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Drones in Telecom: Tower Operations to Benefit From Standardizing Emerging Tech

Two leaders of a task group about unmanned aerial systems (UAS), also known as drones, invite interested individuals to inquire about joining the group to help it create the future of tower analytics based on drone-gathered data. Co-authors of a statement published in the TIA Wavelength Blog, Sam McGuire and Robert McCoy said that the catalyst behind the increased adoption of UAS projects in the tower industry has been the rapid technological enhancements enabling their deployments globally and increased competition that helps keep costs for the technology under control.

“Advancements in tower-specific flight automation are enabling the collection of comprehensive datasets in short amounts of time,” the statement reads. “These datasets can be leveraged for comprehensive visual inspections or creating 3D virtual reconstructions commonly referred to as digital twins.”

Sam McGuire

McGuire is chairman, and McCoy is vice chairman, of the group, which is known as the Drones Ad Hoc Subcommittee or Drones Task Group, established under the Telecommunications Industry Association’s Engineering Committee TR-14. Anyone interested in joining the group can email McGuire at [email protected] or McCoy at [email protected].

McGuire is senior director of strategy at 5×5 Technologies, an asset inspection, management and analysis company. In addition, McGuire is chairman of the UAS Committee at NATE: The Communications Infrastructure Contractors Association. McCoy is the operations quality assurance manager at Crown Castle International, and he belongs to the NATE UAS Committee.

McGuire and McCoy wrote that teams have been experimenting with different methods to provide accurate measurements within digital representations of tower assets.

Robert McCoy

“Common methods include the use of ground control points (GCPs) or the placement of known dimensional components into the data capture area — scaling sticks and scaling markers,” the statement reads. “The method of choice will depend on various factors including budget, project timeline and accuracy requirements.”

Multiple approaches to dimensional scaling are validated against large volumes of data at centimeter-level accuracy or better, according to McGuire and McCoy. They said the concept no longer is a theory or future vision; it exists today and operates at scale.

“Combining repeatable, automated flight and an accurate dimensional understanding of digital reconstructions has enabled an entirely new era of analytics,” they wrote. “While many of the AI models continue to evolve and improve, the capabilities that already exist today are substantial.”

According to McGuire and McCoy, from a structural standpoint, systems can now identify defects and deficiencies like tower rust, bent members or missing components. They said that some of the highest impact use cases, however, are related to identifying and quantifying network equipment on a tower.

TIA Drones Ad Hoc 2021

The two task force leaders said that the TIA Drones Ad Hoc Subcommittee operates as part of the TR-14 Standards Committee, which is responsible for the ANSI/TIA-222 Standard, “Structural Standard for Antenna Supporting Structures, Antennas and Small Wind Turbine Support Structures” and the ANSI/TIA-322 Standard, “Loading, Analysis and Design Criteria Related to the Installation, Alteration and Maintenance of Communication Structures.”

Given the range of positive impacts that UAS operations are continuing to have on tower management and maintenance, they said, the capabilities of drones and analytical applications surrounding their use qualify UAS operations for inclusion in the next revision of the TIA-222 Standard.

“The TR-14 Drones Ad Hoc Subcommittee will be conducting a thorough review of the existing standard and providing the findings, and suggestions to the TR-14 leadership committee for the inclusion of drone operations,” the statement reads. “To do so, we are collaborating with all stakeholders within the existing Ad Hoc Subcommittee and inviting the participation from anyone with appropriate expertise, knowledge, or interest on the subject. The format of our collaboration will be a monthly call as well as periodic surveys and breakout sessions to explore specific subject matter in detail. We invite you to join the conversation and help us create the future of tower analytics.”

McGuire and McCoy invited individuals interested in joining the TIA Drones Ad Hoc Group to reach out to them or to TIA’s membership team at [email protected].

Fiber, Chip, Skilled Labor Shortages Could Crimp 5G Boom

By Mike Harrington

Shortages of fiber-optic cable, semiconductor chips and skilled labor threaten to hinder this year’s booming rollout of broadband and wireless networks — all while 5G infrastructure construction is thriving and the Biden administration is poised to allocate $65 billion for broadband deployment.

The most serious, longest-standing deficiencies are the chip shortage that affect the telecom supply chain and a scarcity of trained workers for building the new networks. Global semiconductor shortages have been disrupting plans for much of the tech industry and automakers. The broadband industry, in particular, is being slowed by the shortages in chips and other components — a trend that could further extend to wireless infrastructure builders.

Meanwhile, the recently realized fiber shortage is as seen as a shorter-term, but imminently more severe problem. AT&T had plans to wire 3 million homes this year, but last week said it would only be able to complete 2.5 million. The company warned that shortages are likely to affect other companies that purchase fiber. According to Shirley Bloomfield, chief executive officer of NTCA — The Rural Broadband Association, internet service providers are waiting as long as 71 weeks for new fiber to be delivered. Bruce Forey of Broadmax Group, a fiber broadband development consulting firm, said that semiconductor chips, electronic capacitors, resistors and even plastic polymers also are increasingly scarce.

Gary Bolton, president and CEO of the Fiber Broadband Association.

The largest fiber buyer in the country, AT&T expects to catch up with its original fiber-construction estimates starting next year, largely because of the company’s “preferred place in the supply chain” and set prices. AT&T said it believes it will be able to reach its target customers of 30 million customer locations by 2025.

Gary Bolton, president and CEO of the Fiber Broadband Association (FBA), also is optimistic about the supply of fiber. “The majority of the fiber being deployed in the U.S. is made in the U.S.,” he said. “Corning, OFS and Prysmian all manufacture optical fiber in the United States and will have sufficient capacity to meet demand and these domestic suppliers are further expanding capacity.”

Bolton continued: “The $65 billion broadband infrastructure investment provides strong visibility to the long-term capex investment cycle that will enable our fiber manufacturers to increase capacity to meet demand. The infrastructure bill has passed the Senate and is working its way through the House. At best, this funding will begin flowing in 2023. The fiber industry will continue to ramp in 2021 and 2022 with the significant announced broadband investment from private capital, already appropriated federal funding (RDOF, Re-Connect, ARPA, etc.) and state funding (i.e., $6 billion California budget surplus).”

However, in the short term, smaller internet providers are also already feeling the pinch of the fiber shortage. The National Rural Broadband Association said that providers can’t get 30 percent to 40 percent of the needed equipment to install broadband — especially fiber. Meanwhile, the Rural Wireless Association is more concerned that a shortage of semiconductor chips and fiber-optic cable could have a big effect on the timing associated with its members’ ability to replace Huawei and ZTE gear in their networks, as mandated by the Secure Networks Act of 2019.

“The chip shortage is more challenging than the fiber supply given the number of industries competing for chips, such as the auto industry,” said FBA’s Bolton. “We believe that long lead times can be managed with long-range forecast visibility and strong supply chain management.”


A spokesperson for the Wireless Internet Service Providers (WISPA) told eDigest, “Chip shortage has not been something I’m hearing about from our members, though equipment shortages generally, through tariff issues and COVID, have been a struggle for some.

“However,” the WISPA spokesperson continued, “The labor shortage is huge — finding, attracting and keeping good labor has always been difficult, especially for small companies operating in rural markets. The current labor crunch has only exacerbated that. WISPs are finding ways to get around it — through comprehensive benefits packages, signing bonuses, higher pay, training and apprenticeship programs, etc., but it will remain an ongoing challenge even after the current crunch subsides. Though Congress’ billions for new broadband deployment will bring new labor into the market, until that new supply occurs, there will be labor issues in the short term.”

As far as the fiber shortage is concerned, WISPA’s spokesperson also said the organization believes the shortage is temporary and the market will get what it needs. “We see delays now, even for AT&T,” he said.  “For the small guy, I hear of up to a year or more to get ordered fiber delivered. Congress’ broadband deployment money will increase that wait until supply responds. But supply will eventually respond. The numbers are simply too big for this not to occur, notwithstanding the past experience of the dot-com bubble.”

As far as how the fiber shortage how might bolster wireless construction, the WISPA spokesperson said, “I think that companies are already seeing the advantage of FWA [fixed wireless access] in quickly, cost-effectively and robustly connecting consumers to the internet. The very largest companies see it as a viable tool to bring evolutionary broadband to their hungry customers. WISPs have known this for years. Sure, fiber is great; many WISPs are hybrid providers and have significant fiber assets in their networks. But the shortage did not bring the FWA model to the fore.  It stands on its own as a tremendous, evolutionary solution to get people online.”

Todd Schlekeway

Todd Schlekeway, president and CEO of NATE

Meanwhile, Todd Schlekeway, president and CEO of NATE: the National Association of Tower Erectors, said, “There are a myriad of supply chain issues right now and it appears the fiber shortage is part of that issue. AT&T certainly called attention to that fact last week.”

Delivering the keynote address at the South Wireless Summit, held in Nashville on June 28, Schlekeway warned that wireless contracting was becoming untenable. Schlekeway said he believes that, although the shortage of skilled workers is a major problem, the largest problem for NATE members is downward pricing pressure from carriers and others at the top of the chain, which is making wireless contracting unprofitable. “Customers at the top of the chain have shifted all responsibility for the safety and vetting of contractors to third parties with an ever-rising bar,” he said.

“One remedy involves finding more skilled workers,” Schlekeway said at the summit. “U.S. operators want to expand their 5G networks, but a shortage of skilled tower workers — particularly workers demanding higher pay — could hinder that expansion.” Schlekeway said that NATE is working with technical colleges and community colleges to train people for these types of trades. But he noted that even the help of these institutions won’t solve the problem overnight.

Gary Bolton also sees the skilled worker shortage as his association’s largest challenge. “FBA is launching a nationwide Optical Technician training program nationwide to community colleges, high schools and with veterans,” he said. This training is recognized with the U.S. Dept. of Labor, with FBA as a national sponsor, and includes 144 hours of classroom and hands-on training and 2,000 hours of apprenticeship.”


Mike Harrington is a contributing editor.

NATE Taps Sam McGuire to Chair UAS Committee

Sam McGuire

NATE: The Communications Infrastructure Contractors Association has named Sam McGuire to chair its Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) Committee. McGuire, who is the senior director of strategy at 5×5 Technologies, succeeds Bryan McKernan from Consortiq, who accepted a position with the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.

According to NATE, McGuire has has spent most of his career working for early- to mid-stage startups. The association also said McGuire has worked as a tower technician, traveling the country with his brother, spending nearly a year in the field, climbing and conducting structural inspections on more than 500 towers.

Since then, McGuire has focused solely on bringing new technologies to the industry, NATE said. In addition to chairing the NATE UAS Committee, McGuire chairs the TIA Drones Ad Hoc Group under the TR-14 Committee. NATE said that at 5×5 Technologies McGuire works with wireless industry stakeholders to deploy drone and image analytics technologies to better assess, understand and manage critical infrastructure.

McGuire said in a prepared statement that he looks forward to building upon McKernan’s leadership and stewardship.

“These are exciting times in the commercial drone sector, and NATE has a great opportunity to leverage the expertise of its UAS Committee members and member companies to capitalize on the dynamic potential of this technology to expand use cases in the wireless infrastructure industry,” he said.

NATE Praises Passage of Skilled Workforce Amendment to Infrastructure Bill

Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.)

On Aug. 2, by a vote of 95-1, the Senate passed the Thune-Tester amendment, the Telecommunications Skilled Workforce Act, which aims to address the workforce needs of the telecommunications industry as part of the $65 billion set aside for broadband in the $1 trillion federal infrastructure bill.

On Aug. 3, NATE: The Communications Infrastructure Contractors Association issued the following statement:

“We are very pleased that Sen. John Thune’s Telecom Skilled Workforce Act has been added to the bipartisan infrastructure legislation being considered in the Senate,” said Todd Washam, NATE director of government relations and Wireless Industry Network.

“Thune’s leadership on workforce development issues will help our industry meet the enormous demands for broadband and closing the digital divide resulting from this important legislation. NATE also thanks Sens. Tester, Moran, Peters and King for cosponsoring this amendment,” Washam said.

NATE’s Legislative and Regulatory Committee identified the Telecommunications Skilled Workforce Act as one of the association’s top legislative priorities. The legislation would help close the workforce shortage in the telecommunications industry. It would require the FCC, in consultation with the secretary of labor, to issue guidance to states on how to bolster workforce efforts.

An FCC-led interagency working group, in consultation with the Department of Labor and other federal and non-federal stakeholders, would develop recommendations to address the workforce shortage. The group would identify federal resources available to states for workforce development efforts.

Rep. Tim Walberg (R-Mich.) and Rep. Yvette Clarke (D-N.Y.). introduced companion legislation in the House.

Meanwhile, the Wireless Infrastructure Association (WIA) reported it was pleased with the Thune-Tester amendment. “WIA is gratified by the overwhelming bipartisan support in the Senate for developing the telecommunications workforce,” said Jonathan Adelstein, WIA’s president and CEO. “Our contractors are already working at full capacity, so the increased demand created by the $40 billion broadband package will require an increased supply of skilled workers to get the job done quickly, efficiently, and safely.

“The Senate is now on record backing apprenticeships as an essential way to expand our workforce to speed the deployment of high-speed internet and win the race to 5G,” Adelstein said. “We thank Sens. Thune, Tester, Moran, Peters and King for their leadership and for recognizing initiatives like the Telecommunications Industry Registered Apprenticeship Program are paving the way to train workers with the skills needed so 5G can created 4.5 million jobs $1.5 trillion in economic growth over the next decade.”

How Transit Wireless Recruits, Retains Diverse Workforce

By Don Bishop

Louise Golding , senior vice president of people and business operations at Transit Wireless, and Todd Schlekeway, president and CEO of NATE: The Communications Infrastructure Contractors Association.

Carefully planned onboarding and training for employees helps Transit Wireless retain its workforce, according to Louise Golding, the company’s senior vice president of people and business operations. She said Transit Wireless focuses on building sourcing pipelines across all aspects of the of the market in wireless communications, making sure it taps into as many diverse groups’ populations as possible. Golding spoke during an AGL Virtual Summit in June at the session, “Initiatives Grow the Communications Infrastructure Workforce and Increase Diversity,” moderated by Todd Schlekeway, president and CEO of NATE: The Communications Infrastructure Contractors Association.

As a 5G wireless communications company, Transit Wireless finances, designs, builds, operates and maintains networks in transit and other localities, supporting the 5G rollout across smart cities and technology, Golding said. Key partners she named are the New York City Subway and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

In speaking of people Transit Wireless needs to hire, Golding said the company seeks people with learning agility, who are who have a deep technical expertise in engineering and telecommunications and who have a propensity to expand and broaden their knowledge and skill sets into other verticals.

“We’re looking at lot more roles with a broader application for that need while equally retaining that deep expertise that stands out for our engineering excellence,” Golding said.

Part of the challenge for a relatively small company in a competitive, demanding and hot market involves the challenge of creating a compelling vision and an environment where people want to work at Transit Wireless, she said. Equally important is retaining, developing and supporting those individuals to be able to grow and succeed within the organization, which, Golding said, ultimately makes the company succeed.

“Where do we get talented individuals with learning agility?” she asked. “Military veterans,” she said, “and other sectors with a great base skill that we can then build on. Once they’re in with us, we have clear development plans to ensure the right workforce balance to keep us agile and able to adapt to market demands.”

Golding said that her role at Transit Wireless is unique; a role that she said she expects will grow in some popularity in coming years.

“As well as being responsible for the organization and all that comes with that, ensuring that we’re set up and we operate to drive the best value and drive successful growth for us, I also lead our analytics and advertising business,” she said. “I’m also on the other side in a P&L role on the receiving end of those business initiatives and the value that that we drive from the organization perspective. My role is at the center of enabling successful growth.”

Elaborating on Transit Wireless’ methods for recruiting and retention, Golding said the company builds frameworks to guide individuals to determine their personal development plans. The frameworks empower managers collaborate with employees to identify technically and behaviorally where they can focus and work on how they can grow and learn, she said.

“We build our training on a tailor-made basis from a suite of available training, and then the individual with their manager can help build that personal development plan to really ensure that they’re successful,” Golding said. “The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way we do that with learning pathways in a more remote way. We have leveraged an e-learning platform far more than we would have done previously, but equally balancing that with key training in person, then leveraging external certifications and requirements. It is focused on understanding the individual, their aspirations and their needs, and then building a plan to support that growth.”

Golding said that Transit Wireless has embraced diversity in its workforce. She said the company has made use of unconscious bias training for stripping unconscious bias from recruitment processes to ensure hiring someone with the right set of skills.

“We have not driven quotas — not to say that they don’t have a place — but we focus on identifying the right person for the role and making sure we explore as deep and hard as we can to find that right person,” Golding said. “Once people are in the organization, we create an environment where our customers’ needs and delivering for our customer absolutely comes first. That requires us to think about creative solutioning, problem solving and embracing diverse contributions each member of a particular project team or group of employees can bring to anything that they’re trying to solve for, and by embracing that inclusion and making sure people are heard and their expertise comes to bear.”

Golding went on to say, “We believe that the day we retain that diversity and it’s growing, equally we create an environment where everyone can thrive and, most importantly, our partners and customers benefit. Our expertise is bringing the best that people can contribute to the fore.”

For the June 8 AGL Virtual Summit, Total Tech sponsors included Raycap, Valmont Site Pro 1, Vertical Bridge and B+T Group. Tech sponsors included Alden Systems and Aurora Insight. Viavi Solutions sponsored the keynote address. Additional sponsors included Gap Wireless, NATE, VoltServer and WIA.

Sharpe Smith programmed the Summit, and Kari Willis hosted. AGL Media Group has scheduled the next AGL Virtual Summit for Sept. 8. To register, click here.


Don Bishop is executive editor and associate publisher of AGL Magazine.