Nortel’s New CTO

John Roese has recently been appointed as Nortel’s new CTO and I thought this was a golden opportunity to get his insights on what is happening in the communications market and at Nortel. Based on these thorough answers I expect great things from John – I am looking forward to getting more insight from him in the future. Here is the result of our interview.


What does your appointment mean for Nortel?

First, I’m thrilled to be on board and part of Mike Zafirovski’s executive team.

In terms of what my appointment to Nortel means to both the company and myself; Nortel has tremendous amount of innovation and intellectual capacity, Not many people really know the depth of the company’s technology leadership and innovation activity today. By having a visible and industry active CTO we can re-assert our role as one of the industries significant technology providers in a much more aggressive manner.

To help make Nortel more successful I plan to:  1) get the word out; make sure our customers and key stakeholders know about our strengths and innovation; and 2) help unify our technology solutions and innovation to make communications simple. Communications technology has clearly become more advanced but some of that advancement has impacted the complexity that customers experience. By linking and advancing our technology into solutions that are aligned to the real customer expectations we will make the communications experience a seamless and effective one.

Where do you see the future of enterprise communications going?

Communications is a constant evolution but a few key principles are almost always present. First that the end user expects to be isolated from the complexity of the underlying technology and second that in order to make the communications experience effective the communications technology, service and access must be present whenever and wherever you want or need it.

The future of enterprise communications will depend on multiple network types (both wireless and wire line) working together to provide that pervasive networking access but more importantly it will require that the common elements such as application interfaces, security, resiliency, mobility, identity and quality exist in a way that is common and consistent to the applications and users utilizing the network.

Data Infrastructure: The data infrastructure is changing in multiple dimensions going forward.  Bandwidth is increasing through Metro Ethernet and NGN Wireless technology and is transforming the capability to migrate beyond the traditional office into a wider variety of locations.  More important than simply capacity is the fact that each of the network elements must now participate in supporting the same users of that network. If you consider the typical laptop computer, you will notice that almost all have both a WiFi wireless interfaces and an Ethernet interface (some today even have integrated cellular data network interfaces). That device is used by a single human being and that person uses a set of applications on that machine. They expect that regardless of the network they utilize, the applications just work, and work well. This is not a trivial exercise as each of these discrete networks has evolved independently and as such have different applications, security, identity, quality and other characteristics. Given this current disparity in experience and the obvious need to bring them together, Nortel is in a great position to capitalize on this and drive this evolution. We have expertise in the wire line and wireless technologies, in applications development, in the middleware needed to unify systems and in the various layers of communications. This breadth gives us a huge head start in unifying the communications experience within the data infrastructure and continuing the underlying evolution of the network elements. 

Communications Applications and user experience:  We have been driving the communications experience through the applications for a very long time. Something as simple as an IP Telephone is an example of an application that has taken a form so simple to understand that the users can transition to it without understanding the dramatic technological changes that occurred under the system to make it possible. Alternatively, new applications such as instant messaging driven by presence (knowing who is actually available to communicate before you initiate such activity), are a much more radical change to the customer experience since there was no legacy analog to that application. What both of these examples share is that they, at their very essence, improve the users ability to be connected and to communicate when they want, with who they need to and in a manner that is both cost effective and simple. As we go forward, the next generation of applications from Nortel will continue in this path. Using new technologies such as virtualization, presence, context and immersion, the experience will become even more intuitive and effective but more importantly by pulling these experiences together into a unified communications experience the model becomes more intuitive and simple to use.

In all of these areas, three paradigms are critical; the boundary between the enterprise and the carrier is blurring as virtualization across the enterprise, to partners and to customers changes the boundaries.  Integration between mobile and fixed environments for commonality of experience and interactions will be required, and concepts such as Web Services and SOA (service oriented architecture) will define new architectures and transformations that enable this cross network experience. One of the key advantages Nortel has in evolving the enterprise communications experience versus the rest of the industry is our deep and broad carrier experience. As the carrier and enterprise boundary blurs, only companies that understand and participate in both sides of that boundary will be able to participate in the kind of communications experience delivery and technology that customers will more often expect as the norm. 

Nortel is focused on assuring that we are well positioned to lead in these transformations and have the innovation and products to deliver the elements and solutions that will enable our customers to create strategic advantage through these transformations.

And what about the future of VoIP, SIP and WiFi?

Lets start with VoIP. Initially VoIP was the manifestation of traditional telephony using the Internet protocol and networks to transport voice services rather than the dedicated TDM networks of the past. This was good since one could reduce cost and simplify the network design through this. This, however, was the very tip of the evolution. Now we see VoIP as a technology that not only is displacing the legacy technologies of the TDM world but also as a technology that is being connected to the other elements of the applications experience. The future is not about simple a VoIP application by itself but rather as a unified applications experience in which the voice elements are a part of the overall communications and user experience. Consider some of the new manifestations of VoIP such as click to talk on a banking web site. There are no separate voice applications but rather a VoIP is now seen as simply an icon on your banks web site that can connect the bank’s customer to a customer service attendant with a simple mouse click to provide service in real-time. Is this web site a banking interface, a telephony application, a web page… ? It is actually all of the above as now the formerly disparate applications have unified in a way that makes your life easy. This is the future of VoIP.

Now let’s discuss SIP. In the example above of VoIP, what the user did not see is the profound change in the protocols and networking
services needed to make that user experience possible. SIP is one of the key elements of enabling the unification of the communications experience. SIP in its essence is a signaling protocol that is flexible enough to be used for a wide range of applications but unified enough so that the infrastructure needed to support that wide range of applications is common enough to be cost effective and not overly complex. Nortel focused on SIP early because we saw that if we could unify the signaling mechanisms to allow applications to operate in a common way we could simplify the design of these systems and focus more energy on the applications experience. Because of this choice, Nortel has been able to not only accelerate our applications delivery and capability but also has been able to make the back office elements more scalable and cost effective that those offered by vendors who did not embrace this unification. As a validation of the investment to embrace SIP, it is interesting that SIP is one of the key elements of next generation architectures such as IMS. Because of our SIP expertise the development and delivery of IMS for carriers is accelerated and differentiated. Finally, WiFi. One question that I am asked often by customers and others is “when will WiFi be my primary access network? “ This question is asked because most customers, while appreciative of the mobility and flexibility WiFi offers, are not certain it is equivalent to wired Ethernet yet. In many ways they are correct. We have made WiFi secure via WPA2 and 802.1X, we have made it simpler with various dynamic configuration models, we have given it Class or Service (CoS) and priority with 802.11e and we are making it much faster with 802.11a and now 802.11n. What we have not done is made it fully equivalent to wired Ethernet yet. The major issue that remains in WiFi is that because it is wireless it is much more exposed to outside interference and as such can become unavailable because of outside events that would usually not effect the wired Ethernet world.   The good news is that while this is a problem the solution to this issue is found in areas that Nortel is expert in. We must develop better RF technologies and antenna technologies, we must look at the low level analog domain and signal processing and we must create for WiFi, technologies that have been utilized in the cellular space.

Our expertise in MIMO antenna systems and OFDM, while key to our cellular and broadband technology, will also be key to solving the last major deficiencies of the WiFi world. The reason these technologies are important is that by having more advanced multi-antenna technology (MIMO) and alternative signaling such as OFDM, the signal in the RF domain can be better directed and at the same time better understood and reconstituted thus allowing the RF system to overcome intentional and unintentional interference. Smart RF is the key, not simply more power using existing technology.

How long this evolution will take is not clear but it is clear that while WiFi issues related to security, CoS, management and speed have been reasonably standardized, the future work in WiFi will be in areas that are much more in Nortel’s area of leadership than in other companies.

Where do you see IMS going?

IMS holds great promise of making the mobile and carrier networks much more application friendly. Today the carrier world is burdened by having to create a link between the network transport and the applications provided. That makes it difficulty to evolve the applications forward independent of the network and vice versa. By creating this abstraction it is reasonable to expect that we will see new services and applications emerge much more rapidly and, most importantly, that those applications will build on one another via leverage and linkage rather than having to recreate the basics with each new tool.

The promise of IMS goes well beyond just breaking down access barriers between today’s separate networks. For instance, the end-user registers and signs on to the network once. There is a single address book, calendar and buddy list. If an instant message session gets too complicated, a single click can establish a voice call. From that voice call, a game can be initiated with the other person with another single click. This kind of experience is fairly intuitive but prior to IMS extremely difficult to deliver.

What will your IMS strategy be like going forward?

Nortel’s IMS strategy employs the entire IMS architecture across the network layer to application layer to control plane.  We’re also focused on delivering a standard platform. Getting to common components, getting to open systems so you can add value on applications. We are an enabler of applications and users and as such it is our responsibility to deliver systems that fully manifest the IMS model, not simply a few applications or elements. Once that framework is in place though, the ecosystem of Nortel, our carrier customers, their partners and customers and others can be enabled to deliver new and innovative user experiences. 

Nortel’s IMS strategy is to focus on 3 key areas:

Leverage Nortel’s expertise as world leader in deploying Next Gen networks and delivering a broad set of SIP multimedia services to establish the IMS market, We intend to leverage our #1 position in VoIP

Create an open and extensive ecosystem that combines the strength of Nortel’s communications experience with IT leaders like IBM, enabling new applications through open development systems,

Delivering the methods carriers need to transition from the networks they have today to IMS by seamlessly evolving the network to maximize existing capital.

What benefits do you bring to the table as a company that sells to carriers and enterprise customers?

I have spent my entire career in the communications industry. At Cabletron we delivered both carrier and enterprise infrastructure and also created and delivered some of the most novel management and operations oriented software in the world. Because of my background of dealing with the reality of the end customer and their provider, I am in a pretty good position to have the intuition of what will or will not achieve the goals the market if focused on. Beyond having that end customer diversity experience, my focus has evolved over time to deal with the broad spectrum of technologies. Early in my career I focused on the development of capacity oriented technology, later I worked to make those high capacity systems simple to use, subsequently in the late 1990’s I saw that security would be a huge issue in networking so I focused on developing and implementing some of the most novel secure network technology, much of which is now standardized. Most recently my focus has been on the evolution of the end points and the mechanisms to IP enable everything. I believe that the most important contribution I bring to the dialog is that instead of believing that communications solutions are delivered by a single great technology, they are instead a manifestation of a broad set of technical solutions and enablers coming together in an orderly manner that enabled the end user experience in way that is intuitive and useful. What I have found at Nortel is that while each of the elements is strongly represented there is a strong level of expertise focused on the end user experience and the system architecture. This is a good combination.

Are there any drawbacks to selling to both groups?

I believe Nortel has a strong advantage in that we know the enterprise and carrier space. We are one of the few vendors that can make this claim.

We will need to focus our efforts – and we’re working on that now as part of our Business Transformation – in order to be a relevant player in the future

The only disadvantage
in selling to both is if the systems you sell and deliver are not related or linked in a way that leverages the synergy between the two domains. My goal is to make sure that our systems consider the communications ecosystem as we develop and deliver them so that we leverage our unique presence in the market as a leading enterprise communications and carrier communications provider. 

How will the mergers in you space change your role at Nortel?

Time will tell how the changes in the industry might impact my current role.

What I will tell you is that we believe that customers want what Nortel already delivers today — communications systems that offer reliability, mobility, security, applications and services, and, very importantly, solutions that facilitate new models of communications over a multitude of networks spanning the carrier and enterprise spaces.

It’s important we understand what our competitors are doing, but the driving force of our strategic decisions will center on building the capabilities that enable our customers to create solutions for a connected world.

Where will communications be in five years?

In five years a few dimensions of communications are most likely to be far more evolved than they are today. First, the ability to be connected as you move will be much more seamless than it is today. There is a huge effort to make the existing network more pervasive but also to link those networks so that handoff between networks of different types (WiFi and cellular for example) simple and effective. Second, over these pervasive and linked networks the inherent capacity increases will allow for much more rich experience. We will see video and multimedia user interfaces become more present simply because the networks will be able to handle the capacity needs of such services where today’s are stretched to. Third, we have a lot of work to do on making this high performance multiple network experience secure and unified so I expect that in five years we will be operating in a model where all services are tied to the individual. This will manifest itself in a more unified identity model and from that a more individual user experience. I like to use the example of the evolution of experience to describe this. In its first incarnation Yahoo was just a web site and had no personalization. It evolved to what it is today where with you tell it what you want and the experience is customized to the content you asked for. As we move forward, if the network understands more about you and your identity (or pseudo-identity for privacy reasons) the experience can evolve again to adjust based on additional context that are real time. The interface can adapt based on your activity, location, the presence of other parties nearby or available, the presence of external events, etc. The idea is that with a greater coupling with the user, the communications network and experience can shape a dynamic experience rather than a configured one. To achieve that we need to not only create new applications but link them to a more organized set of next generation networks in a coordinated manner that spans the enterprise and carrier experience.

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