Telecom for Life

May 23, 2017 Nestor Licanto

"I WANT TO SEE WHAT I WANT, when I want it, where I want it.” That’s how IT&E CEO Jim Oehlerking describes one of the new trends in consumer attitudes in the telecommunication industry.

“It’s become a very personalized service,” Oehlerking observes. “I don’t look at network-wide performance statistics because all that matters is how it works for you. I mean, you see 80 percent of cellular use in-building, where it used to be much more on the road, when you’re traveling. Now it’s very ubiquitous. People just expect to be able to make phone calls, browse the Internet, do their social media, run their business from wherever they are, whenever they want to. And it’s going to continue more and more in that direction.”

Oehlerking says IT&E continues to accelerate its technology expansion, and speed and capacity are what customers are looking for. “We’re going to be launching LTE advance capability, which provides very fast data network performance. 80 to 100 megabyte download speeds,” he explained. “What you see now in Guam, you sort of see worldwide.”

He says the gaps between the leading markets like Japan and the U.S., and the network performance of other markets, are tightening. “I mean, the expectations are that even the networks here in Guam work as well or better than any networks in the world, and that’s what we’re driving towards. I remember 10 to 15 years ago where people were using dial-up modems and things like that, and sort of getting through life. Now, like I said, we’re doing 80 megabyte download speeds,” he adds.

As for capacity, Oehlerking says providing adequate bandwidth is important because “you don’t know what you’re going to be doing with it tomorrow. You make it available and people find things to fill it up. We need to make sure we’ve got as high-performing pipes out there as possible because there’s just going to be more and more that people are doing with it,” he explains.

He gives credit to Apple for establishing an open architecture for app development. “It just opened the floodgates for what people can come up with. One guy I met showed me an app where you put your finger up to the camera and it tells you your blood oxygen level. I mean, frankly, I don’t need to know my blood oxygen level that often, but what else can you put in a phone?” he asks.

Oehlerking says the industry is also seeing huge growth in “over-the-top” services. OTT is a general term for a service that customers utilize over a network that is not offered by the network operator. “You’re seeing a big push toward services like Netflix, Hulu TV, Sling TV, Amazon…and it’s all driving toward personalization. How many people want 150 or 200 channels when they only watch five?”

More and more, Oehlerking believes wireless technology will be the primary driver of that reality. “You can make advancements a lot easier than you can with copper or things in the ground. Look at companies like AT&T and Verizon, in some areas (in the mainland) where they were putting in fiber, they’re now going to the FCC and applying to use wireless solutions. I just think that as far as speed of deployment, cost-effective deployment, and new technologies and enhancements, wireless is what’s driving it.”

“We’re going to be launching LTE advance capability, which provides very fast data network performance. 80- to 100-megabyte download speeds. What you see now in Guam, you sort of see worldwide.”

Oehlerking has spent the first 27 years of his professional life with one telecommunications company, the once-dominant Motorola. In fact, he was a program manager for the first cellular system Motorola ever sold. 

He grew up in the Chicago area, where Motorola began and was headquartered. The company hired him right after he graduated from the University of Illinois with a degree in Computer Engineering. “It was just when the telecom industry was shifting to microprocessor technology. So they had a lot of RF (radio frequency) kind of guys, but not many computer-oriented guys, so that’s how I got hired and wound up going down a telecom path,” he recalls.

He admits that when he first started in the cellular business he never imagined how big it would become. “I didn’t see it coming initially. I mean, really, the first brick phones were for rich people and business people. Now it’s become the most ubiquitous consumer product in the history of mankind.”

Oehlerking continues, “If you look at the processing power that are in modern phones, and the capabilities, it’s just incredible. As a matter of fact, it’ll be interesting in the next few years because I think, at least from my perspective, we’ve almost plateaued on how much functionality you can put in a phone. You know when they come out with the next generation phone, I think they’ll be scrambling to try and figure out what else to put in there, how to make it better.”

During his career with Motorola, Oehlerking was assigned all over the world, including a stint as head of Southeast Asia operations, which included Guam. In fact, he was at the helm when Guam’s first analog cellular system was set up. He also put in time in Europe and South America, but his most memorable assignment was in the Middle East. “Motorola got a contract in Baghdad after the Gulf War. I was the guy they sent in to do it,” he says.

He was tasked with rebuilding the city’s destroyed cellular system, while the Iraqi capital was still dangerous at the time. “They blew up the building we were housing people in. Fortunately we were out working when they blew it up,” Oehlerking remembers. Despite the hazards, they were able to complete the job in 45 days. “That was a challenge getting that done, but that’s the type of project I’ve worked on over the years,” he states matter-of-factly.

Motorola and its rival Nokia once dominated the cellphone market. Motorola’s most popular handsets in the 1990’s and early 2000’s were the DynaTAC flip phone, the StarTAC clam phone, and its last big hit the RAZR. But by the second half of the decade the smart-phone emerged, and Apple and Samsung were the new dominant players. “If you miss a technology cycle, or two for sure, it’s hard to come back,” Oehlerking observes. He admits his time at Motorola was good for him, and allowed for a lot of learning opportunities and career growth. “Having lived through a lot of industry cycles, it’s been very informative.”

Oehlerking had left Motorola and was working in Korea when he was hired by IT&E President Ricky Delgado. “Part of the appeal of coming to IT&E after a lot of years of large corporate experience, which was good and beneficial, was the ability to get things done here with much thinner layers of bureaucracy, and to really make an impact,” he says.

He describes his management style as “very results-oriented. I’m sort of a get-the-job-done type of guy.” He counts the legendary Jack Welch of General Electric as an executive he admires for his “no-baloney” approach to business. While at Motorola, Oehlerking also had a fair amount of exposure to Bob Galvin, the founder’s son, and Chris Galvin, the founder’s grandson, whom he described as “very insightful and inspirational guys.”

At IT&E Oehlerking has taken a very hands-on approach. “As a company, we know we have to earn our customer’s business every day. The network’s just as good as how it works for that individual. So I don’t spend much time in my office, I spend most of my time out with the team, in the stores out talking with customers,” he explains.

He continues, “I ask people I meet whose phone service they’re using, and if it’s ours, how is it working, because again, it’s a personalized service. In the two years I’ve been here we’ve had our share of challenges, but I’m pretty happy with the direction we’ve got the company going now.”

Outside of work, the tall Midwesterner likes to stay active in sports. He plays golf and tennis as often as his busy schedule permits. “I’m in a men’s tennis league, and I play with Kriegel and Holbrook (the bosses at DoCoMo Pacific and GTA respectively) sometimes, so it’s kind of like the telecom CEO sport of choice,” he quips.

Oehlerking is also active in some local pool leagues, and admits to having “played a lot over the years.” Those who might wonder how good a billiards player he is should be forewarned before actually taking him on at the table. “Actually, our team just won the Wednesday night Guam championship last week,” he says proudly.

He has two main items on his bucket list. The first is establishing IT&E as the premiere telecommunications company in the Marianas, “particularly in technology businesses. There’s no standing still. You’re either moving ahead and getting better, or you’re falling behind. And the way to get better is always to be looking at what you’re doing and evaluating, and being open and honest about it. We need to be saying we did this well, and we didn’t do this as well as we could, how can we do it better,” he explains.

And the second item on his list? “A cruise and a tour of Alaska. With all the travel I’ve done over the years, that’s one place I haven’t gone, and it’s always looked very interesting to me,” Oehlerking concludes.

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