Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Off The Top - September 2021

 

What a wild ride it’s been for all of us at Comstar in 2021, and we’ve still got 3 months left in the year! 

When we published our last newsletter back in March, Comstar had just begun to think about bringing people back into the office and out on the road as we looked forward to some sense of normalcy in our everyday work lives. Fast forward six months later, I’m happy to report we’re back to near full capacity in the office and finally catching up in-person with customers and prospects alike.

Yet it seems like the tides continue to shift as the country struggles to adapt to the virus. We’re seeing it in the rising number of COVID cases, and we’re experiencing it in disruptions to the global supply chain. As you’ll read in this edition of our newsletter, China recently announced a shutdown one of the world’s busiest container ports due to a virus outbreak. If that wasn’t enough, “container prices have soared, with the benchmark cost of shipping a container up more than 220% over the past year.” Because of these issues, it makes more sense than ever for our customers to have a plan B of pre-approved material in case of any more significant interruptions to production or the supply chain.

However, the most exciting news for us was in August, when we announced that Comstar Supply was sold to USTC Corp., which is backed by Washington, D.C.-headquartered global investment firm Carlyle Group. USTC, a leading value-added distributor of telecommunications materials, supply chain solutions, and technical expertise, also recently purchased Walker & Associates, and combined, we will be a growing force in the broadband distribution space.

USTC matches the employee focus and principles we support, which is to value the people who do the work as well as the work they do. This shared creed, on top of creating new and exciting opportunities for our employees, were crucial initiatives for this partnership. In addition, we’re also keeping our brand and leadership team, and will still have the autonomy to shape our growth decisions.

So, what does this mean for our customers? Greater scale and increased buying power with the combined companies. Access to seven distribution centers domestically. New products and capabilities including material, product design, and value-added distribution of passive and active equipment and tooling. And a combined company that creates the largest Prysmian fiber distribution partner in the world.

For me, this opportunity is all about hyper growth. It was critical for us to gain a partner who was willing to invest in the business and support our growing customer base. As you all know, Comstar is backed by a special group of employees, but there was a ceiling for us given our company structure and limited capital resources. The partnership with USTC catapults the combined companies into a leadership role as a domestic distribution powerhouse that will continue to outperform competitors by placing a focus on customer service and support.

A maxim of mine that we’ve preached to our team is that change is inevitable. The foundation for us to react to market conditions, withstand weather-related storms, literally, and adjust to the changing needs of our customers, have steeled us in our ability to embrace opportunities. We were built to succeed in this industry, and we will continue to thrive in it. This opportunity with USTC allows us to scale the business while maintaining the company we have all come to know and love.

Nearly 30 years ago, my father founded this company to support the OSP broadband industry through honestly, integrity, and hard work.  I believe he would be extremely proud that we were able to grow it to the point of adding such strong international and domestic partners in USTC Corp., and the Carlyle Group.

As always, I appreciate your faith and trust in us, and look forward to fulfilling your OSP material needs.

Thank you for your unwavering support.

Warmest regards,

 

Chad R. Punchard
President
Comstar Supply, Inc.

Monday, September 20, 2021

Meet Comstar's Ralph Del Conte


As Vice President of Sales Operations, Ralph has worn many hats throughout his career. Today, he’s our customer’s most important ally for fiber cable as the industry navigates the most disruption to manufacturing and the supply chain that he’s experienced in his 17 years working for the company. Let’s learn more about Ralph, his career, his family, and being a part of the sea of red in downtown Philadelphia during the Fall of 2008.

 Question: How did you get into telecom or outside plant distribution?

Ralph: I got into telecom back in 1999 when I started out strand mapping for Blair Park Services. I got a ton of experience during my five years there in many different areas of the telecom world. Not only did I learn strand mapping, but was able to learn make ready, AutoCad drafting of pole lines, and a telecom technician where I had a chance to learn some old school method of fiber termination called fiber tipping.

Q: When did you join Comstar?

Ralph: I worked for a customer of Comstar’s and met Chad back in 2002 when he was the salesmen calling on our account. Chad and I talked about Comstar and his business every time he was calling on us at our facility. Everything he told me was interesting, and really intrigued me.  I left there and came to work for Comstar in 2004. We were a much smaller company back and at that time we had to learn to wear many hats. I was lucky enough to learn how things work operationally from the ground up, giving me a ton of experience in many different areas at Comstar.

Q: In your opinion, what’s the best thing about working at Comstar?

Ralph: Hands down the best thing about Comstar are the people. I know there are many companies that call themselves a family environment, but it does truly feel that way here. The people at Comstar get along with each other and care about each other. You can just see it and feel it when you’re with them and in the building.  It’s truly a different experience than anywhere else I have worked.

Q: You’re our point person on fiber cable at the company, tell me about your experience in the market and what is your take on fiber as we start to move into 2022?

Ralph: Where to begin. I have managed Comstar’s fiber allocation for over 10 years. Over that span I have seen some tough times with some major disruption. For instance, the tsunami in Japan back in 2011 wiping out the 1/3 of the worlds glass production, to the glass shortage in 2013-2015, and none of that compares to the disruption we are seeing today.

Right now, fiber demand is higher than ever before. Add to that the raw materials and transportation shortages and you have one of craziest times our industry has ever seen with longer lead times on fiber than ever before. Most manufacturers have gone strictly allocation based at this point.

We are seeing manufacturer’s adding capacity to plants, and all its doing is keeping their market share the same. The demand is growing much more than the capacity being added. The future for fiber will be tight for a few years to come.

Due to the extended fiber lead times, we are seeing customers looking further ahead with forecasts than they have ever done before. This is a must for them to continue building without disruption.

Q: You’re a big sports fan. Do you have story or a memory of your favorite Philly sports moment?

Ralph: Yes, I am a big sports fan and love my Philly teams. As a Philly sports fan, we have had some tough years while I was growing up. There was a long 26-year period with no titles at all. The two moments that stand out the most would have to be the 2008 Phillies World Series title and the 2017 Eagles Superbowl title.  While the Eagles would rank #1 on my Philly teams list, t
he Phillies title was is the one that I will never forget. It was the 1st title I was able to live through and remember. The parade was the greatest thing ever. There were people everywhere. It was like a sea of red in the city that day. Something I will never forget seeing and being a part of that day. 

Q: You have a framed picture of Brian Dawkins, former Eagles safety, in your office. Was he your favorite Eagle and why? 

Yes, Brian Dawkins is without a doubt my favorite Eagle of all time. He was a hard-hitting safety that wore his heart on his sleeve. You knew, and could see, he was always giving it everything he had out on the field. Philly sports fans love the guys that give it all they got. You do that in Philly, and you will have the respect of the fans.

Q: I also know that family is extremely important to you. 

I‘ve been married for just over 8 years to my wife Danielle and we have a 6-year-old daughter named Peyton. Both mean everything to me and are my world. I come from a big Italian family that spends a lot of time together. From vacations and holidays with cousins to just simply spending time together, those memories are special and it's how I grew up. My parents taught us at a young age that family was extremely important. I do my best to instill that same mentality with my daughter, her cousins, and extended family. I hope my daughter will grow up with those same values and have that same special time with family that I was able to have growing up.

September Product Spotlight

 

Amphenol Broadband Solutions
Industry leading CWDM and DWDM filters from Amphenol Broadband Solutions have cost and time saving features that you didn’t know you needed. The Advanced Optical Modules (AOM) are designed to fit in your favorite outside plant closures with a high density of available channels. 

The test ports at 
the end of the module are unique to the industry which allow for faster characterization of DWDM links. Contact a Comstar sales representative today for more information on how to create higher densities in your existing access networks.

 

CORNING BPEO closureS
The BPEO closure line from Corning has several new options for FTTx, optimized for use with microduct cables. Corning now offers kits to include many of the standard parts to accommodate reduced diameter, high-density designs and service drop cables. There are more options on the way to make the BPEO an even better solution for fiber access networks in the near future, so stay tuned for more advancements.

 

EXFO’s iOLM
EXFO’s iOLM fiber test solution turned 10 years old this summer, and perhaps its best gift came in August with the version 8.35 release. This release includes a new Optimode called Fast Medium Range (FMR), which characterizes two wavelengths in point-to-point testing in less than 30 seconds for 20km. Additionally, EXFO recently added characterization capability for unbalanced splitters so if you are deploying and maintaining a distributed tap network, this upgrade is for you. This is a free update to existing iOLM licensed versions, so make sure you run your updates to take advantage of the valuable time savings of FMR.

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

As The Supply Chain Wheel Turns

We actually had to check the date of this article to see if we were reading something from last year. Unfortunately, it was dated August 2021.

The simple message – the global supply chain is going to get worse before it gets better. Manufacturers and shipping agents point to a year of disruption, lack of containers, port congestions, and a shortage of vessels in the right positions, creating a situation where cargo demand far exceeds available capacity.

What does this mean in terms of US manufacturing? Shipping delays, increased pricing, lower stock levels, and what was hoped to be a short-term crunch now looks like it will have a material impact well into 2022.

The good news is that over the last 18 months at Comstar, we’ve learned some valuable lessons shared among manufacturers, distributors, and contractors/service providers. We’ve already detailed why it’s critical to have a pre-approved plan B for service delivery materials. It’s a conversation we’re having with customers every day. Sure, there’s some pain to get there - testing specs, additional training, etc. - but the ability to pivot no matter the supply chain disruption is worth it.

The second lesson we learned is to increase communication with our customers during times of disruption. Even if the answers don’t come easy, the best way to prepare for production delays or price instability is to have conversations early and often. We’re not always in the business of delivering good news, but we are in the business of keeping you informed of market conditions so that we can help make the best decision to keep you building networks. The value of working with a distributor is its ability to bob and weave along with your needs, not in spite of them.

All good things come in 3s, and really the third lesson is more a byproduct of communication – and that’s simply the concept of stock. Conversations we’re having as we begin the move into 2022 is that service providers realize the importance of having product on the ground.

Inevitably, numerous factors will continue to put pressure on supply chain and manufacturing. At Comstar Supply, we’ll apply the lessons we’ve learned over the last 18 months to help ensure minimal disruption and exposure for our customers.