Workforce skills gaps, regulatory framework key 5G issues
HetNet Expo opens with emphasis on streamlined small cell and DAS deployments to support in-building wireless today, 5G tomorrow
HOUSTON–The vision of 5G–ultra-dense networks and pervasive in-building wireless cellular connectivity–won’t be easy to realize. Massive network builds will require streamlined deployment models supported by realistic regulations and properly-trained workers.
That was the message from Jonathan Adelstein, president and CEO of the Wireless Infrastructure Association, in his opening remarks at the annual HetNet Expo, which is put on by WIA subsidiary HetNet Forum.
“Wireless really is taking over,” Adelstein told attendees in the Legends Ballroom at the Royal Sonesta Houston Galleria. “It’s everywhere, every aspect of our lives, and people are depending on us. We want to make sure we continue.”
He mentioned recent meetings with legislators in Washington D.C. “I told Congress they need to streamline and accelerate the deployment of wireless broadband,” to which the Chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee agreed, holding up his smartphone and noting, “Without infrastructure this is just an expensive paperweight,” Adelstein said. “They understand infrastructure’s importance to the economy, to innovation.”
“We’re encouraged by the work we’re seeing in Washington,” he continued, while mentioning that WIA has lobbyists around the country working at the state level to “break down barriers to responsible deployments. That means doing it right, not just quickly and cheaply and at the expense of our relationship to local communities. I think we all are trying to be as respectful as we can. At the same time, we need to push back when they go beyond reason.”
On the workforce side, Adelstein said techs trained in cable pulling need to expand their skill sets to include small cell, DAS and fiber work. “We need to have a workforce that’s trained and up for the job. We need to make sure we work with everybody we can. If we have a huge spurt in putting these small cells out and we don’t have enough folks,” that will slow deployments and investment.
To address the workforce needs, he hinted at an upcoming WIA initiative while also mentioning TIRAP, a telecom apprenticeship program that can help offset training costs.
Jay Brown, CEO of Crown Castle, also addressed workforce issues: “We’ve found it to be incredibly challenging to find people to fill those roles. It’s one of the biggest challenges we’ve faced as we’ve grown the small cell business. We’ve worked pretty hard at bringing some folks outside of telecom into the industry and teaching them the business.”
Workable regulatory regimes and a ready-to-go workforce will be crucial to the continued growth and profitability of the telecom infrastructure industry. “We really need to begin now,” Adelstein said.