CIPS CONNECTIONSINTERVIEWS by STEPHEN IBARAKI, I.S.P.
World Renowned Authority on Broadband and an Industry Visionary
This week, Stephen Ibaraki, I.S.P., has an exclusive interview with Rouzbeh Yassini, a world-renowned authority on broadband and an industry visionary.
In 1998, CED Magazine named Rouzbeh Yassini its Man of the Year, recognizing his contributions to the industry. He has been quoted in numerous business and trade periodicals and newspapers and is a frequent speaker at international conferences devoted to digital services and the broadband infrastructure. Rouzbeh is the founder and CEO of YAS Broadband Ventures LLC of Andover, Massachusetts, a venture capital firm that provides capital financing, consulting services, and academic insight into the broadband industry.
In 1990, he founded LANcity, which introduced the first high-speed residential communications modem that was designed to integrate with cable television networks. LANcity’s successful introduction spawned a new consumer electronics technology category known as the cable modem, which is used today in millions of households worldwide. He has gained an international reputation as a broadband visionary and has established cable modem technical standards through his support of industry initiatives at Cable Television Laboratories, Inc.
Q: Rouzbeh, considering your constant time commitments worldwide, we are honored to have you taking the time to do this interview. Thank you.
A: It is my distinct privilege and honor to be with you and your audience to share our vision of how technology can support a better quality of life for everyone worldwide.
Q: You have a most remarkable history. Can you provide more details about significant events that shaped your past to the present?
A: I came to the United States as a young man originally with the intention of studying medicine. Thanks to a coincidence of events and the influence of great teachers, I wound up pursuing a career in electrical engineering and business management with GE and other companies. I think, looking back, there was a pathway that I was intended to travel – a way to contribute at least in some small way to life on planet earth. After all, it’s the only planet we have. In the last 30,000 years, neither the agricultural age or, more recently, the industrial age, has managed to connect people across the globe in a way that allows us to see each other, to communicate, to exchange data instantaneously. Now in the information age, we have a tool we can use to accomplish these things. Broadband is that tool. It allows us to change things for the better by reducing our dependency on oil and gas, by giving us instant access to information, and to each other.
Q: As a leader, what lessons would you pass onto others?
A: I am fortunate to have had many heroes in the last 43 years who have taught me the value of life, friendship and trust. I have learned that making a contribution to society and mankind’s history has far better reward than anything else in the world. I would like to make sure the life of everyone is a better one after I have entered in their space than before I got to know them. I also would like them to make the life of the next person better, and so on.
Q: Can you share some stories of your experiences—both humorous and thought provoking?
A: Humorous, yes. When I wanted to build this broadband vision in 1988 I approached 20 plus venture capitalists who all told me I was out of my mind to try to build a global broadband pipe, and that I’d better go do something small. As for thought-provoking, as we pursued our broadband dream, no one believed we could take the next step. We were challenged to build one cable modem, install it, and prove that it worked. Then we were told we could not build 10 of them. Then 100. Then 1,000. We got to one million cable modem users in less than 10 years. It was the same negative thought process that tried to tell us we couldn’t bring down the cost of a cable modem from $15,000 to $35. We accomplished that feat, and we did it faster than any other technology – even the computer.
Q: How has broadband developed and where do you see it heading—two, five, and ten years? What are the major technologies today and into the future?
A: Broadband is in its teenager stage. We shall see both superb growth and also painful times in the next five years as this technology becomes a household staple like the electricity and water services everyone has. Our goal is to have one billion people globally connected with this technology by 2013. Our vision is that any consumer can access anything, anytime, anywhere. Our dream is to concentrate on the technology part out of this medium, and to let the services such as home security, medical care, energy management and family services like electronic photo albums carry the dream. We have built a global inter continental highway via broadband and we are about to see what types of car, buses, motorcycles and other innovations are about to use this highway above and beyond anyone’s imagination.
Q: What must business, academia, and government know about broadband? Which technologies should they implement and for what reasons?
A: Broadband is an umbrella that enables improvements in the way we conduct our affairs, regardless of what type of technology (cable, telephone, satellite, wireless, fiber to home, etc.) is being used. Any user anywhere in the world can have access to the best video, data and voice services they need. We have now implemented the cable version and telephone version that does this job and does it well. And there are more advancements certain to come.
The business person and the entrepreneurs in our field should work to make broadband simpler and cheaper so that everyone in the world can use it. Academia needs to lead the research of how a billion people connected together should be moulded, not only from a technology point of view, but also from social, economical, and political points of view as well. The government should continue to review the law of the last 100 years and adapt it to the reality of the next 100 years -- with copyright protection, security and fairness in mind. I expect we will see a secretary of Broadband services in the leading western nations in fewer than 10 years to shape the economical contributions of this empowering technology.
Q: Your book is recommended reading for everyone. Please summarize the sections in your latest book, Planet Broadband?
A: Planet Broadband is a generalized depiction of what broadband is, how it works, how it was developed, and what it promises to do for societies at large. In a large measure, it’s meant to familiarize people with the possibilities of this technology, so that the next generation of inventors and thinkers can take it to new places.
Q: Describe your top two favourite projects?
A: The two favourite projects of mine have always been:
Q: What were the major steps and challenges in writing this book? What tips can you provide to aspiring authors?
A: The dream of this book started in 1996 after I sold LANcity. I was blessed to have some of the best people like Stewart, Leslie and Roger who believed in my vision and were willing to help shape some of my thinking into a finished book. The major step for me was to continue believing in this book’s vision, be surrounded by great writers, and stay on an execution path of getting it done – rather than just talking about it. So 18 months ago we kicked off the work over dinner and followed our dream, and here we are today with the book which went to press on 8-26-03.
Q: Why do you do what you do?
A: My dad taught me at age five to be the best in anything I get involved with -- or do not get involved at all. My life history had put me in the path where my management skills, vision and technical expertise have been fertilized by some of the best leaders in the world. So after my experience at GE and armed with innovations from Proteon, LANcity gave me the means to build an infrastructure that can help to preserve mother earth’s resources, protect her from pollution and transform the industrial age to the true information age. It is a lifetime opportunity that reflects the possibility of living in this amazing era. The difference is that this type of dream requires the efforts of a whole village (a global village) for execution; it can’t depend on only one person, like an Einstein or Da Vinci of the past. The idea behind Planet Broadband was now that we have proven we can build a 40 million user base, let’s get the global village aware of this power and build the billion-user version of it.
Q: What are your major areas of interest? What would be your recommended top references in these areas?
A: Today we use 80-plus electrical appliances connected to our home, and there are hundreds of different kinds of vehicles traveling our highways. It’s helpful to remember we only started with a lone light bulb, and a single black Ford automobile. In a similar way, the possibilities associated with broadband are limitless. My interest is in useful services like medical services for the elderly who can stay at their home with grandchildren instead of traveling to the hospital just to monitor their sugar level or blood pressure, so those services can be done remotely. My interest is that our generation gap be collapsed in time, so that people can see live via video conferencing how far mankind has traveled in last 10,000 years. My interest is that any movie, any song and any book that was ever written by any author in any language will be available to everyone at the palm of their hands. My interest is to make global education available to all. I recommend people use their creativity and allow their dream to ride on the broadband highway. As for references, they’re abundant in today’s information age. You can get a feel for the possibilities of the broadband age merely by picking up the latest copy of Wired magazine. Or spending an hour or two reading recent news articles over the Internet. The world is truly awakening to the possibilities of broadband.
Q: What are the specific challenges facing your company, the industry, the country and the globe?
A: YAS Broadband is a global broadband boutique with the best asset any company could have – its people. I am fortunate to have had the opportunity to be part of this team. The industry is in its teenager time and needs supportive parents and environment to be allowed to grow to be all it can be, and we shouldn’t rush for the sake of public relations. The industry needs to do the right thing the right way. Our country, our great nation is blessed to be in the forefront of this revolution. She shall allow the future generations to get the best benefit and use of this tool by enabling a smooth transition from the industrial age to the true information age. In the 20th century, it used to take 20 years for one student to move from his motherland to the next, get educated, and goback to his culture so that he or she could contribute back to that society. This used to take a lifetime in the 19th century. In the 21st century, broadband is making this transition happen immediately. So let the global communication, economy, and political systems learn from a planet broadband ith no physical boundaries.
Q: For those who are newly entering your fields of endeavor, do you have any suggestions to save them time?
A: Fasten your seat belt and create. This is a new field of dreams. Let your imagination honor no boundaries.
Q: If you were doing this interview, what three-to-five questions would you ask of someone in your position and what would be your answers?
Q1: What sacrifices have you made to get here?
Q2: What was the most important and single point of impact in your life to follow this dream?
Q3: Who was the most influential person in your life?
Do you have any additional free-ranging comments you would like to make?
A: The cable industry was built by leaders like Bill Daniels, and it was dreamers like him that built this industry into a multi-million dollar industry. Another generation of leaders, such as John Malone, Amos Hostetter, the Roberts family who built Comcast, Jim Robbins, and others made this industry a multi-billion dollar industry. Broadband is about to build this industry to be a trillion dollar global industry, and I am blessed to be a small part of this revolution.
Q: If you were to do it all over again, would you do things differently?
A: This has been a great marathon; thanks for stopping me for a moment to capture my breath. My dream shall continue for the remainder of its journey with no change. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity.
Q: Rouzbeh, we are indeed fortunate for having you share your years of wisdom and experiences with us. Thank you again for coming in to do this interview.
A: Thank YOU and appreciate your time and effort. I would also like to thank my collaborators Leslie, Stewart, Roger, and the entire Cisco press team for allowing me to capture this moment in history for you.