We talk a lot about paradigm shifts in the communications infrastructure industry. Last week, the Wireless Infrastructure Association effected one of its own in the Connectivity Expo, Connect (x), held in Charlotte, North Carolina. Combining its HetNet conference with its annual conference, the association essentially realized the new reality of comm-infra. The industry is converging, and so must the conferences that educate the industry.
I can’t remember exactly how many sessions WIA had last year, but this year felt like the association went from zero to 60 in 3 seconds with 11 keynotes, 44 breakout sessions, plus the Supplier Diversity Summit.
And it wasn’t just the expansion in the number of sessions but the increase in the breadth of topics that was impressive. Along with macro cells, the topics spanned intelligent edge networks, private LTE networks, connected property, vehicle-to-infrastructure and the enterprise. This was not your father’s tower show.
It was obvious from the very beginning when Satyen Yadan, GM IoT and Edge Services, Amazon Web Services, walked out on the spacious stage, things had changed. But FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly’s interview with Kathleen Abernathy, Wilkinson Barker Knauer, which came next, showed that the conference is still deeply rooted in the advocacy of the communications industry. The next day featured a keynote by FCC Chairman Ajit Pai.
As WIA expanded the size of its tent, it also invited more people inside. The association’s Partnership Program certainly added attendees from outside WIA’s normal sphere of influence, including the North Carolina Public Safety Broadband Summit, the CBRS Alliance, IoT Charlotte, Government Wireless Technology & Communications Association, Multefire Alliance, the Multicultural Media, Telecom and Internet Council, Smart Cities Council. The list went on.
Were the WIA staff happy will all of their programming and partnership choices? I am guessing there will be an in-depth discussion analyzing the sessions, speakers and partners. Diversifying a conference is no different from any business. It’s risky. Once, I asked a tower developer why she hadn’t diversified into small cells. Her answer was short and to the point. “We tried diversifying once and didn’t make any money. We are sticking with what we know.” And there is a lot of opportunity in “sticking” with towers.
However, bringing this discussion back to where I started. With the coming of the paradigm shift that is 5G, there is a greater awareness of the variety of next generation communications opportunities that require towers, small cells, fiber and edge computing. The ecosystem has not shifted away from towers. It has expanded, including towers, which will host CRAN aggregation as well as edge computing facilities, not to mention IoT and FirstNet antennas.
There are three reasons, maybe four, to go to a conference. Learning about opportunities to make money is at the top, following closely by identifying competitive threats and networking. A few go to make deals, too. This conference checked all of those boxes.
I go to conferences looking for news and to cover the comments of the newsmakers. Covering Charlie Ergen’s interview with former FCC Commissioner Rob McDowell was a highlight. Appearances by the C-level tower heads and FCC Commissioner O’Rielly and Chairman Pai were also newsworthy. My conversations in and around the show floor with B+T Group, Black & Veatch, BHC Rhodes, nespa, Cobham Wireless, and others were all informative.
Kudos to the WIA staff for all their hard work in reinventing their annual conference and making it a success.