Brian Proffit will be guest-authoring a multi-part Industry Viewpoint series here on Telecom Ramblings about the relationship between carriers and smart cities initiatives. Proffit recently joined Adtell as vice president of Smart Cities Infrastructure. This is the first installment.
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way — in short, the period was so far like the present period that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only. — Charles Dickens (1812–1870), A Tale of Two Cities
Never have the needs of telecommunications infrastructure companies and the cities where they operate been more closely aligned. And yet there are still many bridges to build and barriers to remove before mutually beneficial solutions can be achieved.
How did we get here? The introduction of smartphones and cloud computing, as well as the change in the way content is distributed, has set off a series of earthquakes in the bandwidth infrastructure market. And each has generated its own tsunami of fiber-related expansion.
The first wave was Fiber-to-the-Tower in support of macro backhaul demand, fueled by the introduction of Apple’s iPhone in 2007, and the ensuing proliferation of smartphones and other mobile devices connected to the cellular infrastructure. It also included fiber buildout for density and diversity of dark fiber in the data center and media/content distribution arenas.
That first wave is still cresting: it drove $33 billion of infrastructure investment in the U.S. in 2016 alone, bringing the total to nearly $100 billion over the past three years.
Now the second wave is beginning to reach the shore, in the form of densification efforts taking place in major metro markets. While presently these efforts are in support of 4G, the new small cell sites will serve as the underlying infrastructure for what will become 5G.
There are an estimated 200,000 cell sites in operation today — and it is projected that over the next several years we will see a 10–25x growth, with as many as 5 million total sites by 2021.
The estimated investment impact on the U.S. economy from this coming infrastructure buildout is in the trillions of dollars.
The third tsunami of development will be driven by the growing ubiquity of the Internet of Things (IoT) and the development of Smart Cities. These will create a marketplace for more than just dark fiber backhaul and fronthaul: they will also drive the growth of new professional services ranging from infrastructure consulting, siting guidance and management, to mapping, fiber intelligence, carrier intelligence, training, support services and project management.
While some visionary industry leaders have been pioneers in beginning to build this infrastructure, others have left an unfortunate trail of scorched earth and damaged relationships, leading to the present divide between cities and carriers.
For the last two years, I have been focusing on these burning issues — conducting research and analysis, contributing to whitepapers and articles, and meeting with top personnel at both carriers and fiber infrastructure companies. And sadly, I have concluded that the hope of building Public-Private Partnerships (P3s) between most carriers and cities is no closer to reality than it was 10 years ago.
My view, in fact — based on the responses to Smart Cities fiber and wireless RFIs and RFPs that I have examined — is that most of us in the private sector aren’t even giving it a half-hearted effort. Instead, the industry has often opted to burn the few bridges we had built using ruthless tactics such as forgoing proper permitting, aggressive lobbying, and advancing an us-versus-them narrative.
Perhaps this attitude is a residue from the years after the dot-com bubble popped — commonly referred to by industry veterans as “telecom nuclear winter.” (It was during that time that I heard a Senior RVP from a national LEC state that they would never give state or local government, higher education or public schools access to dark fiber, because they viewed their need to scale to be birthright revenue.)
So, is it “the best of times and the worst of times”? Are carriers and municipalities on the verge of war over the very infrastructure that will shape how we live, learn, work and communicate as a society for the next century?
Or will we find win-win solutions that will offer sustainable benefits to all?
I believe that this time calls for bridge builders: leaders who will emerge to guide us across the great divide.
Over the remainder of this series, I will discuss the pillars that must be erected and stabilized, the gaps that exist, and the spans that we must complete to pave the road to the digital infrastructure that will shape our lives in the 21st century. My hope is that you will accompany me on this journey.
About Brian Proffit: An 18-year veteran of the telecommunications industry, Brian Proffit was previously Senior Director of Strategic Business Development and Senior Analyst at CTC Technology & Energy, a bandwidth infrastructure think-tank that serves the consulting and engineering needs of state and municipal governments. Before joining CTC, he served as Director of Research & Education Solutions at Zayo Group, where he helped author their P3 playbook. He also focused on government and regional carriers’ telecommunications needs in previous roles at Level 3, TelCove, RCN and XO Communications. On Tuesday, May 23 Brian Proffit is scheduled to speak on a panel at the Wireless Infrastructure Association show in Orlando, Florida, focused on how dark fiber and wireless infrastructure can help to bridge the digital divide.
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