For those of you familiar with Portuguese, you know that this word – obrigado – means “thank you.” For those, like me, who have had little to no exposure to the language, well, now you know one word in what is the official language of Portugal and Brazil – and Mozambique, Angola, Guinea-Bissau, East Timor, Equatorial Guinea, Macau, Cape Verde, and Sao Tome and Principe (one country). As we all know from our elementary school history, the Portuguese were incredibly gifted navigators, sailors and explorers, producing Ferdinand Magellan, who completed the first voyage around the world, Vasco da Gama, who discovered an ocean route from Portugal to the East, Gaspar and Miguel Corte Real who explored Greenland and the coast of Newfoundland, Bartholomew Dias, who was the first European to lead a voyage around the Cape of Good Hope at the Southern-most tip of Africa and Pedro Alvares Cabral, who was the first European to see Brazil in 1500. While this doesn’t cover the entirety of Portuguese explorers, it gives you a good sense of why the far-flung nations listed above have established Portuguese as their official language.
It also struck me in reviewing this list that these famous explorers from Portugal went to all of the places where UTC now has a presence – Canada, Brazil, Europe and South Africa. And, some consider Christopher Columbus to be of Portuguese nationality given the amount of time he spent in Portugal in his lifetime – if we agree with this contingent, then we can add the U.S. to the list of places these early explorers encountered. Not really sure what conclusion to draw here, but somehow seems worth mentioning.
Of course, the European explorers found indigenous peoples already living in these locales and, as was evident on my recent trip to the UTCAL (UTC America Latina) Summit, the Brazilian population is as much a melting pot as that of the U.S. The UTCAL Summit was held in the oldest city in Brazil – Salvador – which is situated on the coast North and East of both Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paolo. Salvador used to be the Brazilian capital, but, given the huge geography of the country, a decision was made to move the capital more to the middle of the country where Brazilia was planned and built for that purpose (sound familiar? I mean, the planned part, not the middle part). The weather was warm and tropical, with a bit of the rainy season creeping in as the southern hemisphere gets further into its fall. The state of Bahia, of which Salvador is the capital, includes a mix of cultures that pulls from East African roots, so the food has some of those influences. In some ways, the food reminded me a bit of what you might find in New Orleans or the Caribbean – lots of red beans and rice and fresh fish/shellfish of all sorts, as well as some amazing hot sauce to be added if you like that sort of thing (which I do – yum!).
The UTCAL Summit, which was put together by Dymitr Wajsman and Ronaldo Santarem, President and Vice President of UTCAL, respectively, was attended by close to 400 delegates and was an excellent event overall. Because some of the presenters spoke Portuguese while others spoke English, Dymitr and Ronaldo had translators for the entire conference and delegates could grab a headset and Walkman-like radio to tune in to their preferred language at any of the sessions. While I’m sure a significant expense, it was well worth it because Dymitr could have people speaking from around the world while still engaging his UTCAL member audience. I spoke on a panel with several distinguished guests from the government, Brazilian utilities and critical manufacturers, discussing the state of the industry. And, surprise(!), everyone said almost the same thing we say in the U.S., Canada, Europe and South Africa – utilities need to manage intermittent renewables with information and communications technology, they need to engage with customers in a much more comprehensive way than previously and they need to address cybersecurity concerns as ICT penetrates more deeply than ever into utilities’ operations.
Kathy Nelson of Great River Energy and UTC’s Vice Chair, participated in a panel on the need for reliable spectrum – a need that is vital now more than ever given the state of the industry laid out above (and it has long been important). Brett Kilbourne of UTC staff also took part in this panel and spoke separately on utility pole attachment issues – the latter a timely conversation given developments in the U.S. with the Federal Communications Commission conflating the lack of broadband deployment with current pole attachment rules, a relationship that is tenuous at best. Mike Meason of Western Farmers Electric Cooperative and Chair of UTC’s Security Committee, gave an excellent presentation on utility cyber-security. And, Peter Moray of UTC’s Global Advisory Council, updated the group on global activities, including engagement on spectrum issues and evaluating key performance indicators of utilities’ private networks. Several of the UTC participants were able to attend because of a grant from the International Trade Administration (ITA), a part of the U.S. Department of Commerce, that UTC received a few years ago to facilitate dialogue between U.S. and Brazilian utilities on ICT issues. The representative from ITA who oversees energy/utility issues, Victoria Gunderson, was also at the UTCAL Summit providing her experience and perspective throughout.
Finally, you can’t be in Brazil without having a bit of fun, and Dymitr and Ronaldo threw a great party on the first night of the Summit with a traditional Bahian dinner and a live demonstration of capoeira, the Brazilian martial art that looks like part dancing, part gymnastics and part deadly.I’ve included some pictures, of course. The bottom line is, visit Brazil if you can and learn from others who have similar technical and regulatory challenges there. Some of them will be in Charlotte for the UTC Telecom & Technology meeting May 8-12. Until then, obrigado to the folks I met in Brazil for their hospitality and obrigado to UTC for my first year in this role. Until we meet again!