Connect (X) Delivers
by Martha DeGrasse 6/2/22
The Wireless Infrastructure Association welcomed a record 3,000 attendees to Connect (X) in Denver this year, including more than 150 exhibitors and more than 200 speakers. Several of those speakers were refreshingly transparent about industry trends and market dynamics.
Alex Gellman, CEO and co-founder at Vertical Bridge, is characteristically candid and he did not disappoint this year. He said this is the toughest workforce environment he’s ever seen, and explained Vertical Bridge has responded with raises, free tanks of gas for each employee, and a one-day-per-week WFH policy.
In addition to wage inflation, Gellman referenced rising interest rates as a macroeconomic headwind, noting Vertical Bridge’s cost of debt is up 2.5% since February. Crown Castle CEO Jay Brown noted the tower industry has made money for investors even when rates were higher than they are now.
The tower executives’ discussion was part the View from the Top keynote, which traditionally includes CEOs of the top tower companies and WIA President and CEO Jonathan Adelstein. This year, the first part of that panel was devoted to a series of effusive remarks made by the tower CEOs to thank Adelstein for his service to WIA and the industry. Adelstein is leaving WIA to become a managing director at Vertical Bridge, and told the Connect (X) audience his replacement should be in place before the end of the summer.
During the breakout panels, speakers debunked several commonly held assumptions that have taken root in the industry in recent years.
The CEOs of two companies focused on deploying edge infrastructure shut down the notion that towers are an ideal edge location because of the wireless connectivity. Vapor.io founder and CEO Cole Crawford and Edgepresence founder and CEO Doug Recker both said fiber, not RF, is the main draw in deciding where to deploy. Towers tend to have abundant fiber, so they can be good locations for that reason, the executives said.
A panel entitled The Greening of the Infrastructure Business attracted a large number of attendees, many of whom were probably expecting to hear about EPA mandates or requirements. Environmental lawyer Chris Fisher, partner at Cuddy & Feder LLP, told the audience the SEC will do more than either the EPA or the FCC to bring about more sustainable and efficient wireless networks. The SEC is expected to require public companies to include certain climate-related disclosures in their financial reports, a development which will likely subject companies to additional shareholder pressure to cut emissions in their own operations as well as in their supply chains.
The audience at a panel on the evolving 6G standard learned that the traditional 10-year cycle for wireless standards could be shortened this time, thanks to growing hyperscaler participation in the telco arena. Cohere Technologies’ Ronny Haraldsvik, SVP Business Development and Marketing, noted the speed with which Microsoft and AWS can deploy networks and said this could bring 6G from conception to reality more quickly than previous network generations have been realized.
CBRS networks, which have been promoted as major opportunities for vendors, enterprises and municipalities, were the subject of sobering commentary in more than one panel. During a panel entitled How to Develop a Private Networking Strategy, Celona’s Todd Gore, VP Service Provider Sales, claimed a significant number of municipal CBRS networks have turned out to be “nothing burgers”, with only a handful of devices connected. During a panel on in-building wireless, the speakers agreed CBRS private networks are not currently a good option for enterprises that want a neutral host solution, because carriers are not connecting to them. The panelists all expressed optimism that this will change with time.