Industry Spotlight: Render Networks’ Sam Pratt on the Acceleration of Large-Scale FTTx and Wireless Network Deployments

October 5th, 2020 by · Leave a Comment

As more and more fiber gets rolled out to towers and homes around the country to accommodate the race to 5G, satisfy heightened consumer demand from COVID-19, and connect under-served communities, the logistics of large-scale projects can get complex. With us today to talk about the company’s technology and its approach to addressing these challenges is Render Networks CEO, Sam Pratt.

TR: What are the origins of Render Networks?

SP: Render was founded in Australia in 2013. Our Co-Founder, Dan Flemming was the head of construction at the National Broadband Network (NBN) in Australia prior to co-founding Render. During Dan's time at NBN, he recognized that technology could address some of the inherent inefficiencies present in telecommunications infrastructure rollouts. In today’s networks, there are literally millions of data transactions that need to be managed, and digital construction enables all stakeholders to manage this volume of transactions more efficiently.

Fundamental principles driving Render’s Digital Network Construction approach include streamlining the workflow between design and delivery while digital flows and automation remove all paper-based processes between the field and the office. Today, our platform is delivering over $500M of fiber infrastructure across eight states in the U.S. We are very fortunate to be pioneering our technology in the U.S. when momentum is high and huge investments are being made both from the private and the public side to bridge the rural divide and connect thousands of communities.

TR: How did you get involved?

SP: Render spent its first five years working with the NBN and some of its leading delivery partners in Australia. I came on board to scale our U.S. presence and for the last couple of years, our primary focus has been to prove our market fit in the U.S., further develop our highly differentiated offering, and bring on a team of industry experts to elevate the profile and conversation around network deployment best practices. We tend to steer away from the word disruption as our mission is to continuously evolve and innovate technology to deliver these networks faster and more efficiently in partnership with the broader industry.

TR: What does Render’s technology look like?

SP: Render is a cloud-based digital construction management platform with both office and field applications that construction managers and crews use to understand what work needs to be delivered on geospatial maps, minimizing rework and eliminating the need for paper-based artifacts in the field. As-built data is captured in a consistent format and made available to all project stakeholders for real-time decision making, and progressive integration with downstream systems.

We have a unique and proprietary process called Render Blueprinting, which not only ingests design data but transforms this design into a digital task-based scope of work, including BOM and BOQ at the task level, visually represented on a map interface. Using automation and machine learning algorithms, Render organizes construction tasks, and the work required to deliver the assets into an optimal build sequence. Technology-enabled optimization updates resourcing requirements and automatically allocates work in a dynamic nature, at scale, across multiple contractors and territories. We remove all manual handoffs and ensure that stakeholders have access to real-time data that's not reliant on a construction manager or a field supervisor being present in the field.

TR: Are you competing mostly with traditional, paper-based methods of doing this, or with other more modern platforms?

SP: There's a lot of technology in the network deployment space that focuses on other project lifecycle stages including design, network inventory and network operations. There hasn't been a great deal of innovation focused on the construction phase between design and handover. Generally speaking, the status quo for decades has been a manual paper-based construction process. Through the automation of manual tasks, optimization of resources, and real-time transparency, Render's value exceeds traditional construction management solutions. And this is a niche in the telco space that necessitates a great deal of industry expertise to reduce delivery risk.

TR: What types of customers do you focus on?

SP: Our customers generally fit into the network owner bracket, from large telco carriers to rural broadband providers. They may have fixed wireless or fiber to the home network that they are deploying privately or on behalf of a community, municipality, or a city. The users of our platform are engineering folks, general contractors, and project managers focused on delivering a quality network asset as efficiently as possible, often with leaner resources and delivery timelines.

TR: What types of opportunities are you seeing in the U.S. right now?

SP: The 64,000-pound gorilla is the 5G opportunity and certainly Render's a part of that. We're talking to everything from Tier-1 folks to smaller rural players. At Render, we are passionate about these rural networks' ability to transform the lives of communities. There's an industry trend right now toward open-access networks that I believe is only just starting to gain momentum. It provides a very efficient mechanism for a piece of infrastructure to be deployed and we're working with both the larger side of town in terms of tower operators and cell site wholesale owners, and also private operators that are looking to build open networks in communities across California and Texas to name a few. The Render platform is configurable for just about all types of telecommunications infrastructure: fiber to the home, small cell, macro sites, or fixed wireless. The focus for us is really driving efficiency in the number of administrative resources required to deliver these projects. It’s not necessarily about taking folks out of the project, just enabling them to do value-add activities with improved visibility and control.

The industry is facing a situation where we're heading towards peak fiber demand. There are literally billions of dollars of public and private infrastructure investment to be deployed over the next few years, and that’s going to put pressure on resources, the cost of labor and the availability of materials. We think there is great value in a flexible, digitally enabled approach.           

TR: How has the pandemic affected Render’s business, both internally and within the marketplace?

SP: Back in early March, we were bracing for the worst and hoping for the best like everyone one else. If anything, COVID-19 has increased velocity and the awareness of the need for these networks. Our customers have been beneficiaries of that and have wanted to accelerate their deployments to enable early access to new online opportunities. From a market development perspective, we are bringing something new to the market here, and when taking people on that journey, it's a lot easier to do it face-to-face. On the delivery side, Render’s technology aligns very well with some of the constraints that the pandemic is creating by cutting the need for physical and manual handoffs and enabling greater visibility from a project management perspective. I think just in terms of the market opportunity, all of us in the industry are incredibly fortunate to be aligned with a telecommunications infrastructure that’s more important today than it's ever been, and being in a position to help our partners and customers be efficient is an exciting opportunity.

TR: When you pivoted from Australia to the U.S., what differences did you encounter in the markets?

SP: We're very fortunate that everyone in the U.S. has been very open and welcoming. In terms of technology and architecture, it's relatively uniform, however, the composition of the market in the United States is significantly different. Here in the U.S., we have a patchwork of connectivity in a market that is, depending on the metric, 12 to 20 times larger than in Australia. The National Broadband Network and a few major telcos dominate the market in Australia, where we now have centralized fiber to the curb infrastructure for 8 million homes and businesses. The NBN was ahead of its time and we’re now leveraging that experience and learnings to improve deployment efficiency across the U.S.

All of us at Render take great satisfaction in enabling electric cooperatives, municipalities, and service providers to leverage world-class technology and capitalize on greenfield opportunities, everywhere from major cities to rural areas like Arkansas and Mississippi, optimally and efficiently.

TR: What new capabilities does Render have planned for its platform?

SP: Our team of industry subject matter and technical experts understand the challenge and complexity involved in deploying fiber and wireless networks at scale, and we have a relentless focus on innovation.  These two factors combined enable us to continuously evolve the technology to continue to solve for mitigating the delivery risk of large-scale deployments. The majority of our team is data engineers and software engineers, and we offer our clients a deep feature set. Our focus over the near term is primarily on self-service and automation to ensure that our clients have the ability to run and scale as needed. We also recently released the next generation of Digital Network Construction, which includes a turnkey, dynamic QA, and change management process that has already been used at scale in one of our large projects in Springfield, Missouri. Render is first-in-market to deliver end-to-end digital construction including field service management, QA, change management, digital redlining, customer connection, and handover processes to easily monitor progress and streamline network rollouts. We're also continually integrating with leading CRM, ERP, mapping and network operations tools and systems.

TR: What’s the biggest hurdle you face in convincing the industry to adopt this new way of doing things?

SP: There are moments of truth in the early stages of setting up these projects for success. Our challenge is to encourage our customers to reconsider the traditional approach that, despite its challenges and inefficiencies, general contractors have continued to focus on for decades. This traditional approach that involves paper-based engineering deliverables and limited visibility to what’s happening in the field will eventually get the job done. However, bringing forward delivery toolset decisions so they’re made ahead of the RFP, and understanding precisely what field data needs to be collected not only for the construction process but to support ongoing operations, enables a new level of efficiency. Every dollar that we save on deployment is another family or business that we can connect with. I think that’s incredibly important right now when so many rural network providers are making decisions around how they're going to build with RDOF and CAF II funds, which is potentially their only opportunity to secure federal funding over the next ten years.

TR: Thank you for talking with Telecom Ramblings!

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Categories: FTTH · Industry Spotlight · Software · Wireless

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