CenturyLink on Enterprise: “Let There Be Lumen!”

The short headline is that CenturyLink is splitting into two independently branded and operated entities, the continuing CenturyLink concentrating on the consumer business and the new Lumen representing both the enterprise market and the company as a whole. But that belies more fundamental changes, with implications for telecom suppliers and CenturyLink customers alike.

The opportunity

Looking behind this move is future opportunity and emerging technology that mesh beautifully – assuming all goes according to plan. SDN, SD-WAN, cloud, network virtualization, configurable optics – all the “gee-whiz” technologies (with 5G notably absent) – unlock the majority of their value when delivering enterprise, not purely consumer, services.  CenturyLink recognizes this, and in fact began their presentation with the much talked-about “4th industrial revolution” and how they intend to play an infrastructure and platform role in making that dream real.  When we say “Infrastructure” we mean the facilities and capabilities that Lumen can bring to the table. When we say “platform” we refer to systems they are providing to orchestrate and chain infrastructure – including 3rd party – into services. Or that’s the concept – stay tuned for more.

They are fundamentally right.  Most of the incremental revenue opportunities demand either rapid set-up and modification of the network, or performance (speed, latency, reliability) that have previously been either impossible or impractically costly.  And even industrial 5G, seemingly out of Lumen’s domain, need not be so considering that most will be private and need not be operated by one of the major facility-based CSPs.  Appledore have opined on the 5G opportunity – urging both caution on the hype and preparedness for the opportunity. One major Market Outlook report is here.

Enterprise-Focused Operations Infrastructures: Opportunity for both builder and suppliers

The new structure provides an opportunity for Lumen and for suppliers. The emerging enterprise market promises to be far more innovative and dynamic – at least in terms of a dynamic network as opposed to content services – compared to the consumer market.  This means that Lumen becomes much more of a focused play for dynamic, real-time orchestration/management systems, without the drag of “how do we rationalize that with our legacy?”  The consumer business, conversely, is likely to concentrate on more stable facility-based services; both the slow wind-down of POTS and the ramp-up of broadband, and of content services that ride over the top of broadband (video, music, etc.).  Suppliers can focus efforts on the distinct needs of each, without the murkiness of a wide mix of services and innovation types. Similarly, it simplifies the task of modernizing and unifying CenturyLink’s consumer operations infrastructure, without concern about supporting enterprise needs that are so different operationally.  While these systems have often been operated independently, they shared a common set of underlying resources, and of course, management, staffing and focus.

Pairing connectivity and security

Speeds and feeds aside, one of the most critical requirements for future industrial, medical, and commercial applications is distributed flexibility.  Looking back, enterprises operated in large buildings and sealed themselves off from outside threats with firewalls.  Data and apps were local and security meant a castle wall and moat, 20th century version.  The 21st century however, breaches these walls and casts workers, partners, apps and data widely in public clouds, remote branches, outsource partners, and remote work locations.  Worse: theses piece-parts move about with regularity.  The new normal is a distributed environment, data outside the castle moat, and the distribution map changing hourly.  Enterprise needs both connectivity and security that are easy to change, can change rapidly, can reach myriad 3rd party locations and deliver a “local” user experience (good performance, minimal hassle). Interested readers can see Appledore’s growing research on Security here, with a major new report published early October 2020.

Needs extend beyond the simple transformation of LANs and WANs.  Many vertical industries seek the ability to package apps with on-demand connectivity, or on-demand QoS, or on-demand security.  CSPs like Lumen can deliver, by a) being flexible and configurable and b) exposing these capabilities to partners via APIs. This is not a new dream, it’s just one that has remained a dream, in part because older network technologies didn’t lend themselves to being unbolted, moved and reconfigured 200 times a day. SDN, SD-WAN and NFC/cloud native network apps, do.

Looking to the future

Appledore has not yet dug into the “how” of Lumen’s operational infrastructure (though their hiring plan indicates serious intent).  But they have shared a set of directional guiding principles, including a re-phrasing of our own mantra “Everything as a Service” into “the power of API”.  In doing so they can become more agile internally, and more open to partners and customers.

We look forward to learning and covering how this story plays out, as Lumen shines more light on their progress and inner workings.


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