Mobility Management & Optimization featuring Bluewave & MetTel

In this edition of Bluewave’s Webinar Series: The Current, which is designed to provide insights into the latest trends and technologies to solve business challenges, Bluewave explores the world of mobility management and optimization with Max Silber of MetTel.

Learn about:

  • Assessment & Planning
  • Device Sourcing
  • Mobile Plan Options Comparisons
  • Lifecycle Management & Optimization
  • POTS Line Replacement for Essential Services

Paul: Hi, and welcome to Bluewave Technology Group’s webinar series. This entire series is designed to bring you the latest technologies and ways that we can help you solve your business challenges. Today we are extremely excited to have Max Silber, who is the VP of Mobility and Internet of Things at MetTel. Hi Max, how are you today?

Max: Hey Paul, thanks for having me.

Paul: Oh, we are so excited that you’re here. Please tell us a little bit about yourself.

Max: So I’ve been at MetTel now for actually 13 years. Seems like yesterday when I joined, but 13 years at MetTel. I’ve been in the industry probably about 30 years now. I know that’s hard to imagine considering. I still look like I’m 25. So yeah, been in technology. Love it. I think a lot of people, it’s a passion of mine. Outside of being a dad, outside of being a husband to my family. But yeah, just excited to be here today.

Paul: We are extremely excited. So how about, let’s go ahead and dive right in. Right off the bat. Give us some mobility trends that you’re seeing in the market right now.

Max: So it’s interesting. I think probably the most significant trend is organizations looking for providers to completely outsource mobility. And we’ve kind of seen this come and go over the years. I think what’s really driving it is an organization’s need or requirement to automate the entire process. Mobility is one of those things that IT kind of inherited. Nobody actually asked for it, and now they’re kind of coming out and saying very openly, it takes a lot of time, it takes a lot of resources for us to manage it ourselves. So if there’s providers out there that could do it for us and do it in a much more automated and effective way, let’s do that. And of course, there’s a saving aspect to it when you’re using a provider that can do everything cradle to grave, handle the entire lifecycle of a device, it removes a lot of other complexities. So we’re definitely seeing a significant shift, certainly over the last 12 months and going into 2024 with more and more organizations across just about every vertical going towards the outsource model.

Paul: So give me an idea, just MetTel’s overall mobility capabilities.

Max: Yeah, so we started the program, I was actually hired to start the program. So 13 years ago, over a decade now. I think from a capabilities perspective, we learned early on mobility is a little more complex than other forms of communication services because you have a physical device, typically something that’s very emotional to the end user. So you have to both service as well as software and hardware under one ecosystem. So we actually handle the entire process. And what I mean by that is we do everything from procuring the devices with direct contracts with the hardware manufacturer. So MetTel has a direct Apple contract. We have direct contracts for distribution of Samsung devices, Zebra devices, and other devices used in the industry. We put them through our own warehousing, smart warehousing facility, do all the staging and kitting for the device. So we don’t just ship an end user and an iPhone. We’ll ship it with the case with the screen protector already on it, ready for use. And then we also handle all the software automation piece of it so that the end user really, in the case of an iPhone or an Android device, just has to hit the power button for the device to enroll over the air. So really taking care of all the elements and making sure the user has a complete usable device. And then also handling what happens when the user leaves the organization. So that reverse logistics piece to bring it back in. So I’d say our capabilities are everything from the actual service, the underlying network service where we are the largest wholesaler in the United States for all the primary mobile operators to all those other components that are part of what it takes to deploy and then take back a device from an end user within an enterprise organization.

Paul: So it really is an end-to-end solution. So you’re literally from the phone’s ready to go, is protected all the way, through the idea where it’s time to return it back after they’ve decided to leave the organization or whatever. That’s incredible. Yeah,

Max: It’s literally all the headaches that IT doesn’t know what to do with that whole process of deploying a new device. And then the whole process of, well, how do we protect the data on the device when the user leaves or is asked to leave an organization? So you really need to have essentially the entire process thought out and have it templated out so that organizations, regardless of whether it’s healthcare or it’s transportation or field services or anything else, have to follow this process because it’s also becomes part of the cybersecurity stack. How do you do it in a way that’s automated but also do it in a way that’s completely secure for the organization?

Paul: Well and true, if you think about it this way, you’re freeing up that now those IT people internally can focus on more strategic endeavors because you’re taking this entire complex process and essentially outsourcing in a way that’s brilliant for anybody that would consider it. That’s really good. So does mobility management mean to you?

Max: I think mobility management is that entire workflow. And now sometimes it’s different from one organization to another. But for me, when I start to talk to customers, and it’s interesting, …

Usually first call they’re like, “Hey, I heard you guys can save us some money. You’ve got these big wholesale contracts, you’re big, we have 1.6 million devices at this point out in the field for enterprise users, you guys have economies of scale. I’m sure you could save me some money.”

And I say, “yes, we could definitely save you money, but let’s talk about what are the primary problems today?”

And they say, “well, how do we start?”

I go, “walk me through it today. You have a new user, today’s Friday, you have a new user starting Monday. How did you place the order for the user?”

They say, “Oh, well that’s easy. We have an internal ticketing system.”

I go, “great, what do you use?”

“Oh, we use ServiceNow. We use Workday, Remedy, whatever they use internally.”

I go, “great. Then what?”

They go, “well, then we get the ticket here in IT and then we go ahead and get the rest of it done.”

I go, “talk to me about that.”

“Well, we log into the carrier portal, and we place an order for the device, then we get the device delivered to us, then we enroll it in a security posture with all our security software. Then we put the screen protector and the case on it, then we give it to the end user, then we tell the end user all these other things. Then we go to our internal accounting system and make sure from a call center perspective, that user is assigned to the right call center.”

And I go, “great, everything you just said, we can fully automate. So no one has to do anything. We’ll get your ServiceNow approval ticket via an API into our internal system. We’ll webhook back information like what’s the device number, the serial number, what’s the FedEx tracking number, etc. Because we’re shipping the device out. We’ll do all the security posture. We’ll put a case in a screen protector on it for you. The user will have to do one thing and one thing only. They’ll have to hit the power button and the device will enroll over the air. Does that solve problems for you?”

And they’re like, “okay, when can we move this over?”

Because you literally just talk through the fundamental problem that’s happening out in industry, and it doesn’t matter which vertical it is. What we’re learning is companies don’t have the staff to do it anymore.

This week alone, I had two separate calls from two separate verticals. One was in healthcare; one was in transportation. They had one person doing everything I just described, and that person just told them they’re retiring at the end of the year. So at that point, that’s what mobility management meets to me, the ability to completely take care of that entire lifecycle. And then once a user leaves as well, the ability to then take that device back, make sure it’s securely wiped, make sure it’s unenrolled from all the corporate data so that you really have a much tighter security piece. And by doing that integration, it’s not just about automation. You are removing users that today have access to things like carrier portals. That’s where the cyber risk happens. By the way. That’s how you hack into companies. You find someone’s username and password credentials and use that as the point of entry. By eliminating the human factor from a process that should be fully automated, you’re essentially enhancing your security posture.

Paul: No, that makes sense. And honestly, when you talked about it, it sounds like a lot of work that you’re taking off the company’s organization, freeing up humans. It’s funny when you said the story about the person retiring, I can just feel the IT person’s distress that washed over them when suddenly like, oh, this process is now got to change. Now you talked about two different verticals, but I know MetTel, you guys work with federal government, you work with enterprise. So what types of customers can benefit the most?

Max: I always say any organization that has a large mobile workforce, and that means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. But if you have a large environment of users out in the field. They could be healthcare, doing home-based health, checking on patients, delivering medical supplies to someone’s home, providing any form of field services. Could be an HVAC company, could be an oil delivery company, could be transportation if you have a truck or fleet of trucks. All those typically make up a really great customer example for MetTel because they run into all those challenges and they’re dealing with it daily. Every single day there’s someone broke a device, we have a new user, we have someone leaving the organization, we need to kind of deal with it. And it’s kind of this fire drill that never goes away. So those customers typically gain the greatest benefit.

But we find that within any of those verticals, we’re still finding specific examples. Even within a physical brick and mortar hospital, just managing devices, getting configurations and security postures done correctly and automatically on devices. So they might have 2,000 devices for 2,000 caregivers in the building, so they’re not mobile. But things like making sure, for example, that if that device physically leaves the facility, it automatically no longer has access to patient data for compliance reasons and things like that. So I always say though, start with any kind of mobile workforce because your entire business ultimately comes down to these types of devices. That’s how they’re literally generating components of the business. So it is one of the most critical factors and typically the most difficult to manage.

Paul: Now you covered a lot of challenges there. Are there any other challenges that mobility specifically covers? You covered a lot. Let’s make sure we didn’t miss any.

Max: Yeah, so I think the concept of mobility is really any type of connectivity using the cellular infrastructure, whether it be LTE or 5G. And then even the LTE component has things like IOT-based networks like category M or CAT M or CAT 1. So we cover all of them and we solve a variety of different problems for a variety of different industries. It’s everything from kind of what I call the bread and butter, which is like think of Apple and Samsung and those types of devices being put out in the field. But really the way we look at them is this isn’t a phone the way you would look at a smartphone. This is really a purpose, purpose-built device that’s part of the ecosystem of the organization. So whether it’s solving a problem by just optimizing and bringing all carrier services together, which we do, we provide things like cross carrier pooling across in the United States across Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile.

So organizations don’t have to worry about picking and choosing or solving specifically challenges like we saw through the pandemic. Folks would call in and say, Hey, I originally got a MetTel phone on the Verizon network, but now I’ve moved down to Texas from California and it turns out AT&T is better. What can I do?

Now, traditionally in the normal workflow, the organization would’ve had to ship back the old phone, enter into an agreement with a new carrier, ship the new device out. But in the case of MetTel, because we ship unlock devices that we procured directly from Apple or Samsung, all we have to do is an EIM over the air activation on the alternate carrier port the telephone number to the new carrier. The whole process takes five minutes and that user’s up and running. There’s no contracts that needed to be terminated with MetTel and the entire work process, everything I just described by the way is four internal IT tickets that we just eliminate. But just by getting one ticket that says, Hey, user’s got coverage issues with the new location, can you change over to a new carrier in five minutes? We complete the process and the user is up and running and ready to go. So I think across any kind of industry, the challenge is always the same that we’re solving for.

Paul: And that’s brilliant. And even on a personal note, we recently switched our carrier but my child is at college so I don’t have her phone. So I’ve lived through the example where your child is not here and you’re like, how do I get this phone switched over to them now. That’s brilliant. Okay, now I have to do this because I’m always too interested in this. You have internet of things in your title. I would love to hear how you’re benefiting customers with Internet of things.

Max: So I’m a total internet of things geek by the way. I play and test stuff all the time. Internet of Things is for me, the most exciting part of our mobility business today. One thing that we’ve gone to market with, it’s actually been out there for a while now, about three and a half years, is essentially a multi-carrier connectivity product that we call single sim. Single sim essentially is one sim card, either a physical sim card or an eSIM card, that can literally change which carrier it attaches itself to as a device moves around. So for things like IOT, whether it’s a widget with a sensor on it that you’re deploying or in the form of a tablet being installed in a vehicle, the biggest challenge that you’re solving for is having consistent communication and connectivity between the device and the hub that’s collecting all this important data that then we’re feeding into an AI engine for the customer trying to figure out how to optimize their business.

And a great example is we had one of the largest waste companies in the United States, over 75,000 garbage trucks. And that business completely transformed over the last five years by digitizing how the entire process flow works with everything from if you’ve ever done construction in your home, delivering a construction bin, putting it outside your house while they do the work, knowing when it’s at 85% of full so that they can automatically dispatch a vehicle that happens to be in the area and just dropped off another bin to do that bin pickup to everything else that’s involved with residential garbage pickup, which this company does for some major cities is actually the garbage company of those major cities.

So we’ve deployed our single SIM solution together with a ruggedized zebra tablet in all of their vehicles, or actually in the process of finishing that project out. But at this point, over 40,000 have already been installed. And the single SIM component, the ability to automatically, as they’re driving down the road, change from carrier to carrier and keep that connectivity live has completely revolutionized how they offer their business up and how the company in general sees the future. And that came from their CIO that said, “this is the single product that actually revolutionized the business that you wouldn’t think is a high-tech business, a garbage truck, but it actually is.” It really is a services business. The garbage truck is almost kind of the edge device of that technology business. So IOT is very exciting.

That was our version 1 that we rolled out and have hundreds of thousands of connections out in the field today. Version 2 that will be coming a few quarters from now will actually go to the next step. It will start to even blend and think of things like mining companies using private networks or private LTE or private 5G together with publicly available network. But from a customer perspective under a single form factor, a single SIM card or an eSIM activation. So we’re now going to the next level with that, and that’s being implemented in the private sector. It’s certainly being implemented on the federal government side as well, but we’re going to just keep seeing this IOT component evolve and really become the main choice for data connectivity for most enterprises because of the flexibility that it provides. Also because of the level of security that it’s bringing back that we kind of lost. I would say we lost it when we stopped using Blackberrys for the most part. Now we’re going to bring it back. Now we’re going to get back to a place where the connectivity piece will give us that level of security.

Paul: No, and the cool thing too is with all the advances in AI and machine learning now all that data is coming back to them and all the patterns. And I mean to your point, I could see organizations really leveraging that information to make better predictions of what they should do in the future. So very exciting. Okay, another thing I want to ask you about. I know you guys have mobile device as a service. Can you tell me what is that?

Max: Yeah, so probably I think it’s been two years at this point, we launched a program called MDAS or mobile devices as a service. As I would say, it’s the third option when companies are trying to deploy or procure devices to give out to end users. So traditionally when companies deploy devices like smartphones and tablets to end users, they either purchase them as a subsidized device, meaning like the free phone or the free device with the plan, which are typically higher priced plans, or they just say, no, I want the economical plans and I’ll just finance the device or buy it outright. Those were really the only options available to customers. We came up with a new flavor that’s similar to a car lease. So mobile device as a service is essentially you get latest and greatest devices deployed out to your users with the ruggedized case on it and the screen protector at no additional charge, no charges for any additional services of putting that through our staging and kitting process.

The user gets the new device, it’s fully provisioned over the air, everything’s automated throughout the process. But the nice thing about the program makes it unique is the moment the user calls in and says, well, I accidentally broke the device, what do I do now? Instead of it getting engaged in the process, we actually do an overnight replacement with another new device to that user. And when the user gets the new device, they actually just take the old device that’s broken and they don’t do anything to it. They just drop it back into the same box. They got the new device in, there’s a FedEx return label in the box. We take the device back, we fix it, recycle it, depending on the state of the device and make sure the data is all secured. They pay nothing for it. They don’t pay for a new device under MDAS. It’s all included in the program.

And then after the term, after 24 months, we then replace the devices with new one, again, kind of like a car lease and take back as part of that process in the same box, the devices that are out in the field. So we’re using the residual value left in those devices after 24 months to pay for, Hey, any user that you have in the field that breaks their phone, you don’t have to pay for it, we’ll just give you a new one as part of the program.

So again, we’re essentially completely giving this outsource model to corporations, so they don’t have to deal with all that process and getting users. The most important thing for most of these industries, getting users up and running as quickly as possible. So by us doing it that way, the next morning they’ve got a new device, it’s provisioned for them. So all their apps will load specifically for them. They haven’t lost any of their data, and we’re taking care of the other part that nobody talks about. Every company has a drawer or back room somewhere filled with, I call it the smartphone cemetery filled with these old devices. We’re handling that process for them as well and making sure the device is wiped securely so that no corporate data or anything that’s significant to the corporation is left on. So we launched that MDAS program, like I said about two years ago. It’s been incredibly successful. About 98% of the customers that we have that go through a renewal cycle actually transition to the MDAS model because it just makes more financial sense.

Paul: Yeah, you’re right. And it is so efficient the way you described it, as far as it’s a very efficient process. I think these days, if you don’t have your phone, you feel lost. I mean, literally, you may be lost if you don’t have your phone. Everybody relies on it. For GPS, etc.

Max: It’s funny, I always say if you’re at your company’s office and the internet goes down, you probably don’t know about it because there’s a secondary backup circuit. But when your smartphone doesn’t work, it becomes the most important thing going on in your day. You’re cut off from the rest of the world. So that’s the business we’re in. We’re in the business of taking care of that user that calls us, and they could call our customer care, which we do on our own. By the way, we don’t outsource or offshore our 24 7 365 care. It’s all full-time, MetTel badged employees that pick up the phone at three in the morning when you smash your phone coming back from a late night out. So that’s the business we’re in, and that’s really where we add the greatest value to an IT organization.

Paul: Awesome. Now I’m going to go a little bit different way just because I’m curious. So what is MetTel doing right now around POTS replacement, and I think you call it POTS transformation. So what does that mean?

Max: Yeah, so it’s actually interesting. When I joined MetTel 13 years ago, POTS resell or plain old telephony service, old copper line resell was a really big business, and it was for MetTel as well. They were one of the largest aggregators of POTS services in the United States. And when we started mobility, they said, well, you’re never going to get as big as POTS services. Well, here we are 13 years later, all the underlying network providers, the AT&Ts, the Verizons, and everybody else in the world are decommissioning their POTS line plants. They’re not reinvesting. I mean, they’re essentially running out of parts to actually keep those plants up and running. So they’re sending disconnect notices.

POTS lines are still the primary service being used in any commercial building in the United States for the elevator line. So if you’re stuck in the elevator and you hit the emergency, Hey, I’m stuck in the elevator call button that uses a POTS line, the alarm system for both fire and burglar alarm in that building or in that retail store still uses a POTS line. In fact, it’s part of fire code. So that’s really where we run into this turning point in the industry where we can’t just cut them off because otherwise the alarm systems will stop working. The elevator call buttons would stop working, which would be horrible if you’re stuck in there and can’t call anyone.

So funny enough, we ended up coming up with a solution that relied partially on mobile service in order to transition. And the transition service is really a component, a utility box, which has eight ports on the back, so up to eight POTS lines that can be plugged into it and uses both two cellular typically for redundancy.

So two cellular networks. So we can ship it to a building that has no services and using the cellular, get the dial tone to the alarm system to be able to actually make sure that alarm code goes through or the elevator call button goes through and works, and we ship it in a way where it’s fully installed. So we actually mount everything on a board so that the installer just has to put four pilot holes, four screws in the wall, cross connect the POTS lines that are already there, the wiring already there to the connectivity, which is called the 66 block. Which if you know what a 66 block is, you’re as old as I am. But that’s essentially how that whole process works. And what makes us unique is we have solved for just about every alarm system out there. And I think that’s where the industry kind of has some gaps.

Some people have solved for traditional voice, which is relatively easy to do. You just convert it to a SIP call and you’re good to go. The biggest issue is solving for every alarm system out there. And that’s why we’ve won large accounts like JC Penney and FedEx and large public storage, extra space storage, those types of accounts because they have thousands. And in each one of those locations, the alarm system and the codes are slightly different.

So we really set ourselves apart in the industry because we’ve done it so well to the point that even New York Fire Department has certified our solution as a fire safety dependent solution that they can deploy within their coverage area, which is really New York City. So that’s a really big one for us. And it’s all comes back to the ability to solve for all the different alarm codes that are part of an alarm system.

Paul: That is amazing. And what a stamp of approval, New York Fire Department. Max, this has been great. I’ve learned so many things, so many, you explained things so well. Thank you very much for your time today.

Max: Hey, my pleasure. Really, really enjoyed being on and looking forward to future conversations.

Paul: Absolutely. Thank you so much. And thank you for watching. Hope you have a wonderful day.