in particular, this news article I saw was warning of a sort of large impending cyber attack on healthcare infrastructure systems. Being in the US, you know, I’m sure everybody’s familiar with, we’ve been seeing this recent uptick in COVID-19 cases, and our hospitals are, you know, if not overloaded, already close to the breaking point. And it’s really been a trend throughout the last couple years that as more devices have come online, obviously more vulnerabilities have been exposed. It’s been something that there’s been multiple security firms and government agencies warning of this, this massive cybersecurity attack a malware attack that would lock critical systems out from hospitals, that would that would prevent our frontline workers who are already overworked and I think the last thing on their mind probably is their IT infrastructure, these nurses, and these doctors are trying to provide care. If this sort of cybersecurity hack and these attacks continue to happen, it’s only really going to make things worse. So that is something that jumped out to me in the last in the last week or so.

Jeremy Cowan  7:08  

Yeah, I agree. I mean, one of the things that’s come over to me covering security over the years in telco IT, but increasingly in the Internet of Things is the number of security firms that say that if a hacker is determined to get in a bit like a burglar, they probably will. So, it’s not just about ensuring that you have the security to try and make yours, a place that they struggle to get into. So hopefully, they’ll go somewhere else. But it’s also about thinking about what we all do next if it happens. If it happens to us in our firms and our organisations, in this case in hospitals. I mean, do we have plans in place for when IT goes down? What’s are planned response? Do we even have one? Where is our back-up data? And how can we access it? I think these are questions that an awful lot of organisations could do with asking themselves.

Josh Taubenheim  8:07  

Absolutely. And, you know, when these attacks happen the healthcare workers are essentially reduced to pen and paper, you know, really limiting their ability to provide the care that we desperately need, especially now. And I think it’s just increasingly a relevant topic to cover in 2020 especially.

Jeremy Cowan  8:27  

I think it’s true of hospitals just as much as it’s true of any of our organisations. Can we even function while we try and bring back systems online? And I’m sure we’ve all read stories, I’ve certainly written stories about the trend towards ransomware. Sunil, was there anything that struck you about this story?

Sunil Diaz  8:48  

Well, you know, it’s interesting as we think of IoT and the proliferation of devices, especially in the context of healthcare, it’s, you know, cybersecurity, I guess, is one big aspect of it. The other is essentially, the connectivity that is required and our communication service providers that are coming to grasps with how to interplay connectivity and cybersecurity. So, that’s an interesting aspect.

Jeremy Cowan  9:31  

Yeah, I think if you’re in the US, you could probably benefit from checking out the Cyber Security and Infrastructure Security Agency. You’ll find them at Cisa.gov – CISA dot gov. There are, of course, parallel agencies in many other countries. I only mentioned that one because it was a story emanating from the US. 

Anyway, it seems to be our week for looking up at the skies because as I was hinting there was a similar tech story that I noticed from Reuters in Berlin. Its headlined, ‘Deutsche Telekom tests mobile antenna in the stratosphere’. And apparently the German telco has also successfully tested an aerial mobile comms base station in the stratosphere, aiming to reach remote areas that are probably uneconomical for earthly networks. Apparently, DT is working with its partner the UK-based start-up Stratospheric Platforms (what else would they be called?) and has connected its terrestrial 4G network to a remotely-piloted aircraft flying at over 14,000 meters. That’s about 45,000 feet, I guess. So, according to Deutsche Telekom, this gives the aerial base station a 90 mile-wide footprint – that’s about 140 kilometres in other money. So, of course, this is going to bring 4G services one step closer in remote areas. But, from what I understand, the partners are also looking further ahead, beyond web access, or voice and video calls for smartphone users. The telco thinks it could actually enhance 5G networks to enable services like autonomous cars. Now, Sunil, you mentioned the rival service starting from Alphabet’s Loon, using high altitude balloons. And we know that a couple of years ago, Facebook grounded its own solar-powered drone. It seems Deutsche Telekom has been using a propeller plane in test flights instead of balloons over southern Germany. And something must be going right because Stratospheric Platforms is developing its own pilotless aircraft. And it’s got a wingspan as big as a jumbo jet. The numbers involved in these things are extraordinary. I don’t think it can manage 312 days of coverage yet, like Google, but it has stayed aloft for nine days. So the next plan seems to be to power it with a hydrogen fuel cell stack. And the first flight for that is expected in 2022. Just, I guess, don’t hold your breath for the new service, because it probably won’t be deployed until 2024. The numbers and the scale of these ambitions are breathtaking. What do you make of it, guys?

Sunil Diaz  12:32  

Yeah, absolutely. It forms part of Google’s Other Bets part of their business. If you look at their financial results, Google’s done extremely well. But the Other Bets part of their business, apparently posted an operating loss of over a billion dollars on a revenue of $187 million. Well, that’s Google. But you know, when you look at the communication service providers and the telcos looking to also move into these Other Bets, and trying to move up the value chain. That’s an interesting intra industry shift, I guess. I’ve been in the industry for over 25 years and, you know, the telcos are always in this state. Utility providing connectivity and pipes, but to see the transformation, moving into, I guess, digital transformation and Other Bets is interesting.

Jeremy Cowan  13:47  

Yeah, this could be hardly further removed from a utility approach. Investing alongside Deutsche Telekom, apparently, Stratospherics will be taking new investments. I think the UK firm has already raised somewhere north of £10 million and is looking for another £50 million. That’s about $97 million in real money. Nobody said this will be cheap – or quick come to that. Josh, are they going to be getting any of your cash?

Josh Taubenheim  14:20  

(Laughter) I’m not sure. I mean, I’ve not lived in the communication service provider world that much, but it’s just, you know, from the application view point how this has become sort of the new you know, arena, I guess, if you will. I remember a couple years ago, fibre was all the rage. You know, I just think from my perspective as studying technology, all the different applications this could have. And maybe going back to that sort of healthcare aspect to think about like contacting tracingand smart cars and wearable tech. I think it’s just a fascinating new area that we’re going into.

Jeremy Cowan  15:00  

I agree. I agree. Now Sunil, firmly back on the ground, and I want to talk to you about your plans. Enghouse Networks has been developing solutions for the telecoms world for years, can you expand for our listeners on your philosophy of creating building blocks for the industry.

Sunil Diaz  15:21  

So, Enghouse can be described as coming up with solutions that are complimentary, open solutions that address industry pain points. At Enghouse we have over 50 products in our portfolio. Enghouse has grown through acquisition and consolidation. I’ve been with the company for over 12 years, and during that time we have integrated over 17 acquisitions in the division that I oversee, which is Enghouse Networks. So, we are creating significant value for our customers, versus our customers looking at best-of-breed applications and doing the integration on their own. The idea of openness is built on common frameworks, micro services, APIs, configurable multi-capability. And then when we talk of reliability, lookour solutions support communication infrastructure for critical areas, such as telehealth, and healthcare that are emerging. So, they have to work consistently, they have to be reliable. And, you know, that has been our pedigree and where we have come from over the last 30 years or so in Enghouse.

Josh Taubenheim  16:50  

Sunil, I kind of had a follow-up question to Jeremy’s. You mentioned sort of these new emerging services that the telecoms, it’s really been sort of a transformation over the past two decades. Can you offer some insight into like, what changes you’ve noticed the most as the new players are sort of entering the market and offering these new services?

Sunil Diaz  17:12  

So, the industry in general, the telco is driven by massive change and I’d say disruption that, by the way, has been happening for a couple of years. And from some key areas. One is the emergence of cloud computing, and the expectation for ubiquitous, infinite capacity and resource pooling. So moving, essentially moving away from bare metal to infrastructure building blocks in the cloud, that’s a combination of compute, storage and network capability, platforms-as-a-service and software-as-a-service applications. The other big area is that when we look at big data, it continues to evolve along three dimensions; along size, that’s the amount of data being generated. Think of smartphones and social media and connected cars; and the speed, the rate at which that data grows; as well as a shape. 

So data is no longer about just about some structured data that’s sitting in a relational database, but we are talking about images and video and telemetry texts and emails, you know, social media content and unstructured data. The third element is artificial intelligence. Now, AI has been around since the 1950s. But what has changed is the proliferation of data and big data. So it continues to grow along these three dimensions, growing in size, speed and shape. And we no longer talk about bits and bytes and megabytes, we are talking about zettabytes, which is one sextillion bytes, or 1,000 to the power of seven bytes, essentially. The difference is that artificial intelligence, although it has been around since the 1950s, it now has this massive amount of and diverse data set to be able to work on that improvesthe outcome and the precision of the outcomes. And the last element is, Josh, you talked about the Internet of Things. I’ve read a definition for it. It’s the ubiquitous sensoring of value chains. So, all the devices in the chains become remotely machine-addressable in near real time. 

So, when you when you think of the volume of data, the rate of proliferation of sensors, artificial intelligence and machine learning, and cloud computing, the telco essentially is the hub of all this exciting connectivity that is transforming this data. Telcos around the world, as you know, are scrambling to react to this proliferation of network communication, and to be able to transport this data, which is bursty and elastic. It is no longer about voice and messaging and connecting humans, it’s all about machine-to-machine interaction. So, we’re seeing a massive transformation that began a couple of years ago, but I believe will continue to evolve and gain momentum as we move along in a post-COVID era.

Jeremy Cowan  21:12  

Yes Sunil, you’ve said before you have a vision for self-healing, zero fault and autonomous networks, bringing connectivity in both the 5G and IoT era. Can you tell us a bit more about how you envisage this?

Sunil Diaz  21:27  

Yeah. So when we talk about the transformation that is a result of big data, and you think about the network, the network can no longer be designed, planned and engineered in a static manner. It will have to be elastic to be able to scale up and down, it will need to be automated, the provisioning and the scalability of the network. AI and machine learning will be fundamental building blocks of dynamically configuring networks in real time to deal with bursty and massive data traffic volumes. We are able to significantly reduce human interaction between man and machine. I think I saw Nokia beginning to use the term ‘extreme automation’. So when we move to this new idea of extreme automation and closed loop feedback systems, where the network can automatically be continuously automatically and continuously adapt to changing external parameters, for example, again, in the context of the subject that Josh loves IoT. Think of an oil wellhead blowout, that is an impending environmental disaster, that can cause a whole bunch of sensors in a particular region of the network to send massive amounts of data across the network for a very short period of time. Right, you cannot really effectively pre-provision and engineer the network to deal with those types of scenarios. So, you know, machine learning and artificial intelligence is going to provide both the required degree of automation and zero fault tolerance needed to support these types of evolving networks.

Josh Taubenheim  23:37  

Sunil, you mentioned a couple times talking about this concept of, you know, this massive amount of data coming over a networkTelecoms are going to need a pretty robust infrastructure to support all this data, as you’ve talked about, and I think I mentioned it earlier. But can you speak to sort of the role that, you know, fibre deployments might play in that and what’s sort of the other value-added services you’ve described? How are CSPs going to use those to differentiate themselves?

Sunil Diaz  24:09  

At the risk of, I guess, some objection from our audience here, I would say that 5G is fibre. And until some other wireless technology, such as 5G is proven at scale, which I think is many years out, fibre is probably one of the only mediums that can deliver infinite or near infinite capability and secure services to the premise whether it be at home, as we are increasingly witnessing, in a work-from-home environment or connectivity to a data centre or a cloud or industrial premise. In any event, even if we see wireless replace some of that capability of fibre in the last mile, it’s pretty much going to remain the backbone of connecting devices in the network, and wireless antenna as an example in the context of 5G.

Jeremy Cowan  25:26  

Thanks, Sunil. I’m guessing if people want to know more about everything that you’ve just described, the best place to find out would be at Enghousenetworks.com. Is that correct? 

Sunil Diaz   25:40
Yes, that’s right. 

Jeremy Cowan  25:42  

 Brilliant. I can recommend it. I’ve had a look at the website already. And there is a ton of stuff to understand there. So, probably worth getting a few minutes and a cup of coffee and going having a look. 

Okay, guys, we’ve reached the section of the podcast called, What The Tech! where we share the tech stories that either amused or amazed us. Josh, you first this time, what’s caught your eye?

Josh Taubenheim  26:08  

Well, I might have taken it a little too literally when I was looking around, ‘cos I found a rather humorous article about teaching AI, humour, and the challenges with that. Everybody has that crazy uncle or that grandpa with the one-liners, and they can knock them out. And there’s this this kind of interesting article about teaching AI algorithms to generate its own jokes, and to some pretty funny results, you know, things like, I like my war, like my coffee; cold. Yeah. And one of the challenges they’re experiencing is that it’s a fun sort of thought process about what is actually humour to humans, it’s sort of, you know, categorical and ambiguous as hard to define. It’s difficult to train an AI to actually think like a human brain, because there are so many different factors into what makes us laugh. So it was just interesting to see what these researchers would come up with teaching this AI some sort of basic humour algorithms. And it would justcome up with often funny, sometimes inappropriate things. I won’t cite them here. (Laughter)

Jeremy Cowan  27:10 

Yes, please don’t. (Laughter)

Josh Taubenheim  27:13 

It’s sort of a reflection on ourselves too. We try to teach AI what we think is funny. And then it comes back and, well, it’s not funny. It’s just structured like your typical knockout Joker; I like my X like my Y. It was really sort of a fun read. And it was kind of humorous to see the the challenges and what would come out of it, trying to trying to train this AI model to be funny.

Jeremy Cowan  28:12  

It’s strange, isn’t it? Because you often think of humour being dominated by people who are spontaneous and wacky. And I’m not sure AI does. Well, it can do spontaneity, because it’s quick, but it doesn’t do wacky.

Josh Taubenheim  28:28  

No, it’s absolutely great at performing basic tasks that have sort of a linear approach to them. But it turns out, it’s not very good at taking all these different factors that are sort of hard to define. Maybe what’s funny to me is not funny to you. And it’s kind of just an interesting sort of look into how our relationship with technology and how we’re trying to shape it and the different results that come out of that.

Jeremy Cowan  29:00  

Yeah, I can’t help thinking that Monty Python’s crown is fairly safe.

Josh Taubenheim  29:05  

They actually reference Monty Python in this article. They were trying to try to get it to replicate some of the jokes that come out of that. 

Jeremy Cowan  29:20
Yeah, good luck with that?

Josh Taubenheim  29:25 
Yeah. That’s the thing though, right? That’s the thing, I don’t thinka computer would not come up with that, it just doesn’t seem possible. It doesn’t seem feasible. It seems like it has to come from Monty Python, right. It has to come from a brain that has all these different world views and different factors attributed to it. So it’s just sort of a you know, it’s funny to see what comes out of it. It’s sort of more of a reflection on ourselves rather than the technology.

Jeremy Cowan  29:43  

Sunil, what made you smile or frustrated you?

Sunil Diaz  29:48  

Yeah, I’m not sure if you know if this is funny or not, but I read about this restaurant in Seoul in South Korea that came up with an AI robot that serves customers. And they did this in order to minimise human contact and help with social distancing. So, after customers order food through a touchscreen, I guess, you know, many restaurants now have iPads and you can order your food off the menu on a touchscreen. But this was actually about a 1.2 metre to five metre tall robot that’s developed by a South Korean telecoms company called KT Corp that brings the food and it uses virtual simultaneous – it’s called SLAM simultaneous localisation and mapping – to avoid obstacles and navigate around customers. The robot can apparently deliver food to up to four tables at once. Using KT’s AI platform. It’s equipped with food trays, can carry up to 30 kilograms, and an LCD screen. And get this, it can communicate both in Korean and English. 

So, you can just think about how you might want to customise this robot. But it got me thinking as to you know, if you can do that, then what’s next? Can you have a machine replace a chef and automatically produce your food at your table. Would I want to go to a restaurant like that? Would it be fun? I don’t know. But it certainly gives you the scale of evolution. I’ve always felt that, you know, technology was an evolution and not a revolution. But this seems to be proving me wrong. It leaves me wondering as to what’s next?

Josh Taubenheim  32:09  

I wonder how long before they put Alexa in those things? So, you can just talk to them? 

Jeremy Cowan  32:13

Yeah. Gotta be.
 Josh Taubenheim  32:15

Jeff Bezos is gonna be all over that. (Laughter)

Jeremy Cowan  32:16  

I’ve worked in a French restaurant and learned the hard way that I can only do this in one language. (Laughter) So I’ll be very impressed with anything that can do it in Korean and English. I would love to watch it trying to navigate around drunken customers though. That could be really entertaining. (Laughter)

Josh Taubenheim  32:36  

Yeah. Or have the drunken customers navigate around the robot. I think that’s probably a bigger issue. (Laughter)

Jeremy Cowan  32:42  

Yes, that may come first. I love that.

Jeremy Cowan  32:46  

Sadly, the one that news story that I found isn’t one that exactly amazed me, but it’s a story we might have wished we never had to write. It’s a report from our AI-focused website, The Evolving Enterprise, called ‘Real Fake: Graphic Novel aims to explain disinfo and cyber warfare’.  Among the hazards online today that we’ve all become familiar with, unfortunately, are deep fakes, fake videos and still images that we could all do without, plus bots and troll farms, spreading disinformation. The question that the people behind this work were asking themselves is, How do we train the young to spot a fake? And a report on www.TheEE.ai says that a company called Erly Stage Studios has just published a digital graphic novel called, would you believe, Real Fake as part of the Resilience series that’s been commissioned by the US Cyber Infrastructure & Security Agency (CISA) that we mentioned earlier. You see how this is all seamlessly woven together? 

Real Fake will use fictional stories and these are inspired by real world events to inform and to educate people on the dangers of disinformation and misinformation. Only in Real Fake readers get to meet the heroine, Rachel O’Sullivan, a gamer, a patriot and a member of Symous, a group fighting disinformation and foreign interference in elections. Pretty topical, I guess with the recent US elections. 

The founder and CEO of Erly Stage Studios, who is Farid Haque tells TheEE.ai, while the story is fictional, many of the approaches shown are very much grounded in the reality of the technology we live with, and are exposed to almost daily. In the story a group of citizens, he says, are racing against the clock. And they want to prove who the sponsors of disinformation are via their puppet farms set up around the world to troll democracy. So, no small task and if Erly Stage Studios are successful, good luck to them. It’s a something that we’re happy to report and I’d love to report some success in it. 

Anyway, I’m afraid gentlemen, time is up. I can’t believe that shot passed already. Let me finish therefore, by saying a big thank you to Sunil Diaz of Enghouse Networks. Firstly, for sharing your expertise on a wide range of issues, Sunil and secondly, for sponsoring the podcast. Thanks very much.

Sunil Diaz  35:49  

Thank you.

Jeremy Cowan  35:50  

And my thanks also to Josh Taubenheim of MachNation for your expertise across IoT and a great many other areas. It’s been great to have you here, Josh.

Josh Taubenheim  36:01  

Thanks, Jeremy, it’s been great.

Jeremy Cowan  36:03  

Thank you too, Ladies and Gentlemen, for joining us around the world. Don’t forget to subscribe wherever you find this pod. And go on, be a total star; give us a five star rating and big up the podcast. I hate asking. But it’s free. And it makes such a difference when people are looking for a new pod to try out. 

Until the next time, keep safe. Keep checking VanillaPlus.com, IoT-Now.com and TheEE.ai for tech news and features. And join us again very soon for another Tech Trends Podcast, looking at enterprise digital transformation. Bye for now.

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