Point of View: Interview with Anand Bhaskarwar, EVP, Head of Professional Services at Parallel Wireless
We sat with Anand Bhaskarwar, EVP Professional Services, who is a true telco and Parallel Wireless veteran. For significant portions of his 24 years in the industry, he has been heavily involved in putting the mobile communication technology into the field, in the service of mobile operators. He was generous enough to share some of the insights he has gained from working closely with operators to convert theory into practice.
After 14 years with Parallel Wireless, in his role as EVP Professional Services, Anand is part of the leadership team. The team that Anand leads is literally global, with people in various countries, in particular those countries in which their customers operate. The team is responsible for designing the network, proposing solutions which are unique to the customer’s circumstances and then delivering the service, including the implementation and optimization phases. Basically, from deal signing all the way through to delivery, Anand has the primary responsibility towards the customer. This has become more complex over time, since when Parallel Wireless first started out, the solution was very well defined and more limited in scope. Now, when the company has a broad solution and has deployed many projects with carriers around the world, there is much more to offer for 2g, 3g, 4g and soon to be rolled out 5g networks.
His team also plays a major role internally, within Parallel Wireless, taking part in product reviews and feature reviews, providing customer feedback and representing the customer point of view. This input is crucial since, ultimately, the solution is intended to be used by the operator. So the criteria for success need to be whether the solution works properly in the customers’ network and whether it adds value for them in their business context and the services they want to deliver to their customers.
As someone who has been part of the telco industry for more than 2 decades, what do you expect to see in the next 5 years?
I am bullish more than ever. Remember that in 1998 when GSM and cellular networks were just starting, the price of mobile phones was high and the costs of a call were huge. Infrastructure costs were huge as well. At the time, people were saying that the break-even was 8 years and therefore many thought that the technology would not succeed. Then, improvements to the technology arrived , 3g networks introduced support for mobile data for consumers, followed by 4g networks with support for high-speed data and machine-to-machine communications. More applications and use cases for the technology became available, demand grew, device prices came down and profitability went up.
So I believe that we will see new applications, even those which we cannot imagine yet, appear and they will be the ones to drive the network traffic and the demand. As a result, I expect the telecom industry to explode in the next 5 years, creating huge potential and business opportunities for businesses, service providers, operators and especially vendors like us who are continuously innovating the network. This is why I am very excited and happy about the future, it is very bright.
What would you say to those who say that the expected revenue growth from 5g is not proportional to the investment that is required and does not justify the cost?
This is not the first time I have heard these fears, the same was said for 3g and 4g. At the time, everyone was saying “Why do you need 3g?” followed by “Why do you need 4g?”. Then applications were developed for 3g and for 4g and now the bandwidth has become insufficient. It is the commercial applications that drive the network need and define how the technology will be adopted. I know that it takes time, but 5g is going to be successful, slowly and steadily the market will adapt.
One example of such an application might be Augmented or Virtual reality experiences. They of course require the higher data speeds, lower latency and higher throughput that 5g technology can support. Once people will see that these applications can make a big improvement in their day-to-day life they can be convinced to adopt the new technology.
The trend has been that North America and Europe adopt new technology first, since they have more money, and the advanced markets of Asia are not far behind. This is true in terms of numbers of users and also the complexity of the applications. Then other territories like Africa follow suit. I expect that a similar trend of acceptance will happen with 5g.
BTW Africa may have been behind in adoption but we can see that now 4G is being rolled out across the region and operators are surprised by the amount of traffic. Every few months the volume of traffic has doubled. I am a believer in consistently building out the infrastructure and adopting the latest technology. Once it is deployed and made available to the public, adoption will follow.
So in your opinion, what is holding back OpenRan?
Frankly speaking, we were probably a bit too early with Open Ran, not just Parallel Wireless but the entire industry as a whole. As a concept it is great but it has to meet the operator’s expectation with regards to CAPEX and OPEX, so clearly there is still some room for improvement.
The industry made 5g available for early adoption and now the focus must shift to making the technology more cost effective. At Parallel Wireless we are continuously working to make these improvements and we expect to start delivering them in the near future. Then you will see operators get the financial and operational flexibility of using standard hardware with software based on OpenRAN, highlighting the competitive advantages of companies like Parallel Wireless.
What role do you expect for Parallel Wireless in this future?
The flexibility of our solution and the manner in which it can adapt to the new standards makes it easy for us to adapt solutions according to our operator’s needs. Even as a relatively small vendor, we are able to customize the solution in ways that larger vendors cannot or will not. I anticipate that this will give us a huge competitive advantage that will help us grab market share.
It sounds like you, personally, have a very broad set of responsibilities. Could you describe a typical day for you?
As a global leader I need to speak with people across the globe, so I find myself really trying to make the most out of the day. My day starts pretty early, speaking with our people in Asia as they are wrapping up their day and then with our people in Africa and the UK. Eventually, my US day starts and my leadership calls begin, as well as calls with the team that I manage in the US and South America. Towards the end I have a small window left for me to take care of my own tasks. Spread throughout the day are customer calls as well, from across the globe, which take precedence over internal meetings and can sometimes create havoc in the schedule.
Then, before I go to bed, I might speak again with, for example, my team in India who are welcoming a new morning. Being a global leader I try to utilize the daytime resources wherever they are and make sure they have tasks and we are on plan . All customer-facing activities are time sensitive and you need to be on top of it, with no flexibility on these timelines. Any project delays can have a high impact, so I need to be available.
It may sound like an impossible routine, but I love facing challenges everyday, and solving challenges brings great satisfaction. This is one of the reasons I like working at Parallel Wireless and why I am very excited about the great future in store for us.
As you speak with many operators, they surely turn to you for insights on technology and best practices. Where do you go to expand on your knowledge of the market?
I learn from being in contact with business leaders across the industry and from the fact that my team is responsible for designing the technical implementation. We are active with respect to the standards bodies, which helps us stay current with the trends coming from there and my team is always heavily involved with the implementations and the needs of the customer. The result is that I am in a uniquely informed position and I in turn pass on this aggregated knowledge to others.
Providing field services for RAN is always challenging, how PW is solving those?
Yes, RAN network poses numerous challenges and at times sites are very remote with no physical access. PW has been constantly investing in Automation features in the area of ZTP (Zero Touch Provisioning) and ZTO (Zero Touch Optimization), enhanced logging and tracing capabilities which improves the deployment and network maintenance efficiency.
How are customers embracing network upgrades such as 5G?
More and more operators wants to upgrade their network to 5G for Mobile as well as enterprise customers. There is huge demand for Mobile broadband, FWA and Low Latency use cases among the mobile users and network slicing is proving very beneficial for different enterprise cases.
While open RAN provides lot of flexibility for the operators but poses challenges as well, According to your experience what are the biggest Open Ran challenges? and what steps are being taken to overcome those?
Biggest Open Ran challenges are integration and interoperability in the multi-vendor scenario and getting optimized network performance equivalent to single vendor solution. There are many initiatives being taken to overcome these challenges one example is various plug feast events taking place across the globe which is helping vendors to integration solutions prior to deployment. Due to the concerted efforts from different vendors and support from the Opco’s is resulting in improved open ran performance which is evident from recent KPIs published from open RAN markets.
That sounds promising. Is there anything else that you would like to add?
I would just like to add that this is the most exciting time for Parallel Wireless, more than ever, we are in the right place and at the right juncture of innovation and technology development. In the next year we will really disrupt the market with solutions that the market is truly looking for.