HUNTSVILLE, ALABAMA – “You think of us today as a carrier-focused company, but that’s not the way you want to think of us going forward,” said Tom Stanton, ADTRAN’s long-time CEO, to an assembly of analysts and press at ADTRAN’s CONNECT event at their headquarters here. In some ways the comment was atypical for Stanton, who in his overview of ADTRAN’s strategy going forward, emphasized caution, showing a clear concern about jumping on trends in the market before there is clear evidence how they are going to unfold, and, most importantly, that customers are willing to pay for them today.
“You have to be careful about over-rotating – building the dream of software before anyone is willing to buy it,” Stanton emphasized. “That’s a constant point of contention within our company. There is a loud course of people saying everything has to be virtualized – including some of our customers. ‘If you had it, I’d buy it today,’ they say. No, you won’t, because you wouldn’t use it.”
This note of caution is not new for Stanton. He has stressed it before, emphasizing in 2016 for example, not to be overly aggressive in making their newer technology backwards-compatible for software-defined networking, because the vast majority of the market wasn’t ready for it at that time.
“We may have missed some opportunities,” Stanton said. “That’s okay. It’s a very long-term game that we are playing here. You are making bets, looking to beat the house every once in a while.”
Similarly, in a market where pundits are singing the virtues of 5G, and where some vendors are aggressively placing their bets on it today, Stanton was much more reticent.
“When it comes to 5G, I hear a lot of opinions, but I don’t hear a lot of facts,” he said. “If it takes off, I’m a really happy person. If it doesn’t take off and fixed is the way you get bandwidth, I’m a pretty happy person. The science and physics between 5G has yet to be determined. There are so many impediments to it. It’s going to take a lot longer than people think for there to be mass rollouts. For the vast majority of the carriers, it’s still up in the air.”
Growing market share in their traditional carrier base remains a key strategic priority for ADTRAN.
“We believe that we are in the first third of an upgrade cycle that most people are aware of, but where they don’t fully understand the implications,” he said. “We want to be in a position in our traditional base to pick up market share.
Their second area of strategic focus is also with a familiar set of customers, in the MSO [Multiple Systems Operators – aka cable companies].
“We have sold to them for a long time, with our enterprise gear,” Stanton said. Growing this market more, however, is now a priority.
“Growing in both traditional markets and MSOs is really about broadband availability, and broadband availability is driving a lot of our strategy right now,” added Jay Wilson, ADTRAN’s Senior Vice President, Technology and Strategy. “Technology innovation here will help us get the cost per bit down.” Broadband availability, plus software-centric networks at scale, plus mobility access with wireless are the future.
Stanton also identified software and services as the other major strategic priority.
“Services had a fantastic year last year,” he said. “On the software side, we have a major initiative in Mosaic.” That’s ADTRAN’s agile development software-defined networking platform that serves as both the company’s cloud platform and its open services architecture.
“Software-defined networking is something that you have to have,” Stanton added. “Integrating it all into the network and changing processes is a multi-year process, however. We are also really trying to mobilize the meaning of Mosaic, so customers can do not just the big picture but little pieces as well, so that they can do targeted things without having to put in the foundation first.”
Chris Thompson, Director of ADTRAN’s Mosaic portfolio, provided more detail on how ADTRAN has expanded Mosaic’s reach.
“In the last year, we have exercised more of the capabilities of the platform by opening it up to other vendors – Cisco, Infinera, Juniper, Nokia,” he said. “We don’t care how you connect to us.” He also stressed that they have become highly engaged with the Open Networking Foundation [ONF], joining in June at the partner level. ADTRAN has also enhanced Mosaic with the recent rollout of multiple tools – Mosaic Device Manager, to help customers remotely without rolling a truck, Mosaic Subscriber Insight, which analyzes data about a service provider’s network and customers to provide actionable insights, and Mosaic Insight, an automation tool to streamline processes for service providers and make them more efficient.
Stanton also restated ADTRAN’s commitment to the Fiber market.
“Our goal is not to be the leader in copper,” he stressed. “The only way to be the long-term market leader is to be the leader in Fiber technologies.”