The Future of Communication Technology: Gabriel J Lopez-Bernal Of Icomera US On How Their Technological Innovation Will Shake Up How We Connect and Communicate With Each Other
An Interview With David Liu
Be prepared to learn every which way to not sell something before you learn to sell something.
The telephone totally revolutionized the way we could communicate with people all over the world. But then came email and took it to the next level. And then came text messaging. And then came video calls. And so on…What’s next? What’s just around the corner?
In this interview series, called ‘The Future Of Communication Technology’ we are interviewing leaders of tech or telecom companies who are helping to develop emerging communication technologies and the next generation of how we communicate and connect with each other.
As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Gabriel J. Lopez-Bernal.
Gabriel J. Lopez-Bernal is the Vice President of Sales and Marketing for Icomera. He is an energetic professional, who is passionate and dedicated to making a positive difference in the industry, for transit operators and the traveling public.
Gabriel is a trusted advisor in the transit industry, having worked prior as a consultant, shared-use mobility advocate, and planner with the US Department of Transportation. With a background in civil engineering and urban policy and planning, he brings a unique and unparalleled understanding of wireless communications, streaming media, Video Surveillance, Wi-Fi, IoT, CAD/AVL, asset management, and network security to the transit industry.
Gabriel is a 2021 Mass Transit Magazine 40 Under 40 honoree. He is an active member of the industry participating in APTA’s Research and Technology Committee and ABA’s National Traffic Association. Gabriel holds a master’s degree in urban and Environmental Policy and Planning from Tufts University and a Bachelor of Science degree in Civil Engineering from the University of Florida.
He resides in Miami, FL with his wife Yisel, son Benjamin, and his four-legged companion, Duke.
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?
Like most kids I was fascinated by planes, trains, and automobiles. For most, the curiosity wears off by age seven. For me, it led me into transportation engineering, urban planning, and subsequent roles in advocacy, public policy, and the fulfilling career that defines me today.
I am a self-proclaimed urbanist. I am passionate about urban planning, transit, and the way that we as humans interact with and navigate these systems. My interests lie at the intersection of transportation and technology. I have spent the past twenty years dedicated to the deployment of resourceful solutions to make operators and cities more sustainable and competitive.
At various times over my career, I have served as a community advocate, federal policy advisor, board member, and consultant to numerous federal, state, local, non-profit, and private transportation providers. I carry these differing perspectives into everything that I do. Today, I serve as the Vice President of Sales and Marketing for Icomera, the world’s leading provider of integrated connectivity solutions for passenger transportation.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
It may not be the most interesting story, perse, but the following was a beneficial experience that instilled confidence early on in my career.
My first job within the transportation profession materialized following a speech I delivered to a community group. Joe Corradino, a well-known community stakeholder and CEO of the Corradino Group, was in the audience. An open offer to join the firm followed.
Within my first few weeks at Corradino, I was assigned to support the route development of the City of Miami Trolley. After mapping out a few route options through Miami’s health district, Joe informed me that I was to lead a delegation of stakeholders and elected officials on a guided tour of the proposed route. No pressure, kid. It was nonetheless reassuring to have earned this level of trust.
Our work was adopted by the city and the route alignment I helped design still stands today as part of a broader network of community transit services. It was the first of many projects I led from concept to fruition. The ability to witness my work deliver tangible results to the community was a worthwhile experience that gave my career purpose and solidified my decision to pursue my childhood passions.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
This is a two-for-one response.
One of my mentors said it best to me early in my career: “There are two types of people in this world, those who know they are in sales and those who don’t.” The concept resonated. It forced an acute self-awareness of my words, ethic, actions, and reputation.
Establishing relationships based on trust and mutual respect became the cornerstone of my business development philosophy. Through it, I built significant, long-term relationships across the transportation industry some of which stem back nearly twenty years when I was cutting my teeth as an advocate.
The second life lesson (albeit from the same mentor), was “to not sell something you don’t believe in.” The rationale being that doing so would be disingenuous and pose the greatest risk to your reputation.
For the past ten years, I have held a title that includes ‘sales’ in some form or another. Interestingly, I don’t ‘sell’. Despite this, we achieve great success. How so? I am an advocate, an advisor, a friend — never salesman. I believe wholeheartedly in the product and the value it brings to my clients. My job is to communicate these benefits. I earn the client’s trust because something far greater than a lost sale is at stake — my reputation.
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?
There are a several individuals that have no-doubt helped me achieve success. I thank them regularly for the commitments they have made and their counsel. Without them, I would not be where I am today.
But I would be remiss if I did not highlight the role my father has played in shaping my work ethic and values. My father has long served as my greatest mentor, fan, and steward. While his advice is pragmatic, his actions speak to the true story of his character. Regardless of the circumstances, he exudes positivity. He has earned the respect of his colleagues, community, and family thanks to his wholesome, charismatic attitude. Through it all, he has achieved immense success.
His success fuels my desire to achieve my best. I can’t thank him enough for shaping me into the person I am today.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
To me, mobility is a fundamental right. I have dedicated a significant portion of my career advocating for improved urban development, transportation, and livable communities. I believe in achieving the highest and best use of limited resources to deliver the greatest economic impact, minimize environmental effects, and most significantly, improve the overall quality of life for generations to come.
In 2003, I started Transit Miami, a non-profit entity dedicated to discussing and resolving the transportation and development issues in the greater Miami region. Over ten years, Transit Miami, through a network of advocates, influenced policies aimed at promoting sustainable urban development, including Miami 21, a holistic approach to land use and urban planning guided by tenets of New Urbanism and Smart Growth.
While Transit Miami ceased to exist in 2015, I carry an ‘advocate-first’ philosophy to every project I immerse myself in. By viewing opportunities through the lens of my client’s client, we are certain to deliver the best possible outcome to the people who will benefit from our work most.
Ok wonderful. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. Can you tell us about the cutting-edge communication tech that you are working on? How do you think that will help people?
I am fortunate to represent Icomera, an organization that develops award-winning communications solutions for public transport. My colleagues in our innovation and engineering teams are simply brilliant. They develop incredible technologies and deserve full credit for our success.
One such innovation is Icomera TraXsideTM. TraXside is a dedicated broadband radio network installed along a rail corridor. It offers the most reliable and cost-effective method to meet the growing demand for data onboard a train. TraXside solves the existing connectivity challenges presented by cellular networks, by ensuring high-bandwidth coverage along the entire track: overground, underground, and in stations.
TraXside delivers industry-leading performance and true gigabit speeds. For transportation providers, it opens numerous opportunities for long-term savings and revenue generation. This high-bandwidth connectivity is necessary for the reliable use of demanding data-intensive applications, for example live-streamed digital video surveillance and video-conferencing applications used by passengers.
As our society has shifted in the way we move and travel, keeping passengers connected is more important than ever before. Today’s public transit riders expect to remain connected throughout their entire journey, from the time they enter a station to the time they reach the end of their journey. The Wi-Fi service needs to be dependable, secure, and fast. With TraXside, Icomera delivers passenger Wi-Fi connectivity solutions that meet and exceed these demanding expectations.
How do you think this might change the world?
Modern trains have become interconnected digital ecosystems of networked devices, comparable to moving data centers, or even mobile living rooms and offices. We refer to it as the ‘Digital Train’. These Digital Trains and their integrated systems increasingly rely on consistent, uninterrupted, high-quality wireless connectivity. And today’s discerning passengers also rely on Internet-enabled services for vital business needs and entertainment, in effect becoming ‘Digital’ themselves. However, as the demand for data steadily increases, cellular networks will struggle to provide sufficient capacity. Enter Icomera TraXside.
With TraXside, Icomera provides near limitless connectivity to these solutions, at a cost per-passenger and per-gigabyte that bests existing technologies by a significant factor. By delivering a ‘Connected Journey’, we are making transport more attractive for passengers and part of a smarter, safer, greener future for everyone, accelerating the transition towards a carbon-neutral world.
Keeping “Black Mirror” in mind can you see any potential drawbacks about this technology that people should think more deeply about?
Data privacy and cybersecurity concerns abound. There are a host of companies that have built a reputation building low-grade public networks simply to mine and monetize the data of unsuspecting audiences. Icomera eschews these business models. We design, build, and operate networks on behalf of transport operators for public benefit. The benefit of providing quality and secure solutions that maintain the integrity of public data, far outpaces any monetization scheme.
Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this breakthrough? Can you tell us that story?
I can’t share the specifics behind TraXside, but instead will discuss the fundamental technology behind every Icomera solution, including TraXside.
TraXside uses the aggregated capacity (note the emphasis, we’ll come back to that in just a second) of two simultaneous 3x3 MIMO radios to deliver a median real TCP/IP throughput of around 1 Gbit/s — unrivalled bandwidth for rail passengers and onboard systems. The ability to aggregate the capacity of both radios is made possible thanks to Icomera SureWANTM, our patented algorithm, that intelligently connects to multiple networks and towers in parallel. Because of this, it is possible for the train to switch from one tower or network to the next without the aggregated connection to the vehicle being lost. When multiple communications networks are simultaneously available, SureWANTM aggregates all available spectrums in real time, offering maximum coverage and capacity.
The origins of Icomera date back to 1999, when the SureWANTM protocol was invented by Icomera’s founders. With continued investment and innovation, the protocol has now entered its fourth generation and lies at the heart of every Icomera solution deployment across road, rail, and sea — bringing together the ability to seamlessly connect vehicles to cellular, TraXside, Wi-Fi, and/or Satellite networks.
What do you need to lead this technology to widespread adoption?
Transit technology projects require a significant commitment to materialize. This commitment is measured in both time and cost. I see three primary constraints inhibiting its widespread adoption:
- Cellular Network Capacity Misconceptions. Internet connectivity on public transport today is largely delivered through cellular networks. The next generation of these networks, 5G, is often touted as the cure-all. Full 5G rollouts in higher frequency bands, the bands capable of supporting high-performance connectivity, will take many years to materialize. Furthermore, it is doubtful that high capacity 5G networks will be offered outside of densely populated urban areas, as the cellular networks will reasonably need to focus on population coverage over geographical coverage to satisfy their business cases.
- Predatory Business Models. Many transport operators possess a range of assets including fiber, tower and conduit space, and real-estate, that have spare capacity and could be better utilized or maximized. There are companies that seek exclusive rights to access these assets in exchange for providing public internet access (i.e., Wi-Fi at Transit Stations). These arrangements fail to derive the maximum value (and public benefit) of assets. When transport operators stipulate self-supporting models where ad and/or asset revenue covers operating costs of passenger Wi-Fi, these operators, in essence, sacrifice quality at the expense of a satisfactory user experience.
- Technology Roadmap / Integration. Due to budget cycles, many transport operators are limited in the scope and scale that can be made into new technology initiatives. As a result, when investments do occur, they tend to occur in silos. We advise operators to assess their long-term connectivity needs and to invest in technologies that, through a single platform, can handle a variety of services, reducing the overall total cost of ownership through reduced technology acquisition and integration.
The pandemic has changed so many things about the way we behave. One of them of course, is how we work and how we communicate in our work. How do you think your innovation might be able to address the new needs that have arisen as a result of the pandemic?
The COVID-19 pandemic and its disruption of normal routines and mindsets has accelerated the need for technologies like TraXside. In the ‘New Normal’, work is not only confined to the office. Staying productive while on the move requires a network capable of handling more than just email. The pervasive use of video conferencing will remain as a vital business tool. And, without reliable, high-bandwidth Wi-Fi, achieving a reasonable level of productivity becomes difficult.
The usage of high-bandwidth applications, such as Zoom and Instagram, are becoming increasingly popular while in transit, and the heavy traffic load these applications use can affect latency, resulting in a poor passenger experience. Fortunately, Icomera networks feature the ability to prioritize specific types of traffic. Our traffic shaping solutions detect and classify the traffic flows used across the whole system, allowing our clients to prioritize service types. It’s one of the many innovations that have arisen thanks to the daily travel aboard Icomera-equipped transport services by Icomera’s innovation team. We practice what we preach.
The provision of high-quality Wi-Fi is therefore vital to ensuring customer satisfaction and retention. Without the ability to proactively monitor and optimize data traffic, it can become challenging to realize the onboard network’s maximum potential.
Fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?
- Be prepared to learn every which way to not sell something before you learn to sell something.
- Disrupt the status quo.
- Find or create purpose in your work.
- Work hard and be nice to people.
- Find a mentor and serve as a mentor to others.
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. :-)
My goal is simple: help build communities that foster a high quality of life, economic opportunity, and reduced emissions. While my career began focused on the physical world, I have shifted towards the digital. Technology plays a pivotal role in affecting how we interact with urban systems. It has created new opportunities for more efficient transport service delivery, while reducing the barriers to access and use mobility services.
At Icomera, we recognize that transit-dependent populations are some of the most ‘disconnected’ members of our society, with unreliable internet connectivity at home and at work. These populations also face longer commute times. By providing reliable internet connectivity for riders in transit, transport operators are providing essential services that benefit the community well beyond mobility. We are making public transport more productive and enjoyable compared to less sustainable means of travel, encouraging its growing use across the globe and helping power the transition towards a carbon-neutral world.
How can our readers further follow your work online? 😉
Our Marketing team is simply inspirational. We have escalated the role our people play in telling ‘our story’ to equal our brand. We maintain several outlets where our clients and supporters can connect with and follow our team, including: The Connection, our monthly newsletter; stories and blogs published on our website; and traditional social media outlets, including LinkedIn, Instagram, Twitter, and even Spotify!
Thank you so much for the time you spent doing this interview. This was very inspirational, and we wish you continued success.
Thank you for the opportunity to share my story.