May 24, 2017
It is always interesting to see the evolution of technology at the Wireless Infrastructure Show from year to year and do a recap of the day’s events. But that is too easy and that is what the other publications in our space usually do. I believe our readers would better be served with some insight and detail on what will move and shake the industry.
One thing of note is that in the past few years, DAS and small cells had a relatively high profile. This year, not so much. What that tells me is that DAS and small cells have moved from the edge of technology to the mainstream.
I have commented about that from time to time, that they are now a tool in the various players (carriers, integrators, etc.) toolbox. However, this editor’s opinion, that is actually a good thing because it takes one speed bump off the road to 5G. With small cells and DAS being easily integrated, we are one step closer to 5G.
But what is hot is 5G, and there was a strong presence of the next generation of wireless. Ratcheted up from last year, both in the program and with vendors, 5G was discussed in speeches by FCC Comm. O’Reilly and others, and in panels from industry experts from companies like Nokia, Cisco, Boingo and others. Discussions included how operators will pivot from 4G to 4.5G and 5G, and their relationships with spectrum, the sharing of the 3.5 GHz spectrum, and working with both licensed and unlicensed spectrum.
Another interesting vector was the IoT or the Internet of Everything and Everyone (IoX) as I like to call it. There was a lot of discussion around how 5G and the IoX will play out. And, how the infrastructure will fit into the equation. There is a lot of confidence in the value of towers in this future ecosystem but the infrastructure is still trying to figure out how it’s going to fit in. The challenge here is in millimeter waves. As frequencies move beyond 3 GHz to 4 GHz, up to 20-30 GHz, all the way up to 60 GHz and beyond, they start exhibiting some interesting propagation phenomenon that isn’t friendly to the macro cell tower ecosystem. Although there were some interesting discussions as to solutions, there is a lot for everybody to wrap their arms around in these new platforms.
There was also some discussion on M2M. Something I haven’t seen at previous shows. Much of the discussion was around low-power, wide area networks (LPWANs) and the opportunities for carriers in this segment. LPWAN is an up and coming critical component of the next-generation of both infrastructure and technology. It will be critical to understand how they will integrate with both the IoX and 5G. This will be a game changer that infrastructure players will have to be up on.
One interesting vector that seems to be gaining traction is FirstNet. While FirstNet has been on people’s lips for years, at this show, there seems to be an air of confidence that it will be a significant cog in the expansion of the tower infrastructure in the near future. Many of those in the know are seeing FirstNet and the associated infrastructure as a countable resource in the tower infrastructure starting in the next year.
The rest of what goes on here is the usual progress in typical subjects such as FCC updates, municipality issues, building codes, location and building challenges, etc. BTW, Commissioner O’Rielly is a genuine and personable individual who sincerely seems to have the best interests of our industry at heart. I liked what he had to say. It seems a good time to be in the wireless infrastructure business.