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Allen Proithis of Capstone Partners On How 5G Technology May Improve and Impact Our Lives

An Interview With David Liu

Telemedicine: Having a video call with your doctor during the pandemic is considered a big step forward, but 5G will enable a much higher level of care. Many smaller medical facilities do not have access to the experts needed to handle many medical situations or even to provide a high level of training. Imagine engaging a remote medical expert on-demand, and that expert will have the same view and patient vital information as though they were in the room. Imagine a remote doctor coaching a local physician through a specific procedure with the ability to place a virtual hand on the patient to demonstrate exactly what needs to be done. 5G’s bandwidth allows the remote medical expert to see all of the patient’s vital signs in real-time. A remote doctor could even show a patient at home where to press on a body part using a hologram.

5G infrastructure is being installed around the world. At the same time, most people have not yet seen what 5G can offer. What exactly is 5G? How will it improve our lives? What are the concerns that need to be addressed before it is widely adopted?

In our series, called, How 5G Technology May Improve and Impact Our Lives, we are talking to tech and telecom leaders who can share how 5G can impact and enhance our lives.

As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Allen Proithis.

Allen Proithis is the CEO of Capstone Partners, a strategic advisory firm for clients interested in Digital Transformation enabled by mobile, software and new business models. Recent projects include creating 5G optimized Internet of Things and Augmented Reality applications for one of the first US Department of Defense private 5G network deployments. Prior to Capstone, Allen was the President of Sigfox, North America, where he created a high-performance team that built an Internet of Things business with top enterprise companies while providing US wireless IoT coverage for over 70M people US.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

I was very fortunate to begin my career just as what we now describe as the mobile industry was about to start. Since no one was an expert yet, I was able to jump in and figure out to apply this new technology to solve specific business problems for large and small companies around the world. I have continued to do so in leadership roles across most of my career, including for companies such as HP and many others. Sometimes ignorance can be bliss, especially when taking the initiative early in your career!

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

I am fortunate to have experienced many interesting things, but I always look fondly on the time that I spent a few minutes in an elevator with the author and speaker, Stephen Covey. His speaking and writing style is very serious, but one on one, he was one of the happiest guys that you will ever meet! He completely embraced his worldview and life philosophy into the smallest interactions. It reminded me that no matter who you are, we all have a chance to be a positive influence with every interaction, no matter how trivial. We actually chatted for a bit after the elevator ride!

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I am a big fan of Winston Churchill and his quote, “The price of greatness is responsibility.” I frankly did not appreciate what this really meant early in my career, but it became more relevant with each passing year. Responsibility can translate into many things, and I look at it from multiple perspectives. First, take responsibility for outcomes without excuses. Over time, this drives incredibly proactive behavior, and it also makes it easier to address tough topics that others may not feel comfortable addressing. Secondly, take responsibility for yourself in terms of your development and perspective. The topic of financial investments is very popular, but how often is it discussed in terms of investments in improving yourself physically, mentally, and spiritually? To grow as a leader these qualities must be considered. Finally, take responsibility for your outlook and attitude. Increased responsibility requires setting the example for your organization and partners. As a mentor once told me, what you except you teach.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

So many people have generously helped me along the way that this could turn into an Oscar speech! One person that made an incredible impact on me mid-career is Harry, a former business partner. Harry is one of the best thinkers that I have ever met and spent most of his professional life building a wide variety of successful personal companies. He taught me several important lessons about investing in yourself and thinking about how you truly work for yourself regardless of signing a paycheck. Many of these lessons took place while learning how to fly his Beechcraft Bonanza airplane, which certainly helps to focus the mind!

You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

I believe that all success begins with a passion for learning. Every New Year’s Eve, I look back in wonder at how much less I knew when I started the year, at the same time knowing that I will experience the same thought during the upcoming year. If you are not constantly increasing your knowledge, you are falling behind. In addition to continuing to learn from some very smart friends and colleagues, I still read 30–40 books a year on everything from leadership biographies to Byzantine history!

Developing personal leadership is essential if you expect to attract a top team to work with you. Top talent has never been in more demand, and they do not want to work with incompetent or untrustworthy people. Part of my personal leadership approach is collaborating on defining objectives, resources and general parameters and then letting people loose to use their creativity to execute. Accountability without micromanagement is my mantra, and frankly, it is not for everyone. You need to have an ownership mindset about your work and outcomes.

Finally, personal integrity is critical when thinking about a long-term career. Of all my achievements, I am most proud of the fact that most people who have worked with me or for me are interested in working together again. Part of this comes from management with a high degree of transparency. Let’s face it — crazy, unexpected things happen in business, and sometimes no one is at fault. Setting the example of integrity for the organization is everything. Once in a new role, I quickly discovered that I had been lied to and that certain equipment had not received the necessary regulatory approvals prior to deployment. Corporate urged me to deploy, stating that “no one would know” and that we had to keep the schedule. It turned into a great teaching opportunity for the organization when we went through the appropriate process and still met our goals. I embrace creativity, but I truly despise shady decisions and people.

Are you working on any new or exciting projects? How do you think that will help people?

I have recently been helping a good friend of mine who is the superintendent of a mid-sized school district in central Pennsylvania. The pandemic has created a tough learning situation for many schools. Even in the best of times, hundreds of students either do not have or cannot afford access to high-speed connectivity. When students are forced to study from home, this condemns most of these students to a second-rate education.

The Federal Communications Commission recently has opened up communications spectrum for anyone to use for LTE and 5G service without a spectrum license, similar to how spectrum is dedicated for WiFi gateways. I am helping the school district determine how to deploy their own LTE/5G network to support any students who need connectivity. Almost every school today has fiber, and they have an abundance of physical locations to place 5G antennas. Since the service will cover the majority of the community, all municipal services can also participate — fire, police & maintenance. When some form of the federal infrastructure bill passes, we are likely to see money allocated for schools and rural telecom operators to build these types of networks.

Ok wonderful. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. Like 4G, 5G has many different facets, and I’m sure many will approach this question differently. But for the benefit of our readers can you explain to us what 5G is? How is 5G different from its predecessor 4G?

It is easy to become bogged down in technical details, and 5G provides enormous benefits to the mobile network operators as it supports much more efficient bandwidth use. They can literally support thousands more connections with the same spectrum. For the user, 5G is different in three key ways — massive bandwidth, low latency, and the ability to more easily provide coverage where you need it. For the average consumer, it meaningless to be able to download a movie to your phone in a second or two. Just as 4G enabled most shared economy applications (Uber, DoorDash, AirBnB, etc.), 5G will enable its own set of new and exciting applications requiring massive amounts of data with exceptional responsiveness. All of the cool holographic visualization we have seen in the movies for the past few decades is about to come true! You can find a taste of what is coming with one of my partners, Ikin.

Can you share three or four ways that 5G might improve our lives? If you can please share an example, for each.

The massive bandwidth and low latency of 5G effectively collapse the constraints of time and space to access knowledge and skills. Augmented (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) will now become common means to access many different types of skills. For example:

  • Telemedicine: Having a video call with your doctor during the pandemic is considered a big step forward, but 5G will enable a much higher level of care. Many smaller medical facilities do not have access to the experts needed to handle many medical situations or even to provide a high level of training. Imagine engaging a remote medical expert on-demand, and that expert will have the same view and patient vital information as though they were in the room. Imagine a remote doctor coaching a local physician through a specific procedure with the ability to place a virtual hand on the patient to demonstrate exactly what needs to be done. 5G’s bandwidth allows the remote medical expert to see all of the patient’s vital signs in real-time. A remote doctor could even show a patient at home where to press on a body part using a hologram.
  • Elderly Care: Few have suffered more during the pandemic than the oldest members of our society. In addition to being the most vulnerable, many senior citizens living in the equivalent of solitary confinement, isolated from family and friends as a COVID preventative measure. Imagine virtually visiting relatives via a hologram or having a remote expert teach an isolated person a new skill using a virtual, “hands-on” capability. The student can simply follow the expert’s virtual fingers in real-time to learn how to knit or play the guitar. Since many elderly are concerned about traveling, some companies are working to enable virtual participation in a family vacation or event.
  • Communications: Most of us have spent a good part of the past year on video calls for work and family interactions. Video call burnout is a real problem as attention spans are getting shorter and information retention is difficult after staring at a flat-screen for a few hours. 5G enables 3-dimensional video conferencing that is much closer to a real-life interaction. Studies are already showing that holograms can significantly increase user engagement (https://ikininc.com/ikin-offers-complimentary-white-paper-on-the-emotional-engagement-of-holograms/).

Keeping “Black Mirror” in mind, can you see any potential drawbacks about this 5G technology that people should think more deeply about?

Part of the benefit from 5G technology comes from the highest level of connectedness that we have ever experienced. All of the privacy and data issues that we have with today’s technology could be magnified if someone could empty every drop of data in your house in seconds! More importantly, it will be essential to protect information about your behaviors as this will be very valuable information to many types of companies. Frankly, the sensors in most smartphones are much more concerning than big connectivity. The latest sensors and upcoming radar technologies can determine exactly what kind of activities you are participating in and your personal identity with disturbing accuracy!

Some have raised the question that 5G might widen the digital divide and leave poor people or marginalized people behind. From your perspective, what can be done to address and correct this concern?

My prediction is that 5G will go a long way towards equalizing access to knowledge as physical location becomes less relevant. Areas with higher population densities actually make it much easier to deploy 5G networks, and 5G may provide the main broadband connection to the home that everyone can use. While 5G infrastructure spending this year will exceed $20B, the market for 5G applications and services will be much higher, and anyone with an idea and some basic skills will be able to compete for this spending. I imagine a young person in West Philadelphia using their imagination to create the AR game of the year very soon. I hope that I am one of his investors!

Excellent. We are nearly done. Let’s zoom out a bit and ask a more general question. Based on your experience and success, what are the 5 things you need to create a highly successful career in the telecommunication industry? (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. The definition of success is different for every individual, so first, I suggest that everyone thinks deeply about their own personal definition of success. For me, it was about trading specific professional opportunities to emphasize the kind of family environment that my wife and I wanted. While I continue to travel quite extensively domestically and internationally, I have conducted most of my high-tech career from home in beautiful Amish country, about an hour West of Philadelphia. The pandemic has really helped people re-evaluate their personal and professional tradeoffs, which is a good thing for our society.
  2. My wife and I have two children who recently graduated from college and are in the early stages of their careers. My advice two both of them is to say “yes.” This means always being alert to how you can add more value to the organization and who needs help figuring out the next new thing. Professionals can learn a few times faster than their peers and be on the radar to lead the next new opportunity by proactively jumping into projects. I personally was able to lead some of the earliest digital wireless efforts with this approach, and it continues to serve me well. It is exactly how I was able to provide some of the earliest 5G optimized software applications for the Department of Defense this year. Make the extra effort to be proactive and to stretch yourself.
  3. One of my personal pet peeves about the technology business in general is the emphasis on the technology ahead of the customer problem. Technology is only useful as it adds value as defined by the customer who is writing a check. We often forget that the end customer will decide our success, so you better understand them in great detail. I knew of a company that raised millions to address a part of the agriculture market and had some huge, exciting plans. It came as a big surprise to learn that none of the principals associated with the venture had ever stepped foot on a farm! Needless to say, it did not end well. Focus on deeply understanding the customer’s business, challenges and industry and you will find unlimited opportunities.
  4. Become a speaker and a writer. We have never had more conferences and industry events than we have today, even after a year of the pandemic. Speaking and writing forces you to clarify your thinking and to consider where your industry is headed. It also trains you to think on your feet during the question and answer session. I was on CNBC’s Squawk Box a few years ago to discuss the latest developments around the Internet of Things. My public relations people created a seven-page briefing document based upon conversations with the segment producer. I sat down in front of the camera on live TV, and the next few minutes did not include a single topic from the document! Thinking on your feet combined with a clear personal view of the industry is essential.
  5. Finally, are you the kind of person that other people enjoy working with? Do colleagues call you for confidential opinions on projects, opportunities or even career moves? If not, I would seriously consider your working style. The media portrayal of business leaders as ruthless, amoral people simply does not work in real life. Hard decisions are part of growing responsibilities, and people will respect hard decisions when they are done transparently with understanding and compassion. Of all of my achievements, I am most proud of the number of former colleagues and partners that express interest in working together again. When you have established trust and personal leadership, achieving bigger things becomes much easier, especially since these qualities are so rare.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

I believe that most of the problems and unhappiness in the world come from selfishness and the need for instant gratification. I would love to see a foundation that celebrates gratefulness and service by constantly communicating positive stories. As part of this, I would have them encourage folks to sign a pledge to reduce social media time by 90%. Comparing yourself to the artificial portrayal of others makes people unhappy and unfulfilled. I personally only visit Instagram for three minutes per week to see my daughter’s restaurant reviews!

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Folks can find my media links at capstonepartnersinc.com, and they will find a more regular cadence of commentary on LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/in/allenproithis/).

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

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