CommScope Inc. [NASDAQ: COMM]: A Comprehensive View of Your Networks

Ernest Pickens, Sr. VP Global Enterprise Infrastructure Sales, CommScope IncErnest Pickens, Sr. VP Global Enterprise Infrastructure Sales The analogy between sailing a boat and running a business makes much sense when you break down the similarities. Just ask Ernest Pickens, Sr. VP Global Enterprise Infrastructure Sales at CommScope, the global leader in the realm of structured cabling. CommScope astutely combines innovative technology, intelligent engineering, and energy-efficient designs to build sustainable networks for clients across the world.

Pickens says the key to a successful excursion on the ocean depends on a sailor’s ability to understand headwinds and tailwinds and how those winds “impact others around you.” While applying the same principle to business, Pickens and his colleagues evaluate the trends, technologies, market moves, and changes to stay ahead of the curve.

“By reading the tailwinds and understanding the direction of the headwinds, one can travel faster on the sea,” he says. “In business, having the right innovation, at the right time, and the ability to take it to market, is similar to navigating headwinds and leveraging the tailwinds.” This philosophy, Pickens says, is what has enabled CommScope to continue to drive ahead as a market leader while taking a large portion of the market share.

There is little debate over CommScope’s leading position in the industry. As far as structured cabling solutions are concerned, CommScope is quite literally the pioneer. Its SYSTIMAX and Uniprise brands of enterprise infrastructure—which include copper-based twisted pair cabling, connector panels, jacks, and fiber optic cabling, racking, and metals—are used in office buildings, data centers, smart cities, large venues, and hospitals across the world.

For example, Allegiant Stadium, the home of NFL team Las Vegas Raiders, uses CommScope-enabled infrastructure to allow its fans to use a mobile app throughout the facility for finding parking spaces, locating concession stands, ordering food directly to their seats, and sharing their experience on social sites. The result of the CommScope-Raiders partnership is a vast, yet highly integrated cabling infrastructure, featuring 227 miles of fiber and 284 miles of Category 6A copper cabling. Like the Raiders’ storied “Silver & Black” franchise, the stadium’s new connectivity superhighway is built on world-class speed and staying power. Matthew Pasco, the Technology VP at the Las Vegas Raiders, says CommScope’s fiber optic cabling delivers the high-bandwidth connectivity needed for a truly compelling and interactive Las Vegas Raiders fan experience, including HDR video replays captured by multiple cameras and angles.

“With CommScope fiber, Allegiant Stadium is well-positioned for the future and ready to accommodate an ever-increasing number of standard client devices such as smartphones and tablets, along with evolving technology like augmented reality glasses and virtual reality helmets,” Pasco adds.

Meanwhile, The University of Tennessee called upon CommScope when it decided to deploy outdoor wireless access points and security cameras throughout its campus, besides providing staff and students the fastest and most reliable wireless experience.

Originally a 1997 spin-off of General Instrument, CommScope has grown leaps and bounds over the last 20 years, acquiring Avaya’s Connectivity Solutions unit in 2004, the Andrew Corporation in 2007, a unit of TE Connectivity in 2015, and Airvana in 2015. Through these acquisitions, CommScope not only secured scores of patents (from the likes of AT&T, Lucent Technologies, and Avaya) but also shored up its capabilities to develop newer networking technologies.

As of this writing, CommScope owns over 10,000 patents within its active product portfolio of networking solutions, which include ERA, RUCKUS, HELIAX, SURFBOARD, and ONECELL.

Facilitating the Convergence of OT and IT

Although historically a manufacturer and provider of network infrastructure, CommScope has, to its credit, evolved with the times. As evidenced by the above use cases, CommScope understands that the realms of OT and IT are now intertwined, and an advanced software solution to augment the networking infrastructure is equally crucial.

One of the upshots of this IT-OT convergence is CommScope’s active research to pair augmented reality (AR) in its imVision offer, an automated infrastructure management solution that enables IT managers to achieve granular visibility into their local area networks’ complex, interdependent physical layer as well as the myriad devices connected to them.

It doesn’t matter what industry vertical — there is a need for more devices, more power, and data infrastructure

The software-based tool allows enterprises to monitor and control every aspect of their network infrastructure— from tracking down a stranded switch port to troubleshooting a connectivity issue within a matter of minutes. In the future the AR capability of the solution will allow IT managers to physically “see” port information or actual connection if they are located behind ceiling tiles or walls. This feature will also speed up troubleshooting and provisioning, which was the biggest hurdle previously.

The demand for such a solution has grown in recent years, especially with additional OT products such as cameras and sensors being integrated into the IT network. Today, enterprises don’t just require continual increase for bandwidth throughout their networks; they are now equally concerned about the power needed by OT-based devices inhabiting the networks. Even at the elementary level, structural cabling has shifted predominantly from the wall to the ceiling as LAN ports are not all that enterprises have within their infrastructure. Pickens stresses that there is more to an efficient, structured cabling system than just high performance and speed. “The in-building network is getting more complex with each passing day. We are the solution to make the process more simple, reliable, and adaptable,” he says.

Furthermore, IT managers are faced with tough questions such as security concerns around permitting new devices on their networks, not to mention how much of their data centers should remain on-premise and what extent of migration to the cloud is feasible. Further complicating matters, the COVID-19 pandemic has left CIOs wondering “what a new-normal office looks like,” notes Pickens. He elaborates, “There’s a lot of uncertainty over what the future of the office looks like. The work-from-home model has given rise to mission critical apps (Microsoft Teams, Cisco Webex) and also pushed companies to reevaluate how they gauge productivity: ‘do we need to consider office productivity differently than we did historically across the network?’”

Pickens observes that COVID-19 has also accelerated “the need for power” as enterprises require more connected devices to support their globally remote workforces. This trend is also driving earlier conversions of both IT and OT markets since almost every enterprise building now has sensors, tracking devices, and other devices. Pickens adds, “It doesn’t matter what industry vertical — there is a need for more devices, more power, and data infrastructure.”

Simplifying Your Complex Networks

To serve the evolving networking needs of various industry verticals, CommScope’s system architects are out and about across the globe, helping clients envision and develop an ideal architecture that resonates with CommScope’s motto: the network of now drives us to the future. Due to its vast portfolio, CommScope can offer customers a host of choices, be it technology that is either wireless or wired, or any media in between — copper, fiber, public, or private, and licensed or non-licensed wireless-type bands. “We can walk them through a converged network that would start with their infrastructure all the way to the products we’re building with our outdoor network solutions — whether it’s coming from coaxial cabling, fiber, or from the node, into the building where the solution can scale the legacy equipment,” explains Pickens.

Once the CommScope-built infrastructure is inside the building, CommScope offers additional choices, such as distributing the network across groups of campuses by designing a copper and fiber hybrid structure cabling network. From that point, CommScope can expand connectivity via the newly-launched Wi-Fi 6 technology. Pickens adds, “With our new portfolio, we can offer all those capabilities from a technology roadmap combined with optimal user experience.”

This meticulous process of building customized networks also lends to CommScope’s go-to-market model.
While the sales engineers and development crew report back their daily interactions with clients to the “market management” unit, the latter simultaneously tracks trends, challenges, and issues found across customers from different regions. From both arms of the company, this feedback helps CommScope create a robust product roadmap for its clients. Additionally, the market development crew builds alliances with tech partners, business partners, and distributors and seeks feedback from them to ensure the product is not only right but is deployed quickly and in a high-quality manner.

Insatiably Driven to Innovate

CommScope deploys technology and infrastructure at such breakneck speed thanks mainly to its penchant for innovation and the fact that it isn’t averse to investing heavily in R&D. The firm invested up to $700Mn in 2019 alone, and the number will be similar or greater in 2020, reveals Pickens. To fast-track these innovations to the market, CommScope continually monitors the industry to ensure it remains a few steps ahead of the competition. “The innovations are carried out from CommScope’s 12 innovation centers located across the world, where we showcase our latest offerings and also forthcoming new offers – and host our partners and customers at these centers,” says Pickens.

"Thanks to our global partner network—which is second to none—we are able to service global customers with the same robust product we deliver from our own innovation center"

However, Pickens is quick to point out that CommScope never rests on its laurels. Despite creating numerous firsts in the industry, driving standardization, and supplying structured cabling products to thousands of global customers—for more than 20 decades—the company continues to invest in innovation. Pickens attributes the success to the “quality, reliability, and availability of the products” and critically, CommScope’s ability to provide the same quality of product and customer service in over 120 countries. “Thanks to our global partner network—which is second to none—we are able to service global customers with the same robust product that we deliver from our own innovation center,” explains Pickens, while adding that the combination of these aspects is why CommScope can deliver exceptional customer service.

CommScope stands firmly behind the integrity of its products and does not “compromise on quality” while servicing emerging markets, for example. “We stand behind our quality from a global perspective with our company name and resources,” adds Pickens. He goes on to reveal there have been instances when CommScope has had “a significant swap out of products to fix challenges.” But regardless of malfunctions, the company always stands behind its products and spends out of its pocket to fulfil the warrantied products and solutions. “We operate with integrity. This gives up a step up in the industry,” emphasizes a proud Pickens.

"The in-building network is getting more complex with each passing day. We are the solution to make the process more simple, reliable, and adaptable"

The future is exceptionally bright for CommScope, which is already the No. 1 player in the global structured cabling market, especially copper cabling and fiber optic enterprise apparatus. Besides its persistent goal of ramping up innovations in OT-IT convergence, CommScope is also focused on the optical side of things, mostly around multi-tenant data centers, and hyper- and cloud-scale data centers. “We will continue to invest, with an eye on improving backbone speeds of these migrations, driving different and adaptable architectures, and densification within a client’s optical network,” says Pickens.

On a closing note, Pickens says CommScope’s automated infrastructure management solutions (such as imVision) will strive to bring in more intelligence when OT and IT networks converge. This is why CommScope is presently migrating its platforms to “intelligent infrastructure layers” to interface with new technologies like Point Cloud and create AR versions of a client’s infrastructure within their buildings. This will also facilitate efficient device recognition, path recognition, and remote handwork-type capabilities, not to mention the much-desired ability to remotely maintain and/or deploy devices through a client’s infrastructure. Pickens concludes, “This is one of the places where the networks are heading from an intelligence perspective around the building. And it’s an area where we are leading and investing.”
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Ernest Pickens, Sr. VP Global Enterprise Infrastructure Sales

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The analogy between sailing a boat and running a business makes much sense when you break down the similarities.