Traveling the Telecom Highway with GTT’s Scott Charter

A very cold and icy evening in Denver. One of my new data center customers, WBS Connect, was based in Denver under the technical leadership of Scott Charter. Scott gave me a call, and asked if I had the time to get together and meet, since I was in town for some business meetings and he had some ideas I might be interested in.

Several hours later, with staff at the Rialto Café getting annoyed, and my head hitting the data absorption and comprehension threshold all of us experience when talking with people a whole lot smarter than us, I knew I’d met a true visionary.

Ideas. Ideas about technology, about business, about people, and about the world we live in. Beyond the technology, Scott is a guy who genuinely cares about people – an excellent role model for young entrepreneurs.

Pacific-Tier: Today we are talking with Scott Charter, who is with GTT.   Scott, how do you like Hawaii?

Scott Charter from GTT at PTC 2010Scott Charter: Love it. I’ve been here a few times (Hawaii) before, but this is my first time on Oahu.

Pacific-Tier: We’re at the Pacific Telecommunications Council annual meeting. Scott agreed to sit down and talk with us a little bit. Scott, you’ve had some changes professionally – what’s going on?

Scott Charter: December 16th, WBS Connect, my company that I co-founded in 2002 was acquired by GTT. The deal had been brewing a couple months prior (to December), but we announced it December 16th and we’ll call it the end of January when the integration will be complete.

Pacific-Tier: So what does that bring to the business? Aside from obviously the acquisition and things, does that bring any benefits to WBS, your customers, or to the business that didn’t exist before?

Scott Charter: That’s two pointed questions. I’ll start with my customers at WBS Connect. They will continue to receive the same level of service they did from WBS Connect, and now from GTT, with an augmented NOC (Network Operations Center), we are a much larger entity as a publicly traded company. So from a financial perspective it is a much healthier organization that is continuing to grow.

We feel that what we brought to GTT was something they didn’t have, and that was a network. GTT was a switchless, global network integrator, and it was an easy add-on to give them a global Ethernet backbone.

Pacific-Tier: So how about the services WBS Connect was offering? Video services, and different types of value-added services to your network, where do they exist today?

Scott Charter: The growth on where we are on a commodity-based, circuit-based, will only continue to grow as we layer on. We have to be careful though, not to layer too much in at once. We don’t want to have too much culture shock.

So for example, I don’t really see us striking out immediately and driving more video. Conferencing services as a primary add-on for our business customers, as a business product, give till the second or third quarter and we’ll roll back into that.

Immediately we’re talking about going back to all of the GTT customers with more Ethernet. Going into the WBS customer with more off-net circuits that GTT had already done as well.

Slowly, when we get out of that, we’ll go more into managed services. I see us actually going more with other managed services in addition to video, such as managed security. Probably by Q2.

Pacific-Tier: How about WBS Connect, and I hate going back to that, but I will… You were a very open network. You would peer with other networks, you would peer with CDNs (Content Delivery Networks), do you feel that your ability to integrate or work with other companies would be changed by your acquisition (or merger) by GTT?

Global Telecom and TechnologyScott Charter: I’m learning as we’re going, because I am now working with a publicly-traded company. Things are a little bit different than when you are with a privately held, entrepreneurial small organization that is quite dynamic.

We want to bring the dynamic nature of WBS Connect to GTT, however we also have to remember that we have certain parameters that go with a publicly-traded company.

On top of that you also have an organization that really focuses on ensuring they maintain good margin. Now what we’ve done in the past with WBS Connect was that at times we’d take a lower margin deal in order to expand our network, and ultimately grow our value in another way that was not standard “Hey I need to have this much margin.”

I don’t know how much of that we’ll continue to do, but if it doesn’t make sense financially we probably won’t do it moving forward.

Pacific-Tier: So you’ve always been a leader, a thought leader in the industry. There are things changing now such as carrier Ethernet exchanges, Internet exchange points, cloud computing and the integration of CDNs into the network itself. Tell me your visions. What’s happening now? Where will we go into the future that will either support, or change, or direct the future of our business?

Scott Charter: There are so many great things that I see on the horizon right now that all seem to layer back into one another. So when we talk about additional transport services that are required to talk about enhanced cloud. Machine-machine activity, and the way they are going to interact is the future of where hosting goes – for sure.

I mean just standard dedicated servers and things like that are… I don’t want to call them a typewriter of the future, but things are definitely going to evolve. I think that as a WAN operator as part of our business we definitely see the need to connect more and more data centers that have this idea of being able to understand the need for this cloud infrastructure.

And I think you are going to find that you are going to have a global consolidation in certain points around the world that are going to mirror this cloud that is going to happen in let’s call it 10 mega data centers, at least, for computing. And we want to be a part of that.

One of the things I’m really excited about though, is the game-changing effect that I believe that 4G will have on incumbent connectivity in our existing infrastructure. If you’re a LEC (Local Exchange Carrier) with DS3s, OC3s, out to an enterprise base, that’s going to compete in a way with 4G. Call it 18~24 months from now.

I see us steering GTT towards embracing 4G as a part of our WAN business.

Pacific-Tier: Are you going to get into the tower business yourself, or are you going to connect towers?

Scott Charter: Connect towers for sure. You know, continuing to talk about any type of carrier extensions or servicing that wholesale side. But in addition to that I see from a large enterprise side, really seeing us drive more and more into that (4G and connecting via the wholesale business).

Pacific-Tier: With 4G, and LTE – ultimately 4G, does GTT get into the wireless business yourself or are you going to stay in the terrestrial business?

Scott Charter: That’s to be seen. I’m cautious on what I say now on where we’ll be, depending on where we need to be then. When I look forward now – I’m only talking about LTE. No offense to WiMAX, but I feel the real play there is with LTE.

It’s not just North American LTE, it’s global LTE. So seeing the Vodafones, the China wirelesses, and how they’re going to drive global saturation of LTE, let’s call it over the next four years, five years possibly, we’ll want to play there one way or another. I’m not sure how we’ll do it.

Pacific-Tier: So in 18 months what is the difference between terrestrial cable, terrestrial services, and wireless? Is there a difference?

Scott Charter: I’m afraid that spectrum is going to be a too little, people are going to be so excited that we might almost have another iPhone paradox that we see now with AT&T – that their own success with their partnership with Apple has caused some people to believe that the AT&T 3G is completely saturated.

Now there are some people who have some data on it which says that’s not truly the case. But there is enough of a customer backlash that it’s a customer perception that the AT&T network, due to its own success, has lead to its current situation that people are accepting it.

Now, fast forward a couple years and say what happens if we actually eat through all that LTE spectrum that’s out there now that that Verizon and AT&T – let’s just talk that North America’s acquired, wouldn’t that be interesting if that too becomes so saturated that we’re now reverting back to just terrestrial, as we’ve eaten up all the wireless.

Pacific-Tier: Tell me something, domestic or international, where’s your focus?

Scott Charter: 50-50. Let me take that back. (the) Opportunity for growth, 80-20 international. Consistent with where we are today, 50-50. New growth, international.

Pacific-Tier: Why?

Scott Charter: Under-served markets with a much higher profitability margin. It’s much easier to go in and saturate MENA, or LATAM, or parts of Asia than it is to continue to try and compete against incumbents in major markets, Tier 1, Tier 2s, or for that matter try and compete against a Time Warner in a Tier 3.

Pacific-Tier: WBS Connect helped shake up the American Internet industry by bringing affordable bandwidth and high-performance services to people. How do you continue to disrupt Verizon and AT&T and people who would possibly like to hold back development of competitive services in the United States. How do you go about continuing to hit that “borg?”

Scott Charter: By coming to shows like this (PTC) and ITW. You continue to partner up with aggressive companies that are willing to shake up the status quo. If you are working within a fleet of speed boats, if you are not there you are probably in a super-tanker that is probably going to run aground at one point.

That’s a little too much of an analogy…

Pacific-Tier: Let’s talk about your effect on the social or the people part of this business. Do you feel that your new company (GTT) or your old company (WBS Connect), or yourself as an entrepreneur – do you feel you have a responsibility to contribute to the good of the community? Is there any inherent responsibility you have to the community?

Scott Charter: I believe we all do if we want to be good global citizens and good global businessmen. It’s in our best interest to make sure we are doing things more and more efficient.

Power (electricity) is probably a great analogy because we are all working towards a more efficient data center. It’s in our best interest to try and find a means to use off-peak power. We’re involved in something right now that I think is going to shake up data centers worldwide.

And when I talk to people about it I don’t want them to think I’m getting too…, what I really want to say is that I think I have a real opportunity to change what we’re doing in global computing with some colleagues that we’re involved with on power.

Pacific-Tier: Well we hope so, and whether it’s alternative energy using solar or wind, or whether it’s using innovative ideas like fuel cells or co-generation… All of those things are good for the environment and hopefully in the future we’ll be able to reduce our reliance on very energy-inefficient hardware.

Hopefully people like you will put in SSDs using 1% of the power draw as a spindle… But tell us, as we wind down the discussion to a close, again you’ve been a visionary ever since I’ve known you. For several years I’ve looked to you for ideas and thoughts on what’s going to happen to our industry in the future.

Shoot for the stars. Tell us something we don’t know that is going to excite us.

Scott Charter: Well let me follow up on this through energy consumption. To drive the existing grid to use it more efficiently so we don’t have to build new. If we can avoid building new coal-fired power plants in order to generate all this new data, because data centers are gobbling up more power per capita than any other sector in the world right now. I mean it’s amazing.

We’re not getting that many new aluminum smelters out there, but new data centers are coming up and just eating and eating more power.

What if? And we believe we’re on to something that will allow us to not have to go and just massively overbuild our electrical infrastructure in order to accommodate this data center growth. I can’t wait to see where we are in two years with this.

Pacific-Tier: I think it’s exciting too, as a former data center operator I saw the sins of inefficiency time and time again, and I applaud your efforts in trying to correct that problem in our industry.

Any final words for the readers?

Scott Charter: I’m excited where I am going with GTT. I’ve never been a chief marketing officer in a publicly-traded company before. Colleagues of mine have come up joked with me and said “Mr. CMO! What are you going to do?” I laugh. It’s so exciting. Coming here and just trying to drive brand.

Go meet 40 new companies out of Eastern Europe, or go meet Western Africa. Wow!

Pacific-Tier: The industry needs competent evangelists and we warmly welcome your entry into the marketing business. Thank you very much for the time!

You can download the audio/recording of Scott’s interview HERE

Scott Charter has more than 16 years of data telecommunications experience, specializing in data networking. Prior to launching WBS Connect, Scott held management positions with Qwest Communications, Rhythms Netconnections, and Echostar Communications.GTT is Global telecom and Technology http://www.gt-t.net/ 

About johnsavageau
Another telecom junkie who has been bouncing around the international communications community for most of the past 35 years.

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