Troy Trenchard of Sonatus On How 5G Technology May Improve and Impact Our Lives
An Interview With David Liu
5G’s very low latency will enable a whole slew of new IoT applications and cloud services that will change our lives. In automotive, for example, 5G will enable vehicle-to-vehicle, vehicle-to-infrastructure, and eventually vehicle-to-pedestrian communications for safety. There will also be a wide range of new health apps that don’t just track our heart rate, but that actually improve, in real time, the health of people with serious ailments.
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 Troy Trenchard.
Troy is Chief Product Officer at Sonatus, an automotive software company focused on accelerating the digital transformation of the automobile, where he is responsible for product strategy, roadmap, and management. He brings extensive executive experience developing, managing, marketing, and selling a broad range of successful innovative, customer-centric solutions and services for Enterprise, SMB, Consumer, and Service Provider customers globally — at IT market leaders like Apple, Cisco, Citrix, Avaya, and Lumen. In 2019, Troy decided to combine his technology and business expertise with a lifelong passion for automobiles, by joining Sonatus to lead the company’s strategy and management of software products with the shared vision of simplifying and accelerating the transformation of the automobile.
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?
My father was career military (Go Navy!), so we moved around a lot — sometimes every 1–2 years. I attended 8 schools in 6 cities by the time I finished high school in San Diego. Moving around this much taught me how to quickly understand new environments and perspectives. After studying electrical engineering at UC Berkeley (Go Bears!), I designed integrated circuits for three years before realizing that I preferred working directly with customers to understand their needs and issues, and solve them with technology. So, I got an MBA, switched to product management, and have spent my career developing, marketing, and selling products and solutions. Throughout, I’ve always sought new and exciting challenges — often new products in new markets, and Sonatus provides me with the perfect opportunity to continue to stretch and grow.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
In 1994, I joined Cisco. That was a career epiphany. Previously, I had been marketing products at Apple and some colleagues at Cisco kept telling me I should come over. I resisted for several years because I thought Cisco was just a boring “plumbing” company. (That probably cost me millions of dollars!) When I finally joined Cisco, I was blown away by their vision and how they were changing the world repeatedly in different ways. Cisco wasn’t just a networking company, it was technology company that was solving big, interesting problems and disrupting the status quo, whether in networking, the internet, IP telephony, or video conferencing. And they were completely focused on customer satisfaction.
One of my earliest Cisco experiences exemplifies this. I had just started at the company and was leaving the office late one rainy night. As I drove through the parking lot, I saw some poor guy in a suit standing there getting drenched. He had a flat tire and was about to kneel on the wet pavement to change it. I was wearing jeans, so grabbed a tarp and some tools from my trunk, and changed his tire. A few days later, I got called into the CEO’s office– the guy I had helped. I thought “wow, he figured out who I was and wanted to thank me personally”. He looked up and said “Oh, it’s you. Thanks for the help the other night. … I want to talk about a customer I met who’s having problems with one of your products …” The customer always came first.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
One of my favorite quotes comes from the Clint Eastwood movie Dirty Harry: Magnum Force: “A man’s gotta know his limitations.” To me, the message is you often can’t do it all — and you shouldn’t try to do it all. Instead, you should figure out how to collaborate with others to do things better and more efficiently. The temptation for many people is to put everything on their own shoulders, but the pressure is often too great and the quality of the outcome will be compromised.
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?
Many people have helped me along the way, but the most impactful were my best friend’s parents in high school. This was a difficult period in my life, and they provided unconditional support and guidance and reinforced the importance of hard work, integrity, and respect for everybody. These are traits I still value greatly today.
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?
1: Understanding. I think it’s critical to try understand other peoples’ perspectives, objectives, and concerns — whether that person is your customer, your boss, your teammate, whoever. This is especially important in new or emerging markets where there isn’t an existing product or leader to emulate. You are charting a new path, so it’s vital to really hear people’s needs and concerns.
2: Adaptability. Over the past 10 years, we’ve seen both the emergence of many new technologies and a greatly accelerated pace of change. You have to actively seek out new information and new perspectives — and be willing to reconsider the conclusions and rules of thumb developed over decades that may no longer apply. To succeed in business today, you must be able and willing to adapt to the new, ever-changing realities.
3: Patience. By nature, I’m not the most patient person, so this a trait I really had to learn. But there have been so many times in my life and career when taking a deep breath and continuing to work things has presented great opportunities that I would have missed had I acted on impulse. Of course, the flip side is knowing when to act, rather than waiting for more information or an opportunity to arise.
Are you working on any new or exciting projects? How do you think that will help people?
At Sonatus, we are transforming automobiles, which combines my lifelong passion for cars and technology. The digital automobile will make our lives safer thanks to the advent of driving assistance technologies and autonomous driving. The digital automobile will also make driving a more efficient and entertaining experience, especially if you have a long commute every day.
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?
5G stands for 5th Generation mobile network, the latest and greatest mobile data and communications standard. The key differences between 5G and 4G/LTE are:
- Much higher bandwidth for faster downloads and less congestion.
- Much lower latency for better internet connections.
- Seamless, consistent support for a range of wireless bands.
4G’s higher speed and bandwidth (compared to 3G) enabled anywhere, anytime access to information, communication, and entertainment. I think 5G’s higher speed and lower latency is the foundation of the real-time Internet-of-Everything.
Can you share three or four ways that 5G might improve our lives? If you can please share an example, for each.
5G will improve our lives in many ways. First, it’s an opportunity to bring “ubiquitous” high speed internet (fixed & mobile) with less congestion. Before 5G, it was not cost effective to use wireless spectrum for broadband internet. I managed Broadband Fixed Wireless solutions 20 years ago, and the economics just didn’t work, so the technology was never deployed. Before 5G, if you wanted to bring the internet to underserved communities, you had to lay or string wires, which is expensive and slow. There is significant capital investment before you can hook up a single customer.
The great thing about 5G is that it has enough bandwidth and speed to support next-generation mobile wireless needs, while being cost-effective enough to support fixed broadband. That means a provider can install a cell tower, connect to anyone within range and offer them cost-effective, multi megabyte internet access — sharing the infrastructure and costs with their mobile customers. 5G changes the business model for connecting homes and small businesses, especially those in underserved communities that aren’t wired today.
Also, 5G’s very low latency will enable a whole slew of new IoT applications and cloud services that will change our lives. In automotive, for example, 5G will enable vehicle-to-vehicle, vehicle-to-infrastructure, and eventually vehicle-to-pedestrian communications for safety. There will also be a wide range of new health apps that don’t just track our heart rate, but that actually improve, in real time, the health of people with serious ailments.
Keeping “Black Mirror” in mind, can you see any potential drawbacks about this 5G technology that people should think more deeply about?
I don’t see 5G as causing Black Mirror scenarios, per se. There will always be some people who think cell towers fry our brains, but I’m not one of them. However, 5G is an enabler for always- connected solutions where uptime is everything. So, the more we depend on technology, the more we are at the whims of technology — like service outages. 5G will enable a lot of great things, many of which we will become highly depend on.
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?
This is possible with any technology. But, 5G has the potential to help level the playing field in ways that wired broadband has struggled to do. The challenge with traditional broadband solutions like DSL and cable is that they require wires! Installing and maintaining the wires and distribution equipment from the central office to the home is expensive, so service providers need to be incentivized to connect underserved communities.
While 5G is often thought of as a mobile technology, a key use case is delivering internet for fixed locations — like homes — without stringing or trenching wires to every endpoint. Service providers can deploy 5G communities to support mobile customers and easily and quickly connect home customers, as well. And as they gain more customers in given communities, they can decide whether to add more 5G radios, or to wire the home with fiber — all while generating profits.
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.)
- Focus on customer needs, expectations, and satisfaction (like in every industry). Customers will pay well for solutions they value — even if they are not the fastest, cheapest, etc.
- Under-promise and over-deliver. When customers think you misled them or are can’t deliver, they become a flight risk.
- Delight customers with great user experiences/journeys. The technology behind the things we buy and services we consume has gotten so complex. And it’s gotten harder and harder to understand the differences between Product A and Product B. That means the only way you can really build trust and loyalty is through the user experience and helping customers do what they want to do in a surprisingly easy way.
- Don’t take customers for granted. Just because they haven’t complained doesn’t mean that are happy or won’t go to competitors who address their unspoken needs.
- Don’t keep delaying the hard tasks — like network upgrades, customer system transitions, and customer migrations. They will catch up with you and be even more painful later. At one service provider, my team end-of-lifed thousands of service SKUs with insignificant numbers of customers and marginal profitability. This culling had been deferred for years because it was hard and nobody wanted to risk losing customers, but doing this quickly made us more efficient and profitable across many parts of the business.
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’m at a point in my career where I’m able to focus on the things I truly care about. I am passionate about electric vehicles because they can help save the planet, and that influenced me to work at a company helping automakers digitize their vehicle infrastructure — which is critical for EVs. Yeah, I could work for a company that makes a gazillion dollars selling widgets that ultimately end up in some land fill in three years. But that’s the wrong answer. So, if could inspire a movement, it would be to convince people who have reached a level of success in their careers to switch gears and pursue a passion around making the world a better place.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.