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The Soundtrack of Our Lives

Today is my 365th blog entry, and while that has taken over a year and a half to publish that represents a full year worth of short essays. I am going to use this personal milestone to step out of my normal daily blog and talk about something that has been on my mind. It’s still something that is somewhat tech-related but it’s also quite personal and I bet most of you reading this will see yourself in here somewhere.

I want to talk about how I grew up with music and how the web has changed that experience. I was prompted to think about this a few days ago when on the last day of my recent vacation I played four Beatles albums end-to-end. That’s something I haven’t done for a while because the modern music experience doesn’t favor listening to whole albums.

I did this using a modern music web site, Spotify. This music service provides millions of songs on their service but also lets me import and integrate my own music library. I generally let Spotify mix up my music and use it like a radio station, but instead I listened straight through Magical Mystery Tour, Revolver, Rubber Soul and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart Club Band. And as I listened I got that old feeling of listening to music linearly like when we plopped albums onto a turntable and listened to them end-to-end. The satisfaction of listening this way came from the fact that I knew the words to every song, having listened to these albums many times, but I also always knew what song was coming next. My brain not only stored all of the lyrics of these Beatles songs, but also the play order on the albums.

This was refreshing to me since I hadn’t done this for a while. It was like meeting a long-lost friend. But it made me think about the difference in the personal experience of music today versus music back then. When I was young we obviously did not have millions of songs at our disposal. What we had instead was the radio, music stores and friends with album collections. Radio was pretty vibrant in those days, particularly when I moved to Washington DC, and it introduced you to a lot of great music. You would listen as much as you could to the radio or to friend’s collections to see what you liked and then you made an investment in buying an album. Since none of us had unlimited funds, the choices you made became the music that you listened to over and over (and over). You got to know certain artists really well.

I remember the great satisfaction once a month when I had enough excess funds to make a trip to the music store. This would always be on a Friday night and I would linger from bin to bin making the choices that I knew I would have to live with. Whether I had enough money to buy one album or half a dozen, these trips were one of the highlights of every month. And while buying a few albums at a time was somewhat limiting, it didn’t stop me over the years from migrating from classic rock, to punk, to folk, to reggae, and to new wave with many other side trips.

But then jump forward to today. Spotify, iTunes and other music services are more geared to songs than albums. I look at my daughter’s play list and she has one or two songs from hundreds of artists rather than a lot of a stuff from a few of them. And to some degree I have jumped on the same bandwagon because there is such an immense library of music available, including many of those things that I almost bought years ago on a Friday night buying trip. I can now indulge every musical whim.

But this smorgasbord of choices makes our music into a personal radio station. What I notice is that my daughter and wife drop and add songs all of the time, making their play list fresh and different. Artists are sampled and if something tickles their fancy it gets added to the playlist, and if it gets boring it goes. This is so different than the linear experience where you listened to an album with its good songs, bad songs and great songs and you came to know and love them all.

I’m not being nostalgic because I love the options that Spotify offers me. One of my favorite activities when I have a spare hour is to just leap from song to song, from artist to artist and listen to music I’ve never heard before. That is a freedom that was not there in the analog days. But I do lament the loss of intimacy and commitment that came from choosing an album and choosing an artist. That became your music and you listened to it and you learned it and it became ingrained in your mind and in your soul. Every person’s album collection was different and we each created our own personal soundtrack to accompany our lives.

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See You in Austin

Derrel Duplechin of CCG and I will be in Austin this week at the Broadband Communities Summit. We will be putting on a seminar on Wednesday afternoon on the topic of Revenues Beyond the Triple Play. If you happen to be coming to the convention we’d love to see you at the session, or look us up.

I feel lucky to have gotten this topic to discuss. If you have been reading this blog you know that we at CCG feel strongly that every triple play provider should be putting energy into developing new products. The revenues we derive from voice are continuing to decline and cable TV is headed down the same path. The time to react to this eventual train wreck is now, while you still have the margins from those products, and not wait until your cash is squeezed.

Every triple play carrier is going to face a pretty simple choice at some time in the near future – either retract your company and become an ISP and sell nothing more than fast data pipes to your customers, or else start implementing new products to replace the sinking triple play products. If you choose to become a dumb pipe provider your future is really simple. You’ll need to strip out employees and systems and become a pure ISP and do nothing but provide the fastest pipe you can create.

If you elect to remain as a full-service provider you have a much more challenging task. No one or two or even three products is going to replace the revenues and margins you have been getting from voice and cable. Rather than have a few products that most of your customers buy, you are going to need a lot of products that only have a 5% to 10% penetration. There are no more big magic bullets. I offered to help one company look at their future was told that they would pay to have me come see them if I could tell them what the next big product is. That is exactly the wrong question to ask because there isn’t going to be one. The small carrier industry has frankly gotten a bit spoiled in that we had products that were relatively easy to sell. But those days are over and we are going to have to do what many other businesses do and scramble for every customer and every dime we can make

Both choices I have laid out are probably valid ones, and both are very different than what we do today. For instance, if you choose to be nothing more than an ISP you are going to have to dismantle most of your company and staff to stay profitable.  It can be done. and if you want a model of what that looks like look at the many WISPs in the marketplace today.

But if you choose the full service provider route what will you sell? There are a number of potential products you can sell today and many more coming in the future. Today you can consider products like security, energy management, home automation, wireless MVNO, IP Centrex and OTT Video. You can also do what we call crossing the threshold, meaning that you make a product out of having your technicians do whatever businesses need in the telecom and computer space. We know companies doing each of these products and they can all be moderately successful.

There are also a lot of interesting things coming. Home automation is the very first step of getting into the Internet of Things. This is going to quickly grow into areas like medical monitoring, crop monitoring, flock and herd monitoring. And mostly the things that are coming we haven’t thought of yet as carrier products.

The biggest challenge of transitioning to many new products is to figure out a way to be efficient with new product development. You can no longer take a year or two to put together a new product. You have to roll them out quickly and learn how to sell them efficiently. You will have to do this in-house or collaborate with other carriers. If you can figure this out you will probably thrive and survive. But if you don’t do anything and stay blindly on today’s path, at some point you will no longer be viable and will fail. Our industry has never faced such a divergent set of options and this is both a scary time and an exciting time to be in the business.

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Meet CCG

One Year and Counting

Today marks the one year anniversary of this Pots and Pans blog. I must tell you that it feels like a lot longer, because I have a hard time now remembering when I didn’t write a blog every day. My new routine is to get up early, make some tea, feed the cats, walk the dog and write a blog entry.

As the year has gone on I have slowly and steadily picked up readers, and I thank you all. I have 114 people who get the blog every day by email and roughly fifty other people read the blog on an average day. I know that writing about telecom is only of interest to the few and I am pleased with those numbers. Many of the people who read this are my friends and colleagues and these blogs have led to some lively discussions.

I find that my brain has gotten good at thinking about the world in the format of the 500-word essay. My brain fought against this format when I first got started because I am an explainer. I want to tell you everything I know about a topic and that is impossible to do in a short essay. But the blog has taught me to get pithy and to get straight to the heart of a matter quickly. I have written enough blogs now that my brain composes my thoughts easily into the blog format, which is interesting all by itself.

That discipline of trying to write every day has been very good for me, both personally and professionally. Personally it has made me a better writer. The blog has also let me express myself. My first blogs were very factual, but over time I have allowed my opinions to come into the blog. I am certain that I am not always right, but I have strong opinions about many telecom topics, be they right or wrong.

Professionally writing this blog has forced me to read a lot more to keep up with what is going on in the industry. And in my job as a telecom strategic consultant, the more I know the better my advice. In the last year I have done a much better job of keeping up with the industry, but I also have expanded outward in my reading to learn more about all sorts of technology that tangentially affects our industry. For example, I find myself fascinated by the Internet of Things. I feel lucky to be alive at a time when human knowledge is literally doubling every few years. The stuff that scientists and engineers are working on is fascinating.

I try to write s blog every business day, but I don’t always succeed. I skip major holidays just because. And there have been a few days where I had the flu and my brain had a hard time remembering my name. I can only imagine what would have hit the page had I been dumb enough to write on those days. And once in a great while I just run out of time, particularly on days when I am traveling. But I somehow managed to get 241 of them done this year and I am proud of that.

When I started doing this I thought I would be out of ideas in a month. I see many other bloggers who only write a few blogs per month and suspect that lack of ideas is a problem. Early on it was a struggle every day figuring out what to write about. But now I have more ideas than I have days, because we work in an industry that is changing quickly. Almost every single aspect of telecom is different today or soon will be different than what we all grew up with.

I have no idea how long I can keep this up. But for now I love the daily discipline of writing this blog and I love the way this mental exercise is making me think. As long as I keep getting such positive waves from the experience I guess I’ll keep writing for a while.

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One Year and Counting

Today my blog is not about telecom for the first time, but something more important. Today is my first wedding anniversary and that’s really all I care to talk about today. I am nearly sixty years old and still it feels really good to be having a first anniversary.

I just feel very lucky to have found a woman who completely belongs in my life. Every day with her is a good day. Everybody who has known me for a while says that I am happier than they have ever seen me, and they can tell that from the outside. I know this to be true from the inside.

This blog is due to my wife. She has inspired me to renew my vigor in working and she suggested that I do this blog to share some of the accumulated knowledge I have gained from being a consultant for many years. Being with her has given me a renewed zest for everything I do, be that gardening, work or life in general.

Before I met her I was having the thoughts that anybody my age starts to have, asking myself when I should think about retiring. But being with Julie has given me new energy and I am really enjoying work again. I have started new product lines at CCG and am looking to start more. I now look forward to the each day and to the future and wonder if I will ever retire. Work is fun again and I will keep doing this as long as it is.

And this is all due to my wife Julie. It’s great to have somebody in your life who gets you. We fit together so well that people who meet us assume we have been together a long time. We give off that very relaxed and satisfied vibe, I guess.

So today I want to thank my wife Julie for being in my life. She has made me happy in a way that I don’t think I have ever been. I think it goes to show you that it’s never too late in life to find that perfect partner. I have found mine and I could not be happier with her or with life.

So Julie, happy anniversary! I hope we have many more.

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Improving Your Business Meet CCG

CCG Number Portability

I don’t write too many blog entries that are direct sales pitches for CCG services. I will admit that many of my blogs hint at the services we offer, but the main intentions of these blogs is to plant ideas for small carriers that we have found to be useful. But this is one of those sales pitch blogs, and if you do number portability you should read it. We now offer the fullest range of number portability products in the industry and we think we have the best prices. The main benefit for small carriers is that we don’t require annual minimums, so if you don’t do a lot of ports we are going to be your best solution. We offer two different number porting products – traditional number porting and LSR service. And in a related service we now offer directory listing update service.

Service Provider LSR Number Porting Service

Before you can port a number you must determine who owns the number and get the owning carrier to release the number to you. This process is referred to in the industry as the LSR porting process. CCG offers the only turn-key LSR porting product in the country and we can interface with any carriers to complete the porting LSRs.

This is the process of notifying the owner of numbers that you are porting their numbers away and is not the same as the process of updating the NPAC database. Rather, this is coordinating the transfer of telephone numbers with the RBOCs, CLECS, cable companies, independent telephone companies or wireless companies that own the numbers. This step is something that must be done before the number port can occur. There was never a lot of need in the past for this service, but now there is such a proliferation of numbers owned by many different service providers that you can’t assume that the numbers you want to port belong to an incumbent carrier.

Product Detail. CCG does the following for each LSR Number Port:

  • CCG will determine who owns the telephone number(s). For example, while you may be trying to port a customer that is using a CLEC like Vonage or Level3, you might find that the numbers actually belong to some other CLEC. We also routinely find that businesses can have numbers that belong to multiple service providers even if they are being billed by just one.
  • CCG will obtain the needed Customer Service Record (CSR) used to verify the porting data provided by your customer and confirm the desired due date.
  • CCG will interface with the “old service provider” LSR system to request a number port. We have found that every carrier has unique LSR processing systems and we can efficiently process with any service provider.
  • We will monitor the porting process. We will troubleshoot any porting requests that are not porting properly and we will escalate as needed to meet your due date. We will notify you when the port is complete and forward you the carriers FOC. We will provide you with documentation that each port has been processed and is complete.

NPAC SOA Number Porting Service

We also now offer the traditional number porting product where we can help you change the ownership of the number in the Neustar database. This allows you to gain control of numbers that previously belonged to another LEC, CLEC or wireless provider. We offer quick turnaround to make sure that you meet your desired service cut date.

In this process you will give CCG access to your database at Neustar. But unlike some other consultants providing this service we also can get you access to the same database and the reports and troubleshooting tools at Neustar.

We can be your turn-key interface in the Neustar Number Portability Administration Center (NPAC) database. We think our prices for this service are the best in the industry. And for small carriers we have no annual minimum commitment. If you only do a few ports per year you should give us a call.

Directory Listing Update Service.

We now also offer a service to update the directory listings for new customers. These updates are very inexpensive for customers who want to keep their directory listing the same as before. But we can also handle complex directory updates.

We also will make sure that you know when the annual directories will be published and we can help you verify all of your listings for accuracy before the directory hits the street each year.

Finally, we can bundle all of these services into a turn-key package that makes it easy for you to add new customers.

Contact Terri Firestein at CCG at 301 788-6889 to learn more about these services and to get a price quote.

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One Hundred Blog Entries

This blog is an introspective look at the blogging experience. Last Friday I posted my 100th blog post. I have written one every work day and they have been posted every day except once when my wife just forgot to post it.

The process of writing a blog every day is a really good exercise for somebody like me. We have so many different clients at CCG and we get pulled into so many different business situations with different issues that I find that I know a little bit about almost everything in the telecom industry. Some things I know a whole lot about, but on many topics I feel I am a thousand miles wide and an inch deep, meaning I know the basics about a topic, but there is much more that I can learn.

So writing this blog has been a learning opportunity for me. I have read books, read thousands of web articles, scoured Wikipedia and talked to people who I consider to be experts. When I write about most of the topics I end up knowing more than when I started, and for a consultant that is not a bad thing.

Not all of my blog posts are factual and some are just my opinion. When I first started the blog I tried to avoid opinion pieces, but then I came to realize that I have strong opinions about some of the things going on in the industry and I decided to let my opinions out of the box. This has also been a learning process for me, because before I can write an opinion piece I still need to think about the topic and do research, and I have found myself modifying my opinion a few times during this process. Certainly the act of thinking deeply about any topic is a healthy mental exercise and I actually look forward to the writing and thinking time.

After I had written 20 blogs I had a fear that I was going to run out of topics. I look around the industry and I don’t see anybody else writing daily blogs, and perhaps I am nuts to try to do so. A lot of industry blogs have posted a dozen entries in the time where I have done 100. I still don’t know exactly what that means, because in daily life I am not overly loquacious, but I seem to not lack words when I write. There may come a day where I struggle to find topics, and if that happens I will slow down. But there is so much going on in this industry that I just don’t see that happening for a while.

I am also a bit surprised by where the blog has taken me. I have spent a lot of time thinking about and writing about the future of the industry. The industry is undergoing more changes right now at a faster pace than ever. Companies are changing, technology is changing and products are changing. Trying to figure out where this is all headed is an interesting exercise. I am sure I going to be wrong about a lot of my predictions, but right about others. Certainly there will be new inventions that will change the landscape in ways we can’t imagine today and that will trump any current predictions. As an example, a decade ago it would have been nearly impossible to predict the impact of social media and there will be the new equivalents to Facebook coming.

I find the Internet of Things to be the most interesting of change of all. The idea of filling our environment with little sensors and tiny computers to give us a different interface with our environment is fascinating and exciting. I have read science fiction books since I was a pre-teen and it is amazing to see us on the cusp of so many of the things predicted in that genre.

I have found myself writing about the cable industry a lot more than I expected, but that is where all of the action is happening. I don’t think anybody expects a future where households buy the huge bundle of channels in the same way they do today. There are too many market forces pushing on the industry to change. But I’m not sure anybody really knows where it will end up in a decade.

I thank my readers for dipping in from time to time to see what I have to say. My volume of readers had grown continually and just watching the blog tools is an interesting thing to do. I can see how many visitors come to my blog each day, and I know how many articles they read (but not who they are). One thing I know now for sure is that the telecom industry shuts down on Friday afternoons and very few people read the blog then.

This is a blog for telecom carriers and it is meeting all of the goals I originally established. It’s making me stay current. It’s helping me understand the issues in the industry. It’s letting me think about the future of the industry and then turning around and making that process relevant to my friends and clients. So, at least for now, I see the blog continuing, so stay tuned.

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One Month Anniversary

I’ve been writing this blog for a month now and so far I have learned the following:

It takes a certain discipline. On many of the topics I am covering I could easily write a white paper, or at least a long dialogue. However, blogging forces you to keep things short. I have found that I will have to break some topics into a series of blogs if I want to cover them fully.

And the trick is in making something short is to not over-simplify it. I have already caught myself doing that. Some telecom topics are complex and can’t be covered adequately in three paragraphs.

So bear with me as I learn this new medium. It has been interesting to write this way and I hope the resulting blog posts are of value to my readers.

There are a lot of topics. When I got the idea of writing the blog my first fear was that I would quickly run out of topics. On the first day I sat and thought hard and made a list of forty topics. It struck me that day that if I wrote those forty blogs that I would be done with this blog after two months.

Luckily, it seems that every time I write something or read something on the Internet that I think of five more related topics. I also now seeing a blog post every time I read a telecom news story.  CCG Consulting as a firm is involved in a huge array of telecom services. This gives me a really wide spectrum of relevant ideas to write about. I don’t know that I can crank out meaningful posts forever, but I think I can do it for years. We shall see.

Some topics are boring as hell. So far I have not found any good way to spice up a blog post about an FCC ruling or about the current nature of access disputes. But sometimes these are the topics that small LECS and CLECs most need to know about. So please just take my most boring blog posts like medicine and just remember they are good for you!

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The Video Game Fire Button!

Derrel Duplechin (Vice President of Engineering) recently was outside in the evening with his family when a cicada landed on his arm, and he tried to shoo it away.  What happened next is, well, pretty striking!

You do not have sufficient freedom levels to view this video. Support free software and upgrade.

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Meet CCG Technology

Physics of the Future

I highly recommend anybody interested in Technology to read ‘Physics of the Future: How Science Will Shape Human Destiny and our Daily Lives by the Year 2100’ by Michio Kaku. The book is well written and is an easy and accessible read.

Kaku is a theoretical physicist who researched for this book by talking to leading scientists in many fields of science and asked them where current research is taking their fields by the end of the century. Many scientists see practical and disruptive innovations coming from their own fields of study. But when taken all together, the changes that the scientists see coming look amazingly like Star Trek minus the transporters and the warp speed travel and the Vulcans.

At the turn of the 20th century the world was completely disrupted by inventions like the automobile, electric lights, airplanes, etc. At the end of the last century we saw the world changed drastically by the computer.

Some of the many changes that scientists see coming during this next century include:

  • Cheap fusion power, meaning almost unlimited, pollution-free power for everybody.
  • The ability to locally make things (like the Star Trek replicator) which we are already starting to see with the 3D printer industry.
  • Computer chips so cheap that they are built into everything.
  • A high likelihood of computer sentience.
  • Nanotechnology being used to constantly monitor your health from within and that will intercede to keep you healthy. Cancer won’t be cured so much as it will never be allowed to get started.
  • Space tourism will be routine and not just for the very rich.
  • Driverless cars wiping out gridlock in even the biggest cities.

This book is a fascinating read. The next century is going to see massive technology disruptions that will completely transform almost every industry. In the process many of our largest corporations will go the way of the buggy whip manufacturers.

The book made me think about the telecom industry. One thing that is obvious is that there is going to be massive amounts of data produced everywhere and for this data to be made sense of we will need fiber networks. The idea of gigabit networks will be a quaint idea of the past and we will be having discussions about whether terabit networks are fast enough.

One thing the book doesn’t postulate about is the human element. Certainly there will be a lot of people eager to take advantage of these new technologies. But one has to wonder what is going to happen if parts of society turn their back on such revolutionary breakthroughs and what that might mean for the future of the planet. One also has to wonder if these breakthroughs will be made available to everybody or just to the rich. I haven’t read a book in a long time that has given me more to think and dream about.