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EXFO wants to help transform your network, not just test it

Transcription of interview with Germain Lamonde

Tony Poulos, Managing Editior, Disruptive.Asia: Hi, Tony Poulos here at World Mobile Congress in Barcelona. Today I’m with Germain Lamonde, who is the Executive Chairman and Founder of EXFO.  Germain, welcome.

Germain Lamonde: Thank you, Tony.

TP: This is the age of transformation as we all know, and we keep hearing it, but what is EXFO doing to help the service providers out?

GL: A number of things, but to make it short, from a test and measurement standpoint: helping them to get productivity out in the field, so they can actually build the networks in the best quality possible. But at the same time, we’ve been transforming to bring best-in-class platforms, I would say world-class platforms, for the whole assurance, visualization and automation in the context of both physical and virtualized networks so they can actually plan for the next generation of services to be delivered.

TP: What has been holding operators back from making progress? It seems to be a prolonged transformation period.

GL: Well, I will say that there is a massive investment to be made in the 5G area. People were coming up off the rail from 4G investments, getting ready for 5G. And even if in the end it’s going to happen, it’s taking longer than it was planned to happen. I think people were waiting for a platform to allow not only the services to keep being delivered but also to have the ability to assure quality of experience as they are going towards these radical transformations. I mean this is a massive transformation in history that’s taking place, but they want to do it basically at the right pace.

TP: It’s been a year with a lot of activity at EXFO, including acquisitions. What are you up to? And why are you acquiring other companies?

GL: Well, very good question Tony. In fact, EXFO’s always been very busy, ever since its foundation. So, basically what we’ve done, especially in the last eighteen months is continue to add capabilities to EXFO to truly become what I consider, what has been said to me by many analysts and customers, now a true first-grade player when it comes to assurance and visualization and automation in the era of operators becoming capable of deploying in both a physical and virtualized environment, getting ready for the next stages. Now whether this is 5G, IoT, NFV and SDN, we are really putting together a unique platform that leads to automation, which is the Holy Grail of the industry.

TP: What are the market drivers for all of this, and what are the gaps in the market that you are actually trying to fill?

GL: I would say the biggest issue and the biggest comment we are getting from our customers, the operators, is their ability to get to this automation, this productivity and then seeing the services while reducing costs. And all of this requires, in the back office, the sort of platform that leads this capability. We’ve also helped with massive innovation and great acquisitions for the sake. To bring new technology like SkyRAN for example, which is really about how operators can diagnose basic interference problems in the wireless networks in a centralized fashion, a lot more efficiently than ever before. And again, this is based on new technology we’ve acquired by great partnerships with leading operators, like the AT&Ts and the Verizons of the world, to help us build the next-generation solutions that have been basically the dream.

TP: With all of these developments, what is your main focus here at World Mobile Congress this year?

GL: So, for EXFO, the main focus is taking to customers the new experience we can add to them, we can bring to them with the capabilities of Ontology, Absolute Analysis from the SkyRAN viewpoint. With the acquisition of Astellia, which has now been announced as completed, so basically EXFO is acquiring 100 percent of Astellia. It’s been removed from the Euronext stock market. Now we are really starting to become part of the same organization, to really bring unmatched capabilities when it comes to all the key technologies that we can align towards the Holy Grail of this automation platform. But in the same vein, a much wider base of established customers. In fact in aggregate, EXFO now has in excess of 250 operating companies using EXFO’s systems, EXFO’s or Astellia’s systems for the day-to-day management of the network. Now, we’re going to able to tell them, we’re able to tell them, to help work with them to build the next-generation services.

TP: And what will be your message around virtualization and things like 5G?  

GL: Well, with all the things around 5G, of course, the first thing we have to say is that if you’re looking at 5G and IoT, parameters like latency, packet losses, jitter, is your paramount factor. And that requires active tests. And what active tests are all about is synthetically testing the network for all these parameters. We do this with unprecedented scale, we have the biggest deployment systems in operation around the world, and when you’re mixing this capability of active tests along with the dynamic topology discovery and service-chain mapping that we get with Ontology, and how you connect that in a smart way. Basically our message is: We’ve got the solution with these technologies to create a smarter network that can be run for more efficiency, more productivity, better quality of experience and to drive profit for the operators. The ultimate goal is to help the operators to meet both ends. Happy customers drive profit, and that what we’re in the business to help work with them.

TP: They’re all very critical issues, but what’s one last thing that you would like to let service providers know about EXFO and what you’ll be doing in the future?

GL: For me, if there was one message, it’s that the massive change that we’ve made in the last eighteen months, from an acquisition viewpoint, is really now propelling EXFO to be truly in a major league when it comes to this Holy Grail: productivity from field to service assurance, to visualization—network, services and, of course, subscribers—and leading all of this now into an automation world that can link the realities of physical networks that are there today and will exist for a long time with the new investments in NFV and SDN. So basically, we are the enabler to provide this efficient combining of these technologies—physical, legacy and virtualized—and getting ready for the new services. And that’s what EXFO really is: this new enabler with the new forces from the acquisitions we’ve done.

TP:  Well, we watched EXFO evolve over the years, and we’ll keep watching. Good luck in the future with that. Thank you very much, Germain.

GL: There’s a lot of good stuff to come, Tony. Great pleasure.