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The Future of 5G: AT&T’s Partnership with MxD – Futurum Tech Webcast Interview Series
by Daniel Newman | July 27, 2021

On this episode of the Futurum Tech Webcast – Interview Series I am joined by Jush Danielson, GM Channel Marketing, Retail, Manufacturing & Global Accounts at AT&T. Our discussion centered on the 5G revolution and AT&T’s partnership with MxD.

The Future of 5G: AT&T’s Partnership with MxD

My conversation with Jush covered the following:

  • An overview of digital transformations that happened as a result of of COVID-19
  • An exploration of the industries that experienced huge growth
  • The big opportunities for utilizing 5G outside of speed
  • An overview of the partnership with MxD and why is this so important for AT&T Business
  • The trends that we are likely to see in the future.

The MxD AT&T partnership is a huge move for the future of 5G. If you’d like to learn more about AT&T’s plans for their 5G network growth, check out their website. And while you’re at it be sure to hit the subscribe button so you never miss an episode of the webcast.

Listen to my interview with Jush on your favorite streaming platform here:

And if you’ve not yet subscribed to our Futurum YouTube Channel or Futurum Tech Podcast on your favorite streaming platform, now would be a great time to do that.

Disclaimer: The Futurum Tech Webcast is for information and entertainment purposes only. Over the course of this podcast, we may talk about companies that are publicly traded and we may even reference that fact and their equity share price, but please do not take anything that we say as a recommendation about what you should do with your investment dollars. We are not investment advisors and we do not ask that you treat us as such. 

Transcript:

Daniel Newman: Hello, and welcome to the Futurum Tech Podcast. I’m your host today, Daniel Newman, principal analyst and founding partner at Futurum Research. Excited about this Futurum Tech Podcast Interview Series today, where I have AT&T business joining me to talk a little bit about the COVID-19 pandemic and the shifts it’s met for digital transformation, what’s going on with 5G. We’re going to talk a little bit about an innovation center right here in my home stomping grounds in Chicago, then we’re going to wrap up talking about the future and some trends. Very excited for this episode.

Without further ado, I’m going to invite Jush Danielson from AT&T to join me here on the show. Jush, welcome to the Futurum Tech Podcast, so excited to have you here with me today.

Jush Danielson: Hi, Daniel, how are you?

Daniel Newman: Hey, I’m doing really well. I’m so glad you were able to come out today. I’m excited about this conversation. I’m glad that everything worked out. I felt like today we could definitely hit on some big topics. I want to talk to you a little bit about the trends and the pandemic. I want to talk a little bit about 5G, something you guys at AT&T are very familiar with. But before we do any of that, I would love to have you just give a quick introduction and tell everybody about your work at AT&T.

Jush Danielson: Sure. Hello, everyone. My name is Jush Danielson, as Daniel just mentioned. I too am based in the wonderful Chicago, Illinois, so that innovation center that we talked about, it’s in my hometown also. I have responsibility at AT&T for our marketing that supports a couple of our verticals, our specialty areas. So I do have responsibility for the manufacturing vertical, I have responsibility for the retail vertical, and then also for what we call global accounts. So excited to be here with you, all of you today, to talk a little bit about how are we surviving and what have we learned from the pandemic. So thanks so much, Daniel, for your time.

Daniel Newman: Absolutely. It’s great to have you here. Funny, Jush, I’m actually moving in about a month. I’ll be heading to Texas, another big hub for you guys at AT&T, but I’m moving to Austin after spending 40 years here. So a big change for me, but I did have a chance to visit MxD, and we’ll talk more about that in a little while, because it was a very cool experience. But I want to start off with you, and I want to talk to you about the COVID-19 pandemic. Look, we’ve heard a ton of sort of, what I would say metaphors and anecdotes, about the acceleration that COVID-19 had on digital transformation. And while there was a lot of really terrible things that were associated with the virus, one of the good things was just the amount of emphasis it helped companies put on making necessary changes. I’d love to hear from you kind of… What were some of the things you saw from the onset of the pandemic, especially in the industries that you focus on as it relates to digital transformation?

Jush Danielson: Sure. So first off, I’ll say I completely agree with you. Digital transformation, or I think, the roadmap that organizations had for their digital transformation was expedited. I’ve read in lots of different publications that many organizations out there pulled in their roadmap timelines by two to three years because of what happened during the pandemic. As far as what did we see, especially early on during the pandemic, I think one of the big themes that we certainly saw was the importance of connectivity. And connectivity has enabled manufacturers to stay connected during the pandemic. Right from the very start, it was nearly instantaneous when connectivity kind of catapulted to the top of the list. I think about myself, in the second week of March of last year, the famous 2020. I was traveling to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, visiting customers.

And I left on a Monday morning, like I typically do. Everything was normal, or at least I thought it was normal. And then on that flight home on Wednesday evening, it was literally instantaneous when that flight home… It was a pretty big flight. I think it was probably like a 727. The airplane was nearly empty. I actually counted the number of passengers, and there were only nine of us on the plane. And so that was on a Wednesday evening. Then by the following Monday, AT&T made the decision to ask all of our employees, or I should say many of our employees, over 100,000, about 140,000 of us, to not go into the office, to instead work from home. And that, for us, was the beginning of the remote workforce, and so the priority of connectivity was the utmost importance.

Remote VPN access allows remote teams to securely access information, keep operations running smoothly, collaborate for meetings, access critical business applications as necessary. And so what we saw early on in the pandemic was just the importance of connectivity, the importance of agile networking. Suddenly, cloud services became extremely important for businesses in all industries, but certainly in the manufacturing industry also. The other, I’ll call it theme, from digital transformation roadmaps that we saw that kind of rose to the top during those initial stages of the pandemic was the importance of video intelligence. So video intelligence to monitor worker safety, temperature, and productivity through video sensors, again popped up to a key priority for focus areas for retailers, for manufacturers, for businesses in the healthcare industry. There’s also great potential in smart manufacturing solutions for workforce management, for logistics, for rail and trucking, for mobility fleet management.

And then finally, the last, I’ll call it item, on the digital roadmap transformation, I’ll call it cycle, that businesses really focused on was this concept of dark manufacturing. And dark manufacturing is the ability to complete manufacturing with fewer people on the factory floor, and be quote unquote “pandemic proof.” A few weeks ago, Daniel, we actually hosted our manufacturing and transportation advisory council. And this is a session that we host a couple of times a year, where we bring in some of the top manufacturers from around the world, and we talk about business needs and requirements and challenges that we’re facing. And this issue of manpower and lack of manpower, manpower shortage, has really, again, risen to the top. And so digital transformation, completely agree with you, it was expedited rapidly through the pandemic.

Daniel Newman: Yeah, those are some great observations. I can certainly remember my return. I went out, Mobile World got canceled, but I still had a few meetings, so I ended up going. Because I was like, “Ah, this isn’t that bad.” This was end of February. This’ll be okay, everyone’s being overly cautious.

Jush Danielson: So did you go to Barcelona?

Daniel Newman: I did. I went to Barcelona. I had some client meetings still. People decided since they’d already booked travel they were just going to go. I even went to a Barcelona soccer game. I sat in a full stadium, and obviously you see how that panned out over the following weeks. We learned a lot in that time. And I actually had a similar experience where I went to some meetings in North Carolina, and literally while I was there, the whole tide turned and the mask mandate started, and I didn’t know whether I needed an N95. I needed to get home.

I was worried. I mean, it was crazy. So I definitely empathize, and then all that acceleration you mentioned definitely was the case. I want to pivot with you though and talk a little bit about 5G, something that AT&T is very focused on. And generally speaking though, when people talk about 5G, they’re not thinking about every opportunity with 5G. They tend to be thinking mostly about handheld devices and faster phone connectivity. “Oh, I’m going to have a faster phone, faster data on my phone, 5G, 5G.” You guys are significantly investing and focusing on helping businesses and consumers understand the broader opportunities associated with 5G. Talk a little bit about what people aren’t thinking about. What are the opportunities that are out there that aren’t just faster internet and faster connection rates on mobile devices?

Jush Danielson: Another great question. So I would say, probably because I’m in the tech industry like you, when I think about the opportunities in 5G, I really don’t look at it from a consumer lens. I instead look at it from what’s the potential from a business standpoint. And when I think of it that way, what comes to mind are things like smart manufacturing, predictive analysis, machine learning or AI, the potential in IoT. I mean, there’s a plethora of opportunity in 5G. I’ll start by talking a little bit about smart manufacturing. So powered by IG and Multi-access Edge Computing, or MEC, can spur the biggest global transformation since the industrial revolution. I truly believe that. In smart factories, connected devices are expected to sense their environments and interoperate with each other. This will enable decentralized decisions that drive productivity, improve safety, and reduce operational costs.

If you think about the way that plants work today, plants work on a one-by-one basis, meaning generally speaking, a manufacturing plant has a plant manager. It’s got processes in place for that specific plant to take a look at the information, the data off of all of the puts and takes the machinery within that particular plant. And that design exists for every plant of a particular business. What 5G does is because of the high bandwidth and the low latency, it allows manufacturers to now take all of that information and pull it out of that physical box and look at it more holistically. So decentralize the capabilities, centralized looking at that information, making near real-time decisions, and then pushing it back to a factory environment. So 5G will allow for greater visibility into the production processes, enabling decision-makers to see everything from a single viewpoint. Manufacturers can use 5G in collaboration with LTE, with WiFi to bring levels of flexibility, both in operations and investment priorities in their facilities.

One of the other big themes that we hear from our customers today is they’re trying to figure out, “How do you leverage 5G?” And the question that we keep hearing is, “So which is it? Is it WiFi? Is it 5G? Is it LTE? Is it MEC?” And the response that we always give them is it’s not an or technology, it’s not a WiFi or 5G or LTE. It really is for a business to look at their current environment, seeing what the infrastructure looks like today, and then adding the components. And it could be multiple components depending on what their environment looks like, to create that platform, that technology platform that really enables them, to pull out the information that they need in order to make impactful decisions to optimize their business. So I’m in the business, but I would say huge amount of potential around smart manufacturing in 5G.

The other theme that I’ll talk about is machine learning, or AI. So technological advances in computing and automation and robotics and networking and materials combined with the advent of artificial intelligence holds the promise of an entirely new manufacturing landscape. AI can revolutionize the global supply chain, and I think at this point, all of us understand the importance of the global supply chain. So what AI can do for us is it can help better manage inventory and respond to market demand. When factories are connected to each other and have the ability to exchange capacity data in near real-time, AI can shift inventory and production capabilities to meet fluctuating demand.

And I’d say no matter what industry you’re in, one of the key learnings that we learned out of the pandemic, out of COVID-19, is it’s the importance of gaining visibility into the entire supply chain continuum, and AI can certainly do that. Other, I call it big themes, that we’re seeing is certainly MEC, or Multi-access Edge Computing, predictive analytics, which is a technology that we actually focus on, we AT&T focus on, for our space at MxD. So tons and tons of opportunities off of, I would say, aside from what many consumers think of when they think about 5G.

Daniel Newman: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, you hit on a lot of different things, and I’ve talked a lot about it on this cast. I’ve had execs not just like yourself from carriers, but from manufacturers and also from innovation, Falcomm to Intel talking about this. And of course, having you on, who’s acting as the intermediary between those that are building the infrastructure and designing it to those that are deploying it like in AT&T. And I think this is some very interesting examples. I mean, I’ve said for a long time computer vision, for instance, is just a massive opportunity for 5G. The amount of bandwidth it takes to really build a smart city was just putting a lot of pressure on traditional 4G and LTE resources, where 5G is going to provide, especially as you get MIMO, and you get these millimeter wave, and the super high density type of low latency, it just creates a lot of excitement.

And once you get connected on it, by the way… And I know we weren’t going to talk about fast mobile devices, but once you actually get a taste of that fast, there’s nothing like it. So you mentioned at the end of your last answer MxD. That’s in the city, in Chicago, and I got to visit there and spent a little time, and you guys had several different displays really about the connected factory. So you had inventory display, safety, I believe, and safety and compliance type of displays. This partnership I imagine is really important for customer and business development, for people to kind of get a taste. I mean, really, it’s sort of like when someone asks that last question, especially if you’re a manufacturer, you’re in this smart connected factory business. You guys can almost [inaudible], “Come here, we’ll show you 5G. Come over here.” I mean, talk a little bit about this partnership and its importance to your team at AT&T Business.

Jush Danielson: Sure. So let me first start by… Do your listeners understand what MxD is, or should I just spend a minute-

Daniel Newman: No, take a minute. We’ve got about five, six minutes left, so I don’t want to spend a lot of time on it, but it would be good for them to understand since we’re talking about it like they know.

Jush Danielson: Yeah, let me just start by giving you a 30-second lip on what is MxD. So in relationship with the DOD, or the Department of Defense, MxD equips US factories with the digital tools and expertise they need to begin building on their future. And so what MxD does is it provides US manufacturers with… I like to think of it as… It’s like a technology playground. And you’ve been there, so you’ve seen it. It provides manufacturers with the ability to see, touch, feel how you can leverage technology, emerging technologies, to really make an impact to your business. As far as AT&T, you’re right, it’s an important relationship for us, and it’s an important relationship for many reasons. The first is, I’ll say something that maybe a little bit cheesy, but it’s national pride.

We are a global company, but we do believe that there is value in focusing on giving US manufacturers the opportunity to continue to be leaders in the technology innovation space. And so that’s one of the reasons that we focus on this relationship with MxD. Another one would be its business development, so you’re exactly right. It’s showing our existing customers and then also potential customers how AT&T’s technology can be leveraged again to make an impact to their business. And then the third is it’s the art of the potential. Technology, it’s so exciting right now. It’s changing on a daily basis, and we want to be able to share how we are forward-thinking and provide manufacturers with the ability to see what are the solutions that we’re playing with, and how can they leverage them. So it’s an important relationship for us, absolutely. We’re very excited about it.

Daniel Newman: Yeah, I came away with a really good impression. It was good to spend some time down there, see everything working. I think that’s so important sometimes, is actually taking the time to spend in front of these demonstrations, see how it all works, especially, like I said, when it’s something you’re not familiar with. I think all of these people in smart manufacturing, industry 4.0, they’ve heard a lot, they’ve read a lot. In some cases, you get to events like we talked about, Mobile World where you do see it. But a lot of times, really getting to see it and spend time with it and get close to it, that’s what these demonstration centers can be so good for. So I only got a couple of minutes left with you, Jush, and it’s been a lot of fun having you here, great insights.

Everyone out there in our Futurum Tech Podcast community loves these shows, because they love hearing from people who are out every day talking to customers, getting close to the technology. As analysts, we get to break it down a lot from that 50,000 and 30,000 foot, but then we get these experts to come on from that closer altitude, which is super important. But talk to me about some forward-looking trends now. So you talked a little bit about what you’ve seen, you talked about what you guys are deploying in 5G, you’ve talked about this innovation center. What’s next? What are you talking to your customers about that they need to be thinking about as they continue to transform into 2021 and beyond?

Jush Danielson: So I would say, Daniel, one of the big trends that we’re seeing is around private networks. So it’s combining these elements and technologies to create an environment that can ultimately transform retail, make autonomous vehicles a day-to-day reality, make it possible to build smart factories, and revolutionize the healthcare services and their delivery. Our on-premise Multi-access Edge Compute solution I’ve mentioned a couple of times can actually essentially build a 5G-enabled private network on a business site. So it can provide a low latency device which environment for businesses that need fast data processing and want to keep their data on-premise for greater security and flexibility. And with the use of millimeter wave spectrum 5G and MEC, we’re helping businesses to create new latency-sensitive applications for use environments like manufacturing and healthcare, where there’s lots of devices and a lot of data. So this concept of private networks is, I think, going to be certainly an emerging technology, which many businesses across all different industries will certainly be focused on.

Daniel Newman: Yeah, that’s some great examples. I definitely like the idea of being able to have a various approach, like you said. I like that you mentioned the and approach, whether that’s WiFi, whether that’s slicing, whether that’s using public 5G and fixed access or private 5G. I mean, these are all options. And the thing is, every business, I believe Jush, needs to look at their individual situation and determine based upon their location, the requirements, the latency, requirements for accuracy, uptime… All those things come into play to pick the right solution. And I think the key as a carrier… As an analyst in the industry, I look at it and I say, “You need to have that right mix of products and solutions.” And it sounds to me like that’s something you’re really focused on on your team, is being able to deliver and market the right mix to these manufacturers in this industry that you’re focused on.

Jush Danielson: Yeah, absolutely. And Daniel, I’m going to make one more comment, and I don’t mean for this to be a sales pitch, but I have to say this. So I recently did a webinar a couple of months ago, and during the webinar, we polled the audience. And we asked the audience, “Hey, where are you in your digital transformation journey?” And surprisingly, over 50% of the attendees, and there were literally hundreds of them, actually stated that they were still in the beginning stages. And so what we’re seeing, and what I keep hearing from our customers, is they’re really struggling with how to start, where to start. And I completely agree with what you said, which is look at your current environment, and then pick a couple of examples. Figure out how do you digitize certain things in your factory environment, start small, and then grow from there. We do have a consulting practice. If anyone needs assistance, I’ll throw it out there, but otherwise I’d say start small, start in one place, and then you can just take it from there.

Daniel Newman: Yeah, that wasn’t too bad. Just a little tiny ad. But you know, what I’ll say is we’ll throw some links in the show notes where people can learn more. Definitely, one of my favorite old adages is eat the elephant a bite at a time. That’s the only way to do it. So there’s a lot of different ways to get started, and you provided some great insights, Jush. Thank you so much for joining me here today on the Futurum Tech Podcast interview series. Thank you to AT&T.

Jush Danielson: Great. Thanks, Daniel.

Daniel Newman: All right, everybody. You heard it here. Jush Danielson, what a great job getting a little backdrop and backstory on what happened over the last year through the eyes of AT&T Business and the carrier space, what’s going on with 5G, the partnership over at MxD here in Chicago, the innovation center, and then of course we wrapped up with some future forward-looking trends. If you enjoyed what you heard, check out the show notes and hit that subscribe button. We’d love to have you. Share us across social media. We love that too. We always appreciate that. We hope here you’re getting more analysis, more in-depth, and you’re walking away a little bit smarter knowing a little bit more than you did when you got here. For this episode of the Futurum Tech Podcast, I got to say goodbye for now. We’ll see you later.

About the Author

Daniel Newman is the Principal Analyst of Futurum Research and the CEO of Broadsuite Media Group. Living his life at the intersection of people and technology, Daniel works with the world’s largest technology brands exploring Digital Transformation and how it is influencing the enterprise. Read Full Bio