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  • Guest: Martin Jensen

  • Company: Edge Cloud

  • The following transcript has been edited for length and readability. Listen to the entire discussion here on The Broadband Bunch

    Craig:

    Hello everyone and welcome to another edition of the Broadband Bunch. Alongside my colleague, Brad Hine, I’m Craig Corbin. Thanks so much for joining us today. Never before has the need for rapid deployment of telecommunications technology been greater, bridging the digital divide, closing that home/work gap and accommodating the bandwidth needs of distance learning and a remote workforce. Having capable leadership in place to both introduce and manage an overall technical vision is vital for telecommunications providers everywhere. Our guest today is a preeminent solutions architect with extensive experience in private LTE, Citizens Broadband Radio Service, (or CBRS), Edge Cloud, Virtualization and 5G. He has electrical and mechanical engineering degrees from the Technical University of Denmark, Martin Jensen. Martin, welcome to the Broadband Bunch.

    Craig:

    You bring to the table quite an impressive list of technical competencies. Give us some insight on what your primary focus is at present.

    Martin:

    I’m just trying to help out where my skills, and expertise, and experience is wanted.  Some of the things that we are faced with at the moment, specifically with this new and interesting CBRS spectrum that is also termed the innovation band.  This is something that’s a very hot topic today for many of WISPs out there today that are looking at utilizing the band and also the bandwidth expansion that it brings. Obviously with this new technology, being a shared spectrum, it comes with some challenges. I think with the background I have and some of the past experiences I’ve had with building networks becomes pretty useful and I’m super happy to help as many as I can with my expertise.

    Brad:

    I know you have an extensive background and that you’ve spent quite a number of years in Europe, actually working with large global telecom OEMs and things like that. Can you tell us a little bit about, going back in your career, what actually got you started in that career path?

    Path to Building Out Networks

    Martin:

    I’ve always, since I was a little kid, had an interest in computers, and communications, and everything electronic.  I think it was a Christmas when I was in middle school and my parents gave me a Commodore 64. From the minute I pressed the F1 key, I kind of knew that this was the field I wanted to get into.

    Martin:

    I did some programs. I coded some games on the Commodore 64, investigated some protocols between a tape recorder and the Commodore 64. And since then, I have been hooked. I knew that I wanted to go into the communication industry. I knew that I was going to be an electrical engineer, and I’ve enjoyed it ever since. The good thing about this field is that it’s always changing. There’s always something new coming up. There’s always something new that you can learn in this field. That’s what I try to encompass as much as possible in all these experiences. I have spent many years with a global OEM.  I started there in Europe, in Denmark, where I’m originally from, building out networks in Europe and then got transferred to the United States to build some large networks for the Tier 1 operators.

    Rural Communications Using CBRS

    Martin:

    I learned the whole gamut, from the radio side all the way out to the internet pipe.  All the time trying to get as much knowledge in these different fields as I possibly could so I could help as many customers as possible. Back then it was a Tier 1 companies. Then I moved on to working for an infrastructure company, trying to utilize the existing infrastructure that’s available as much as possible, and help as many people as possible with the infrastructure that exists. Then obviously with CBRS coming out, and all this need for connectivity in rural America, that has also become dear to my heart.  I’m basically trying to help as much as I can out in those areas where the need honestly is the greatest. COVID-19 has brought a lot of need for communications out in the rural America, and that’s where I’m spending the majority of my energy at the moment – trying to help with solving some of those problems out there with experience that I have, and in particular with this new technology that is in front of us.

    Brad:

    You and I first met at the WISPAPalooza conference out in Vegas a couple of years ago. And we got into talking about how you’ve spent much of the last 10 years deploying, managing, upgrading, and maintaining fixed wireless networks in the US. And helping those service providers become more efficient, aware and able to visualize everything that’s going on in real time. Talk a little bit about some of the challenges that those WISPs have traditionally had leading up to CBRS, and what they’ve been faced with historically.

    Helping WISPs Overcome Transition Challenges

    Martin:

    That’s very interesting and you know me well. I see a challenge or a problem, and I want to try and help customers and the operators solve the problem, either with tools, or processes, or figuring out ways to overcome some of the obstacles. One of the things that was evident when CBRS came out is that it’s a shared spectrum. It’s good because you get three times as much spectrum as you have with the legacy Part 90, the spectrum that’s being utilized today, which is about 50 megahertz wide. Now, with CBRS, all of a sudden you’re opening up 100 megahertz more of spectrum and the challenge here is that now it’s a shared spectrum. So what is a shared spectrum? It’s not something that we are used to, and that is obviously causing a lot of questions. How do we handle this?

    Martin:

    The US was in the forefront with shared spectrum. A lot of countries outside of the US, are looking at us and at the success that the CBRS will bring, but obviously also looking at the transition from something old to something new that is supposed to be better, and the challenges that come with that. Any transition from one technology or one system to another is always hard. We want to make sure that the effect on customers is as little as possible from a transitioning perspective. And that transition has been challenging, I would say. We need to understand what is the performance before transition? What is it after? We want to see that there is at least the same performance as afterwards, and that was a conversation that you and I had that first WISPA conference. There are tools out there that can help with this transition.   That was how we started this dialogue – looking and scouting around for ways to help customers, and operators help their customers.

    Brad:

    If we take this to some of the rural markets in the US, or underserved markets, or unserved markets, would you briefly explain why somebody would build a fixed wireless network and infrastructure in those area, as opposed to a traditional landline network. Is it purely economics?

    Martin:

    It’s not purely economics. There’s a mix with having the traditional transport approach, but some areas is just too hard and too difficult to reach. And that’s the time when you start using fixed wireless for accessing those customers. It’s also much quicker to deploy as compared to pulling in fiber. It is economical, but not in all cases. So many WISPs today, they have a combination of fiber and fixed wireless. Some only has have fixed wireless, but there’s a couple of other things that pushes this transition through that we have to do at the moment. There’s a FCC mandated period of transition time. By October 17th, all these networks have to be transitioned from the old frequency band to the CBRS band. So that’s one of the big drivers for the transition of the fixed wireless systems today.

    Martin:

    Another driver is that with 150 megahertz spectrum versus 50 megahertz spectrum, you can put a lot more customers in the wider spectrum. There’s still a lot of unserved demand out there that can’t be accommodated even with a wider spectrum band, and that is essentially the other big driver for doing this transition. As I mentioned before, all of these kinds of transitions is not easy. There’s a lot of moving parts. There’s a new system in place, the Spectrum Access Server, that also needs to be understood and connected to. We need to have connectivity in place. Firmware upgrades has to be done. Some of the equipment is not supporting this new technology and has to be replaced. So there’s just a lot of moving parts as part of this transition.

    Martin:

    WISPs out there are super busy with just day-to-day operation, and expanding the network, and serving their customers. I oftentimes call them “MacGyvers” because they all have to do a little bit of everything. They’re not like the traditional Tier 1 service provider that has individuals that only have to do certain things as part of the process. WISPs out there, they’re doing everything, they are serving their existing customers as good as they can, and at the same time, trying to get as many new customers onto their networks as possible to serve as many people in rural America as they possibly can. So they’re looking for help, and tools, and processes to improve the way they operate, improve the way their networks operate, and improve their build out processes so that they can connect and serve more of these rural communities. That’s where I’m trying to use some of the experience and knowledge that I have gained over the years, and try to help them with this daunting task of transitioning these networks.

    Brad:

    So what a WISP is really doing for the next month before the CBRS due date, is trying to ID their whole network, trying to reach out and see the devices that are in their network, see the devices that are delivering services to commercial businesses and/or residential subscribers, and trying to identify if those devices will be CBRS compliant or not.   Would you agree?

    Martin:

    That’s very accurate. They need to check that the firmware version works, try transitioning a test cluster on their network, and then do exactly what you said, create a complete inventory of the network that they have in place. Because honestly, preparation is the most important part of this transition. If they have good input into the transition process, it’s going to make the transition process a lot easier. And the very first thing is to get a full and complete network inventory.

    Martin:

    The CBRS rules state that you have to provision installation parameters in the Spectrum Access Server, the SAS that I mentioned before, from a compliance perspective. And that’s information that sometimes sits on somebody’s laptop, sometimes sits in a spreadsheet, sometimes sits in multiple spreadsheets, and gathering that information and make sure it’s completely accurate is honestly taking a lot of time and effort. It seems simple, but in a moving world where things change all the time, and you’re adding on new customers, things are difficult to manage, and control. It’s important to get a good inventory and to prepare yourself with a good starting point in terms of what is in the installed base. That is key to success as part of this transition, honestly.

    Brad:

    Knowing a lot of WISPs like we do, some of the crucial data is living on a local machine, and so I can imagine that some of this process would be manual too.  WISPs are trying to upgrade devices to the latest and greatest firmware to be compliant, retiring and replacing other devices, and then synchronizing those new devices with the correct frequency throughout the network. And then when all that’s done and they have all that deployed, they need to run a general performance check to see the state of the union of the whole network and all of the service delivering devices.

    Martin:

    Exactly. Another recommendation we make is that the best way to start is with a little cluster of your network and learn the process, create a good MOP for it and make sure you have a backup MOP, so in case something goes wrong, you have something to fall back on. Also upfront, define your key performance indicators (KPIs) that you can measure before and after the transition so that you can make sure that, if something breaks, you detect it right away and the customer doesn’t. Check your RSRP levels, (sorry for bringing some technical terms up), but check your performance levels so you can compare them afterwards.

    Benefits of CBRS Spectrum

    Martin:

    Once the transition is done, assuming that everything is good, then the next phase comes where all of a sudden, you’ve got all this additional spectrum to work with. Where are the other customers that you can add to your existing infrastructure? You’ve gone through this painful migration, but now comes all the good stuff, like which other customers can you serve with broader spectrum band? And that’s where you got to make sure that the network is good and it’s clean after the transition so that you can build more customers, and get more traffic onto your existing network with this beautiful, increased spectrum band.

    Brad:

    So the benefit comes at the end with diligent detail and planning. The benefit comes when you now have this robust network that’s more efficient and can add more subscribers and connect more folks. Are there companies out there that can automate this process or software subsystems that even do a portion of this? How does that work in the industry?

    Martin:

    Everything is very new, as I said. We cannot take references from abroad, from outside the United States, because this shared spectrum is brand new. So there’s not many tools to work for you. You have some methods and tools that vendors are providing, that the equipment vendors are providing, but it’s not complete. Because it’s new, there’s always something new that comes up that we didn’t anticipate. So you have to be flexible, and make sure you understand that if something breaks, you have a way to fix it quickly. So yes, there are tools, but I would say there’s not one tool that has all the answers. I wish that was the case, but that is not the case at the moment.

    CBRS Spectrum Transition & Google

    Craig:

    With the rapidly approaching deadline, do you get the sense that most WISPs are going to be able to make the deadline? What’s your thought in that regard?

    Martin:

    I think so. I think that most will be able to make the deadline. It’s just better to do it up front as much as you can, so that nothing is rushed.  Because the more you rush, of course, the higher risk there is for making mistakes, and making mistakes is going to affect the customers. So the sooner that you can start the transition, the better it is, because the more we prepare results in less mistakes basically. There is that deadline, October 17th, and it is coming up very rapidly. I know there are a lot of WISPs working very hard on gathering all the information and testing to make sure that their systems are ready. Obviously, there’s a lot of activity going on in this field at the moment.

    Brad:

    I know you’ve been working with an American search engine company founded a little over 20 years ago. Would you tell us a little bit about that and any current events coming up?

    Martin:

    I mentioned, the Spectrum Access Server, or SAS, and that it’s a new thing to CBRS. Spectrum Access Servers are not something that we’re used to, but they come in and manage the spectrum on the WISP’s behalf. So that’s a new system, and obviously with everything new, we’ve got to figure out how that works and make sure that the WISPs understand the shared spectrum. And I’m always curious, I always want to help when there’s something new to try and figure out, so I’m helping Google as well.  I have one of the fast servers in US that serves a lot of WISP customers today with the Spectrum Access Server and making sure that that Spectrum Access Server works well with all the different vendors and all the different operators.

    Martin:

    Many of the WISPs today have multiple vendors in their network, and it’s obviously a challenge to make sure that all these works together. So at Google, we have done a bunch of transitions already with our WISPs, and we want to make sure that the message gets out there. We have some good practice that you’ve seen, we have learned some “gotchas” that you should avoid, and we want to make sure that the whole WISP industry knows as much about these as possible. So we’re sharing our experience and our knowledge on a webinar next Tuesday, on the 22nd, at 2:00 PM ET. We want to make sure that the whole WISP industry knows and can benefit from those experiences and our knowledge.  And that’s what we’ll be talking about on the seminar on the 22nd.

    Craig:

    Martin, can’t thank you enough. One last question, what is the best way for people to register for and attend that webinar?

    Martin:

    Google issues a newsletter that has a signup link for the webinar on the 22nd, as well as future webinars.

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