By Christine Johansen, Customer Storytelling at Cisco
DISH is on a roll. The connectivity company is chalking up so many “firsts” that it’s hard to keep count. They are building America's first Smart Network™. It's the first cloud-native Open RAN network of its kind. They’re the first service provider to launch voice over new radio (VoNR) in the U.S, to ensure voice calls are great over 5G.
Last fall’s Cisco-DISH partnership news made it clear that Cisco’s services group, called Cisco Customer Experience (Cisco CX), is playing a key role as DISH redefines the way people and things connect. But what is this role? And how is it helping DISH deliver its new Open RAN cloud-native 5G network? The Cisco Newsroom sat down with Satish Sharma, SVP of Service Delivery for DISH Wireless, to learn more.
Let’s start with your role at DISH—what does it mean to be the SVP of service delivery?
Service delivery is the ultimate goal, but the role covers much more. Think of it as network development integration. We have a team that does technology, design, and architecture, but we also need to translate that into something that can be rolled out. My organization integrates everything to bring it to life. Think of us as the bridge between operations, engineering, and architecture.
So, you had a big role in getting DISH’s unlimited Smart 5G™ network up and running, first in Las Vegas in May and then expanded it to 20 percent of the US population by mid-June. What was that like?
For me, the journey really started with a revelation. With other operators, there's one large original equipment manufacturer (OEM). That OEM becomes the master system integrator; they bring in others. Not us. We have an open architecture, so we can have different partners come in and be part of that ecosystem. At the end of the day, we are the architects, the designer, and the master system integrator. There's nobody else to go and complain to. There’s a lot at stake. Having partners like Cisco was key to our success.
It sounds both exhilarating and terrifying! You say Cisco has been key to your success. Tell me more.
Yes, it is definitely exciting, but scary at the same time!
Of course, Cisco has an excellent reputation. It’s why every site in the DISH network is powered by Cisco technology. In terms of network design, implementation, and deployment, Cisco has been a great strategic partner for DISH.
When you are trying to achieve a great goal like DISH is, sometimes the rules change midstream. For instance, as you are working towards getting service up and running in 120-plus cities across the country by a specific date, you might think you know what needs to be done to integrate every cell site router. But then suddenly you do not. Something goes wrong, and there’s no roadmap. Because no one has ever done this before. And that’s a big, big challenge when you are coming up on a critical deadline. Cisco CX gave us a team of experts who have been both responsive and reflective when the rules change. The Cisco CX team deeply understands the tools and knows what data points might need to be added or subtracted to get things back on track. The commitment from the Cisco CX team has made such a huge difference. They aren’t just looking at the contract and living up to the letter of it; they’re keeping their eyes on our vision and making sure DISH is set up for success.
Together, we’ve encountered some big challenges. And the Cisco CX team has said, “no problem—we will fix this.” That’s what you want in a partner. It has been critical to us.
Can you give us an example?
There are many examples, but I will give you one. We have Cisco Cell Site Routers (CSRs) in all the cell site towers. When we have a new fiber delivery from a carrier, the Cisco router should onboard itself. It “calls home” using DISH-inspired Cisco CX Zero Touch Onboarding automated workflow. With this it goes into the network and collects all the information to configure and onboard itself, so it is ready for use.
That works very well when everything is perfect. But, as we all know, not everything in life is perfect. Some sites went through flawlessly. Many didn’t. And that's where we needed the technical prowess of the Cisco CX team. They came in and were able to ascertain, for instance, that some network-to-network interfaces were missing. Or the virtual vLAN got changed between the carrier and our data transfer tool database.
Keep in mind that we were dealing with 120 cities across the country. We were working 24/7 with teams around the world. We were doing thousands and thousands of configurations and provisioning. We were integrating a new cell site every seven minutes, 24 hours a day towards the end. In each unique situation, the Cisco CX team was able to look at the processes, people, and tools and apply tweaks to get DISH up and running quickly, so we could meet our goal.
I really appreciate the Cisco CX team in terms of having the necessary tools and knowledge base. Of course, nothing is perfect. We have had hiccups. But we all have deep respect for each other—mutual respect. The Cisco CX team came in with the mindset that, okay, we know there’s a problem, but we are going to find the solution. They were honest and transparent. When something wasn’t quite right, they discovered it, acknowledged it, explained it, and fixed it. That means a lot to me, during what was often a stressful journey.
You said there are many examples—are there any others you want to highlight?
Yes, there are many other examples, many steps that are just as crucial as the onboarding. For instance, Cisco CX came in early on and laid out how they could help us. How we’d approach things. How we would set up the organization. Because Cisco CX has done this before elsewhere, they could lay out the processes they thought would be valuable and what checkpoints we should have. Those insights are invaluable for a new, startup greenfield environment.
And so now you are well on your way to meeting the goal of covering 70 percent of the US population by June 2023. Do you have any other big goals as you sprint towards that milestone?
Yes. We learned a lot from the 20 percent journey, and we’re applying those learnings as we move forward. Based on what we learned, we’re improving our tools, processes and skill sets so we more seamlessly meet this next milestone. And we will also focus heavily on knowledge transfer. Right now, we are leaning on the Cisco CX team a lot. Over time, we need to make sure DISH people can “fish” for themselves. Cisco CX will be key to ensuring that happens.