Photo of C. Douglas Jarrett

Last week, I escaped from D.C. to NTCA’s TelcoVisions Conference in Las Vegas. Great Content.  Well managed and well-attended.  All Keynotes were top-notch.

The big takeaway is the emphasis NTCA members place on exceeding customer expectations in delivering a range of community-focused services:  the triple play, wireless and more.   Additional revenue opportunities that were highlighted in the conference sessions include Globalstar’s proposed Terrestrial Low Power Service (TLPS), (a potential “Super WiFi” service), Content Delivery Network (CDN) Federations, and M2M services.

I moderated one session and participated in another.

One theme of the panel “Utilities and Rural Service Providers: A Multi-Faceted Opportunity” was that rural electrics’ smart grid data communications are driving expanded investments in fiber and wireless, and that partnering with the rural Services provider in these investments can deliver substantial benefits to both providers and their members.   From the industry, Ryan Bewley, Director of Engineering for electric and telco operator NineStar Connect, highlighted the numerous synergies and benefits of a unified telco and electric engineering staff.  Shannon Clark, CEO and General Manager of Richland Electric Cooperative, explained how his electric cooperative and the rural Services provider realized the importance of delivering high-speed Internet access to their community and took the steps to deliver the same.  Shannon emphasized that straight-forward, member-focused communications between the rural electric and rural Service provider can deliver substantial benefits.

Consultants Mark Momerak of NISC Coop and Steve Senne of Finley Engineering Company provided their perspectives.  Mark emphasized how shared CSR, billing and other back-office software and hardware create and facilitate shared operations and substantial cost savings.  Steve explained how substantial physical plant investments on the electric side support shared investments by both the electric cooperative and rural Services provided.  Steve echoed the theme of his co-panelists that sharing infrastructure investments benefits the rural Services provider and rural electric’s shared memberships.  Another theme discussed, more fully among ourselves, was that significant CLEC opportunities remain in areas adjacent to the rural Services providers’ service territories largely because the major ILECs, to date, have declined to make substantial investments in network upgrades in these predominantly rural areas.

Moderator Brian Partridge of the Yankee Group and Abe Levine of Vistracks (an M2M application services provider) and I spoke on M2M service opportunities.  Brian stressed the success of MVNOs (as opposed to the facilities-based wireless carriers) in the U.S. in rolling out M2M services.  Abe emphasized the value of selling an M2M end-to-end service (such as asset management/tracking) rather than simple wireless connectivity, emphasizing the widely shared view that there is no real money in selling kilobytes per month.

Brian provided the macro view of M2M in the United States and Abe set out the business case for offering end to end M2M applications, as opposed to simply reselling kilobytes of data.  The author echoed several points, noting that with the exception of VisTracks and maybe one or two other entities, there is limited availability of end-to-end M2M applications that rural carriers can deliver to their customers.

Again, kudos to NTCA on a great conference.