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Reimagining Wireless Infrastructure: Three Topics to Deep Dive at Connect (X)

The wireless infrastructure industry is at a pivotal stage. With exciting opportunities ahead to provide vast access and innovation, there isn’t a better time for the wireless industry to get together at Connect (X). The event is powered by the Wireless Infrastructure Association (WIA) with the mission to enable mobile communications everywhere. We are grateful for their public affairs and advocacy efforts on the local, state, and federal levels for the widespread deployment of wireless infrastructure to deliver broadband access to all citizens and communities. I’m eager to discuss key topics with my peers at the View From the Top session, on Wednesday, May 25 at 11:20 AM Mountain Time (MT), and take advantage of the robust show agenda to dive deeper into these key topics.

1.

The Glue to Close the Digital Divide

A critical component of connectivity is making it readily available to all. The digital divide was never more apparent than during the pandemic. Internet access became essential, rather than a luxury, for telehealth, remote learning, remote working, connecting with family and friends, and entertainment. The need for ubiquitous coverage to enable these services where we work, live, and play highlighted the fact that there are still many opportunities to provide or improve connectivity across the country. Luckily, federal funding and spectrum auctions are providing resources to close this gap. WIA worked tirelessly with policymakers to overcome an initial fiber-only focus and ensure funding can be used for wireless broadband solutions—paving the way for faster deployment in areas without adequate broadband service. This more flexible approach will allow service providers optionality in how to approach coverage and capacity to provide targeted solutions for various geographies and community needs.

As Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) are focused on 5G deployment at scale, regional telecommunications companies and wireless internet service providers, with localized expertise, are well-positioned to help deliver this crucial service to rural communities. However, challenges in meeting funding requirements, such as working within demanding build timelines, accessing infrastructure like fiber, and managing installation costs must be carefully considered. This audience will need specialized knowledge and tailored solutions to reach the most remote populations. Our consultative approach at American Tower provides them the information, resources, and tools needed to be successful, as we understand they need a different approach than our traditional MNO customers. Our expansive portfolio of tower sites across the U.S., coupled with a broad offering of network deployment services, and industry-best team, make for a great support resource for service providers.

At Connect (X) there are several sessions around this topic, including Federal and State Broadband Funding – How Resources Are Effectively Leveraged, on Wednesday, May 25 at 8:30 AM MT, which will help provide these operators with the right resources. We also have a number of American Tower team members attending the show who welcome the opportunity to discuss your plans for network deployment to solve the digital divide and how we can support your efforts.

2.

The 5G Network Evolution

Even though 5G has been discussed for a few years now, we are still in the early stages of deployment and technology. MNOs have successfully secured their spectrum with C-Band, mid-band, and high-frequency millimeter wave. Each of the MNOs has its own plan for delivering consumer and business solutions as they provide 5G to their customers. While 2021 brought the initial wave of activity for 5G deployments, we are starting to see our customers update coverage maps to show their progress in delivering 5G.

Towers continue to be the optimal infrastructure for 5G spectrum and macro cells will anchor the deployment of 5G. In suburban and rural markets, towers will continue to be the primary vehicle for delivering coverage. Last year, we saw a record volume of customer applications for the augmentation of existing equipment and expect to see this volume continue to grow this year, as MNOs are projected to spend nearly $40 billion in CAPEX in 2022, following the approximately $34 billion spent in 2021.1

In urban and suburban areas, macro cells, such as towers and rooftops, will continue to provide the base coverage layer of service, with inherent network resiliency, and the densification layer for increased capacity demands. In these environments, MNOs must also navigate the in-building challenge. With high-frequency bands used in metro markets, signals can’t travel as far and degrade through a variety of building materials, such as glass and steel. In-building small cells need to deploy quickly in many locations, especially larger public venues, to enable up to 20 Gbps speed.2 MNOs will need to work with trusted partners to help them deploy quickly and cost effectively. For infrastructure providers like us, this creates an opportunity to become an extension of our customers’ arms. We work with MNOs and maintain relationships with many premier property owners across the country, enabling rapid deployment within desirable venues, such as sports arenas, convention centers, casinos, shopping areas, and hotels.

When evaluating the best wireless deployment approach, building owners must balance their operational needs, the experience of guests and tenants, and the MNOs’ network priorities. If you’re attending the show, be sure to check out The Intersection of Private Networks and In-Building Wireless, on Wednesday, May 25 at 8:30 AM MT, to learn how leveraging technology, like the CBRS spectrum, can help ready buildings for next-generation technologies.

3.

Convergence of Wireless and Wireline Networks

Previously, we discussed 5G in the more immediate timeframe. The longer-term challenge will be how to continue to achieve the sub-10-millisecond latency with exponentially increasing bandwidth needs. Currently, this isn’t a critical issue, but as demand increases with applications, such as the Metaverse, gaming, Artificial Reality/Virtual Reality (AR/VR), next-generation content delivery, and more, it will be imperative for networks to have a distributed model. Building a sustainable 5G network will be more than a wireless network shift. From Radio Access Network (RAN) to the data center, where content is hosted, there needs to be synchronization and convergence of wireless and wireline networks to truly enable innovation. Communications towers, located at the natural demarcation point where wireless and wireline networks meet, make the logical network edge for a distributed network architecture.

Beyond the distributed real estate, access to Cloud Service Providers (CSPs) and robust interconnections are vital to enabling the edge. We recently acquired CoreSite, which has direct onramps to all of the leading CSPs, bypassing the internet with one-to-one and one-to-many private connections, and offers the Open Cloud Exchange®, a software-defined networking platform simplifying and accelerating connection to providers. As a leading hybrid IT provider, CoreSite also has one of the richest interconnection ecosystems in the industry.

Organizations that prepare their networks now will ultimately win the 5G race. They will lean on partners that can help them simplify deployment. We must expand our solutions offerings, beyond traditional wireless infrastructure, to provide a turnkey, end-to-end data center and cloud-enabled interconnection solution.

There are several sessions at Connect (X) around this topic, including the Keynote with Dan Rampton from Meta, on Wednesday, May 25 at 10:50 AM MT; The Demand for Data Centers, on Tuesday, May 24 at 3:00 PM MT; and The Benefits of Cloud-Native Networks, on Wednesday, May 25 at 9:15 AM MT.

Our infrastructure solutions need to shift to better prepare for the innovations of tomorrow. Successful companies will be those that can offer a comprehensive set of solutions, both traditional and evolving, and ease the customers’ burden with a simplified and streamlined experience. Connect (X) will be a critical event, where we can come together, learn about future trends, and exchange ideas on how to better serve customers. For network operators, Connect (X) is free to attend. I hope to see you at the show.

1Sources: Altman Solon Research and Analysis, CTIA, UBS forecasts, Bank of America Merrill Lynch Wireless Matrix, Wall Street research.
2Ericsson – Bringing 5G Networks Indoors
Open Cloud Exchange® is a registered trademark of CoreSite.

Steve Vondran

Steve Vondran is Executive Vice President and President, U.S. Tower Division, American Tower Corporation.

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