Episode #004: Bill Soards, President of AT&T Indiana
Think back to the last time you were frustrated with the internet speed on your mobile device. Two decades ago we had no problem waiting 2-3 minutes to get on dial-up, but today’s consumers don’t like to wait more than a few seconds and even a few seconds often feel like to long of a wait. That’s all going to change with 5G when we’re experiencing speeds that are 100 times that of 4G LTE. And, this means consumer expectations are going to increase. In our fourth episode of Mobile Matters, we talk with Bill Soards, President of AT&T Indiana, about what 5G means, the benefits we’re going to see from 5G, and the impact 5G will have on your business.
Get the latest content and resources from Lumavate delivered to your inbox every week.
Stephanie Cox (VP of Sales and Marketing at Lumavate): I'm Stephanie Cox and this is Mobile Matters. Today, I'm joined by Bill Soards at AT&T. Bill is the President of AT&T Indiana and is responsible for external affairs including state and local government relations, community affairs, regulatory and legislative activities, and initiatives for the Indiana General Assembly and the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission (IURC). In this episode, Bill and I talk a lot about how an entrepreneurial spirit is at the heart of AT&T, what 5G actually means and how it's going to transform the customer experience. And make sure you stick around till the end. Where I will give my recap and top takeaways so that you can not only think about mobile differently but implement it effectively. Welcome to the show Bill.
Can you talk to me a little bit about how you got started with AT&T?
Bill Soards (President of AT&T Indiana): Going on 19, now it's by chance. I met somebody who worked for the company and they mentioned that they were looking for someone who had a passion for technology and did I know anybody who might be interested. And I thought yeah, honestly that sounds something really interesting to me. And I landed my first job almost 19 years ago with the company and I've been in a few different roles in a few different cities. But I was born and raised in Indianapolis, so it's been great to be back in the state for the last five years or so.
Stephanie Cox: Tell me a little bit about what AT&T does in Indiana.
Bill Soards: Well, we've got a long history of about 120 years in Indiana. I'm actually talking to you from downtown Indianapolis in a building where there's been a telephone company for 140 years. And AT&T started doing business as Indiana Bell about 120 years ago. And, historically, we've been in that in the telephone business. But interesting, we still draw our source of inspiration from our founder, Alexander Graham Bell, who was an entrepreneur at heart, who just had a passion for connecting people. Many people don't realize both his mother and his wife were completely deaf and it was actually a family passion that he and his father and brothers shared of trying to help people better communicate with each other. And so, again, we've had a long history in the state of Indiana. And as technology has changed, the way that our customers like to communicate with has changed.
Stephanie Cox: So, I know you just mentioned how much technology has changed. So, when you think back to your career, what have you seen as the biggest changes in technology that have impacted your business?
Bill Soards: Well, it's interesting. I've frequently have people ask me just about the explosion of wireless and how people use on their devices. We've had over 250,000 percent increase in traffic on the wireless network, just over the last 10 years. Massive amount of traffic and so people just assume the wired network is going away. Well, the way people access the network has certainly changed and become predominantly wireless. But behind the scenes, there is ever more fiber than ever connecting all of those cell sites and antennas, crunching data and keeping us all connected, all the time. But probably the way that people access the traditional network has probably been the change the most. But, I mean I started in the time when long distance telephone calling was where all the action and excitement was. And that quickly changed into a data and high speed data, the beginnings of DSL and broadband and, of course today, just the information of the world at the tips of our fingertips is incredibly exciting. And continuing to change and evolve every day.
Stephanie Cox: And I think that's a really interesting point. When we think about how much has changed and how much, as consumers, like this evolution of technology has made us less patient to wait for things. And that's one of the reasons why I'm so excited to talk to you about 5G, specifically, and what that is going to mean for us? Can you tell me a little bit about what 5G is? Everyone's hearing about it.
Bill Soards: Sure, yeah absolutely. We expect 5G to be a huge game changer. Ultimately, it's to help us connect more devices faster, to enable lower latency. It's going to increase battery life and handle a lot more data, like searching video growth on people's devices. It takes a tremendous amount of assets to be able to get ready to launch 5G. We've invested nearly 1.7 billion dollars in Indiana, just in the last three years to prepare our networks both the wired and wireless networks, to try to get ready for this massive amount of data that's coming our way. Certainly, we talk a lot about the G's in the wireless industry, the migration from 2G to 3G to 4G and we're getting ready for 5G and, obviously, the G just stands for generation. It's a generational change that happens every seven or eight years, there's a massive technology overhaul. Historically, Stephanie, we've connected three different kinds of devices on the wireless network. It's been phones, tablets, and laptops. And I think one of the big differentiators with 5G is the billions of new devices that are going to be connected to the wireless network. Cars and monitors and sensors and cameras, your imagination can run wild with the multitude of different devices that are increasingly going to be connected. We always hear about the hypothetical refrigerator and dishwasher and things in our homes that are going to be connected. And those things are becoming reality, in front of our eyes. So, 5G networks will certainly be faster. In fact, many believe that 5G networks will be about 100 times faster than today's 4G LTE networks. But, over the years, as we've gone from one generation to the next, speed has been about the only differentiator. And certainly there's going to be a heck of a lot of speed that comes with 5G networks. Instead of thinking about megabits, we're going to be thinking about gigabits per second. But that's just one small facet of 5G. Latency is a huge part of what 5G is going to bring to us and latency is the time it takes when you push play on your mobile device to play a movie or when you hit a weblink on your device, to pull up that web browser. It may be half a second or less today in a 4G world. But that is going to be almost instantaneous in a 5G world and so, lower latency brings all kinds of new applications and ones that we can think of today and ones that haven't been invented yet.
Stephanie Cox: To me, that's one of the things that's so exciting about what is possible with 5G. To your point about this latency idea being able to access things even faster than I can today. Not just from a speed, perspective but just from the moment I get it that instantaneous consumption that we, as consumers, are no longer patient to wait a half a second, two seconds for.
Bill Soards: Yeah, and certainly there's the consumer benefit. Whether you're watching a high definition movie or trying to web stream your latest TV show. But when you start thinking about Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality, driverless cars telemedicine, Progressive Web Apps, and connected homes. These are applications that require really low latency to be effective. Take autonomous vehicles, for instance. When you can imagine a world where a vehicle is driving down the road and has to respond to some change in its environment, whether it's a child darting in front of a car or a sudden stop of another vehicle. That information has to be processed back in the network and sent back to the vehicle to instruct it to stop. Those are the kinds of applications that 5G networks will be able to enable. Historically, our wireless networks have been really hardware intensive. It's been about antennas and radios and rather non-elegant broadcasting of cellular signals. 5G networks brings so many different layers to it and highly technical areas that we probably won't get into today. But the complexity and the flexibility of millimeter wave spectrums and networks slicing, software defined networks. Devices on a 5G network will have a really customized experience based on how fast it's travelling, what direction it's going, what the antenna it is currently using and the one it's about to hit. Really, it's almost hard to enumerate just what the 5G experience is going to be like. Hopefully seamless to customers, but there's a tremendous amount of network intelligence on the back end that just hasn't been available to us in prior wireless generations.
Stephanie Cox: So when you think about all that's going to be possible with 5G, what do you think the biggest impact on that customer experience is going to be once 5G is available?
Bill Soards: Well, I think the customers immediately going to the things they like to do today a lot faster. Again, video now makes well over 50 percent of the traffic that happens on all wireless networks is now video content. A huge shift. My wife and I will sit on the couch and watch TV on occasion and it's not too hard to notice that increasingly people are not doing that anymore. Right? Their television screen is in their pocket or in their briefcase. And so, watching video I think is going to be changing dramatically. But the innovation is really going to come from the products and services that don't yet exist, because the network capabilities haven't been there in the past. And that's why we're spending an awful lot of time in our AT&T Foundries and meeting startup companies and innovators and hosting Hackathons to try to surface these next generation products and services and ideas because we're really bullish on what kinds of innovation these 5G networks are going to help give life to.
Stephanie Cox: So, as you think about that specifically. Do you think you know once 5G starts rolling out and I know select cities are over the next year, but then as it grows throughout the nation. Do you think we're going to see this huge wave of innovation that we've never seen before because of what's possible with it?
Bill Soards: I really do. We're world really fortunate in Indianapolis to have been on the front end of that. It was actually June of 2017 AT&T launched our 5G evolution network in Indianapolis. And this was at a time when the formal 5G standards were still being agreed upon. But, we knew. We'd been at the table with these international groups that have been landing on what proper and formal 5G standards were going to look like. So, about a year ago we started rolling out all kinds of new technology that's based into the network, that's going to help support 5G. Things like other technologies called LAA and carrier aggregation. Basically, technologies that help make the network faster today as we're preparing for 5G. And so we've been really lucky. Indianapolis was one of only two cities to really first launch 5G evolution about a year ago. Now, AT&T has got 5G evolution in about 400 cities across the country. But the exciting part is, is that probably about that time listeners hear this podcast before the end of 2018, Indianapolis is going to be one of the 12 cities where formal 5G is launched by AT&T before the end of the year.
Stephanie Cox: So, one of the other things that you mentioned earlier was connected devices to the whole world of Internet of Things. And I know I'm personally passionate about that, due to my background. But I would love to hear your perspective on how you see the IoT world evolving because of 5G and what it's going to open up.
Bill Soards: IoT is really exciting and I think it's especially opportunistic for Indiana in IoT. Today, on the AT&T network, we have over 20 million Internet of Things devices on our network. The majority of them today are vehicles. You can't watch a television show in a commercial without almost every major auto manufacturer is leading with the fact that there is now connectivity in their cars. So, about three or four years ago, we started doing deals with General Motors and Ford and Saab and Tesla and Volkswagen to be their connectivity partner in their car. And so, really connected cars I think where we first started seeing IoT. And in that vehicle in the front seat, it's all about things behind the scene. It's diagnostics and it's information that's going back to the manufacturer on the engine performance and so forth. And in the back seat, it's all about Wi-Fi connectivity and entertainment and streaming audio and video. So, connected cars has been a really good precursor for us to see what the IoT opportunity really looks like. But those 20 million IoT devices on our network today is going to translate into about 20 billion devices in the next 10 years on our network. That's when we start connecting cameras and sensors and all kinds of different devices whether they're in the home or they are mobile assets. But the IoT opportunity is real.
Stephanie Cox: One of the things that you just said that I think is so important not to overlook is, with IoT a lot of people think about the end-user. So I can control my washer, my dryer, or the fridge that you mentioned earlier. But part of IoT that people don't realize and you highlighted it a little bit with cars, is how much data is companies have that they're trying to get to the cloud. To be able to analyze that and then do something with that that might be an end-user action. But it also might be ways for them to improve their products. So, one of the things that I think a lot about when we talk to companies is this idea of a maturity model for IoT. A lot of companies are talking about it but struggling to figure out how to get this large amount of data to the cloud from all their devices, quickly. Do you think that's something that 5G is going to be able to help accelerate?
Bill Soards: Yeah, absolutely. I think two of the key ingredients that make 5G special is the speed capabilities and the fact that it's all software defined networking. Again, I don't want to downplay the wireless networks of yesterday, but 5G is almost building an entirely new wireless network from scratch. If you could go to the whiteboard and design a wireless network that is uber-fast, completely secure and designed in a software defined vision to be able to share data, use data in an open network platform. Not only to maximize the experience that the end user is having, but to be able to share that data with consumers and businesses. The flexibility of a software defined network is limitless and that's the kind of capability that's baked into this network from day one. So yeah, I'm hopeful that just as we've seen dozens and dozens of massive companies that have started in the last decade, in large part due to this wireless revolution that's happened in our country. I can't begin to imagine the new kinds of opportunities that will exist in a 5G world. But, IoT will be a big part of that as well.
Stephanie Cox: Well, I'm just excited to see the number of companies really just latch on to this technology and be able to move so much faster in the IoT space. Because I feel like we've been talking about it for a while and there are some companies doing it very well and some that I think are just almost waiting for that extra thing that's going to propel them forward that they've been struggling in. I know from my perspective, I'm just really hopeful that 5G is that a solution that just really clicks and allows them to accelerate that process.
Bill Soards: We certainly hope that's the case. And again, I think it's probably going to be the increased speed that draws people in. But once the innovators get busy and start building other products and services around it, I have no doubt that there will be a lot of options and a lot of really cool technology to see in the years ahead.
Stephanie Cox: I'm excited not just as a marketer, but as a consumer with 5G and what it could mean for my mobile phone. So, talk to me a little bit about what devices are going to be able to use 5G.
Bill Soards: Yeah, it's a great question. Part of the benefit and the curse of being on the bleeding edge of this is, there's not going to be a lot of devices available just yet. So, we've said that we're going to launch a standards based mobile 5G network in Indianapolis before the end of the year. So, within the next four to six weeks we're going to go live. Device manufacturers are expecting that phones won't be commercially available until sometime in 2019. So, it's largely believed that when we do launch it, it will be with a MiFi device, which will be the first device to work on the 5G network. And so, although it may take six or eight months before traditional devices and the major manufacturers to start building this technology into their platforms and producing standard handheld phones and tablets and so forth. The first device is largely expected to be a MiFi Puck. But if the network experts are correct, we could see anywhere from a gigabit or faster from that network. So, that'll be really exciting to be one of the first markets to have that.
Stephanie Cox: It is and it's also crazy to think you know 15, 20 years ago, we would wait three minutes to add on dial up and now you're talking about one gigabyte. Like that's just, it's really exciting.
Bill Soards: Yeah, many people believe that 5G networks will almost replicate a fiber optic experience. I think that's one of the goals is to have incredible speeds, low latency, always on, but you're completely untethered on a wireless network. So, we're really anxious to see how that gets adopted and what kinds of new innovation and ideas that gives birth to.
Stephanie Cox: So, I know you mentioned that one of the first devices that will probably be available that work with 5G is going to be a MiFi. Are there any phones on the market today that Apple or Android have released that are going to work with 5G or should we think about... Should I wait to upgrade in six to nine months from now?
Bill Soards: Well, the good news is that all of those manufacturers of devices have a lot of 5G evolution technology built into it. What that means is, all the carriers have been making improvements getting ready for 5G. In Indianapolis, again, we launched that 5G evolution network about a year ago. And so, all of the Samsung devices and the newest Apple devices have a lot of that technology built into it already.
Stephanie Cox: So, when you think about mobile in general and the future, what do you foresee in the next five, 10 years?
Bill Soards: Wow, that's a good question. Sometimes, some days, it feels like it's hard to see what's even two years out down the road. But, one of the things that's apparent to me is that the speed and advancements of wireless networks are accelerating so fast. I mean, there was a day not too long ago when many of us thought Nirvana would be the day where we all have fiber directly to our house. And while that's true and there are many companies, us included, building fiber directly to people's homes, I think there's a lot of industry analysts and industry leaders that are now seeing the capabilities of wireless networks and beginning to wonder about how is this going to be adopted? The speed requirements that I have in my home may or may not require a fiber optic connection today. But, at the same time, consumers are still changing the way that they're watching video and that tends to be a more mobile experience. But just as all of us have gotten used to watching and HDTV for the last decade and a half, now the market is poised to move to 4K video, which is you know even more massive amounts of data. So, I think the market's going to play out whether it's fiber or whether it's wireless. I think there's going to continue to be business cases for both. Just depending on the situation but it's going to be really interesting to see how all that plays out. And ten years from now, who knows? We may be on 6G or 7G by then and you know that's really hard for me to wrap my head around. But we're awfully excited about 5G here yet this year.
Stephanie Cox: I know, I am as well and I can't even wrap my head around something faster than 5G so, I'm excited to see that come to life in Indianapolis this year.
Bill Soards: We're excited about it too. We've had a team of about 3700 AT&T employees in Indiana that have all been excited about the momentum we have here in the city and just really excited to launch this network before the end of the year. Ready to get started!
Stephanie Cox: One of the reasons I wanted to have Bill on the podcast was because he brings such a different perspective to the conversation on mobile. As we think about mobile, it's really important that we have a good understanding of what can be done with the hardware of the phone as well as what improvements carriers are making to the overall wireless network because it's going to significantly impact how we think about mobile marketing. Now, let's get to my favorite part of the show where we take the education and apply it to your business.
There's so many great insights to my conversation with Bill that can really help transform how you think about mobile marketing. Let's dive into my top three takeaways. First, 5G is going to completely transform everything we're able to do on mobile because of the significant improvements it's going to have with connecting devices, speed, latency. You guys think about it for a second we're talking about speeds that are more than a hundred times what we experience on 4G LTE and that are comparable with fiber but are Wireless. This is going to open up so much potential for us to deliver content quickly to customers. It's also going to mean that consumer expectations are going to increase once again, think back to the days. For me, that was when I was in high school and I'd wait 2-3 minutes for my dial-up to connect to the internet and hear those precious three words, right? You've got mail. But my patience for waiting that long is completely gone. And every time we have new improvements in internet speeds, my patience decreases even more.
And we're finding ourselves as consumers getting frustrated with my internet connection when I don't have it almost instantaneous result and 5G is going to bring that to us. In fact, one of the biggest benefits we're going to see from 5G is something called ultra-low-latency. Latency is all about responsiveness and 5G's going to cut down the response of time to 1 to 2 milliseconds. 4G is averaging 50 milliseconds. Think about that change. This means as marketers were going to be able to deliver content at a faster speed than we can even imagine right now and videos is going to be one area that's going to reap those benefits. Consumers will no longer need to wait for a video to buffer before it plays on screen. Instead, we’re going to be able to access video almost immediately which is going to open up so many possibilities and this means that if you haven't integrated video on your marketing efforts then it's time to get on it, like right now. Video consumption on mobile devices has risen significantly over the last few years. Look at YouTube mobile video consumption has risen by 100% every year and 98% of Millennials use smartphones to watch a video content and they’re two times more likely to be focused on video content on their smartphone compared to watching video content on TV. We're also seeing phenomenal results of brands that are using video on mobile and facts including a video and a landing page can increase conversion rates by 80 percent and video in email leads to 200-300 percent conversion rate increases. And 80 percent of consumers are recalling a video ad these scenes in the last 30 days. So if you're not using video now's the time. You're going to need to up-level how you're using video on your marketing efforts to prepare for the benefits 5G is going to bring us. I recommend reexamining your customer journey to determine where a video can be added to enhance the journey and spoiler alert video should be in all aspects of your customer journey everyone, especially if you want to drive higher conversions and better engage with your audience.
So after you look at your customer journey and you identify all of the areas where you want to start using video, you need to make a list of all the videos you now need to create and this is the point in the process where you’re going to get overwhelmed. A lot. By the sheer number of videos you're going to need to do and the amount of areas that you're going to implement them. But I caution you, don't panic, it's going to be okay. We don't need to tackle all of them at once, try starting with a video that will drive the most impact or one of my favorite places- Videos were you already have some of the assets done. So you’re going to be able to complete some faster. Once you start making changes and you start adding videos and you see progress you're going to have so much more momentum to do the rest of it tackle the fullest and most importantly make sure once you implement your videos, especially on mobile, you don't set them on autoplay. No one, literally no one, wants to hear a video with sound start playing automatically on their mobile device. Especially if they're at work or in a crowd, we've all been there as consumers and we all hated it. So don't do it.
Next, if you haven't been considering implementing augmented reality or virtual reality for your business yet. It's time to rethink those plans. 5G's going to dramatically improve your ability to deliver amazing AR & VR experiences. I'm even hearing a 5G is going to allow VR experiences that enable you to turn your head in real-time while cameras and another location, send you live 3D video to your wireless headset instantaneously. Just going to fundamentally change how we think about AR & VR experiences. So as an example, home decor brands can now take advantage of 5G to show customers what their furniture will look like in their homes using AR or VR in real-time. Talk about taking your purchase experience to the next level.
Finally, 5G is going to be the catalyst that organizations have needed to accelerate their Internet of Things or IoT initiatives. With the speed of 5G is going to bring us, it's going to transform the expectations consumers have for connecting their everyday products to their lives and their mobile devices. Hello, more self-driving cars. Bill even mentions that he anticipates that there are going to be 20 billion connected devices on the AT&T network in the next 10 years. 20 billion people. This is why it's time for organizations to really ramp up their IoT efforts. We've got to stop talking about it. We've got to start doing it. And the reality is that there are a limited number of companies that have actually implemented a full IoT strategy. Instead, I find companies still working to figure out how to get all of their data to the cloud. Which is going to be less of a challenge thanks to 5G very very soon and slightly more sophisticated companies that have already got their data to the cloud and now they're trying to figure out how to make that data easily accessible to consumers, but to fully take advantage of 5G and consumer future expectations. We're going to need to make sure that we have an IoT strategy in place and we're working towards accelerating that effort. Because other companies will do it once 5G gets here and you don't want to be left out.
Here’s my mobile marketing challenge for this week: start brainstorming how your organization can take advantage of 5G. As Bill mentioned 5G is generational technology that's going to be around for the next seven-eight years, so it's not going away and it's going to impact your business for a while to come. So why not get prepared now so you can best use its benefits and start working on those initiatives, so they're in place once 5G's available around the entire country your competition's going to do it you need to outperform. So let's get to it.
You've been listening to Mobile Matters. If you haven't yet, subscribe, rate, and review this podcast. You can also visit Lumavate.com/blog to get more access to thought leaders, best practices, and all things mobile.