TIA kicked off its annual Member Meeting and Global Conference on June 21st with the first day of sessions, which were only open to employees of Member and Participant Companies of TIA. TIA CEO, Dave Stehlin and the TIA Chair of the Board, Doug Moore opened the event just after 9am EST with their welcoming remarks that helped set the tone for the event and provide brief updates for a large number of new members.
The first session was the Government Keynote Address from Alan Davidson, Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information and NTIA Administrator. NTIA is readying to make the largest investment ever into broadband infrastructure through the deployment of multiple new programs but with most paying close attention to the $42 billion Broadband Equity Access Deployment (BEAD) Program which was designed to close the digital divide and improve access in underserved areas.
Assistant Secretary Davidson compared the once-in-a-lifetime investment to those of when the government helped accelerate public access to electricity and water and was excited to share that despite a month left to go until the deadline, NTIA has received the letters of intent from 41 of the 56 states and territories. He went on to also explain how the U.S. Department of Commerce is helping address supply chain challenges ahead of deployments.
The challenges include an adequately trained and available workforce to physically build the networks out, including data centers, cell towers, and laying new fiber lines. Another area NTIA is helping is with effective and efficient management of spectrum as the “Federal Coordinator” that takes a whole of nation approach to resolving issues. This includes meeting the growing demand from the commercial sector to in turn meet the rising demand of consumers and businesses for more bandwidth.
Davidson affirmed that NTIA works closely with the FCC on improving national spectrum strategy and taking an evidence and science-based approach to policy decisions. Positive results have been produced through new techniques for spectrum sharing and new tools that drive greater efficiencies that lead to freeing up more available spectrum.
Following Alan Davidson was the Industry Keynote Address from Chris Sambar, Executive Vice President at AT&T.
Sambar opened his remarks by providing a brief overview of when AT&T was first awarded the FirstNet contract in 2017. He explained the reason he brought up FirstNet was because the lessons learned from that network deployment helped AT&T better respond to the major shift in customer demand during the Covid pandemic. He highlighted having an agile and dynamic network that can allow for capacity to be moved around as needed was important as they had their own workforce to keep safe as they worked to keep the networks up and customers connected.
From there, he described why AT&T expects to see big growth in fiber as they work to build reliable and resilient networks. Sambar laughed as he brought up 6G noting that the foundation is being laid now, but it’s still very early, similar to how he was wowed by LTE speeds when they were first tested in the labs, no one knew it was to support future bandwidth hogs like Tik-Tok and Netflix. Sambar cited the similarity in that right now, we can’t imagine what kind of applications will depend on the ultra-high speeds and capacity but it’s still exciting to think about.
As for 5G, there’s still plenty to be excited about as Sambar described recent testing at a military base in southern California that saw a private 5G installation deliver 4 Gbps with less than 10ms latency. The applications he believes will benefit from 5G speeds and capacity are augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR), connected cars like the Ford F150 Lightning, manufacturing, and gaming.
With the rising “softwarization” of our networks, Sambar stated he believes 6G will come around 2030 when it will likely be working to deliver around 100 Gbps with less than 1ms of latency. This increasing role of software and open architectures will bring more suppliers and find security grow even more important.
Following the Keynote from Chris Sambar at AT&T was the first panel discussion of the day on The Network Behind the Network: The Strategic Importance of the Supply Chain. The panel featured Richard Leitao, Vice President of National Development at DISH; Cyril Pourrat, Chief Procurement Officer for BT Group; Mike Watson, Vice President of Technology, Operations, and Business Solutions Supply Chain for AT&T; and was moderated by Annie Bogue, COO and Head of Sales & Marketing at Fujitsu Network Communications.
The information and communication technology supply chains are facing multiple challenges. In the opening of the discussion, Richard Leitao described how more cloud, video and mobility are driving needs for higher capacity. Mike Watson from AT&T noted chip supplies remains an issue and pointed to how in the early days of Covid, adding suppliers to keep workers safe was a challenge but strong relationships with suppliers helped them meet their needs.
Cyril Pourrat from BT Group noted some of the challenges he has seen, starting with how Covid hit just as they were planning to remove untrusted components from their network while deploying 5G. He talked about how everything from logistics and distribution to safety protocols had to adapt. He also discussed how, currently, forecasts are getting longer and more vital for businesses as we see rising costs in raw materials like steel for towers, copper for wires, and for labor as well as shipping and transportation with fuel costs still soaring.
The panel was asked if the signs of an economic downturn mean there will be a softening of demand for connected services. Watson stated demand may soften somewhat but noted that most companies still have backlogs that can help offset any reductions in demand. Pourrat from BT Group described how various customer segments can grow and contract between business and consumers. While consumers may not upgrade devices as frequently, connectivity is still always needed. Leitao described how DISH brought assembly and packaging closer to offset delays. And Mike Watson wrapped up the topic noting that international tariffs started pushing supply chain adjustments closer to home even before Covid.
The next topic addressed by the panel was on sustainability and what suppliers and vendors should know who want to do business with the speakers’ organizations. Mike Watson described having science-based targets for things like energy efficiency, shipping efficiency and waste reduction to help build a more circular economy. Cyril Pourrat said that while ESG goals are popular now, they are not new initiatives for BT. He described how they foster clean energy adoption and provide supplier training on how to reduce carbon emissions.
Lastly, on the topic of security, Richard Leitao of DISH said 2-3 suppliers for networks are not enough and that Open RAN (ORAN) networks like that of Dish, will help diversify the supplier base. Pourrat cautioned suppliers that, with more software, they must be proactive and transparent when a breach occurs. Watson described how software code is critical both with open source and as the industry standardizes SBOM, he also cautioned vendors to be transparent in the case of a breach, adding that the ability to deploy patches is an area they pay close attention to because as with any breach, speed (in response time) matters.
The last session of the day was a panel discussion on the NTIA’s $42 Billion BEAD Program with C-level executives from the industry including Tony Thomas, President and Chief Executive Officer of Windstream; John Greene, Chief Executive Officer of New Lisbon Holdings, Inc.; Larry Thompson, Chief Executive Officer of Vantage Point Solutions; and the session was moderated by Geoff Burke, Chief Strategy Officer at DZS.
Thompson opened up the discussion with an overview of the BEAD Program and what the important parts of it are as it begins to roll out. He explained how the money will come from Congress and go to NTIA along with new maps from the FCC to identify and plan to improve access of broadband for the underserved communities in each state and territory.
Greene, whose company serves many rural customers, noted that there are varying definitions of “rural” and where it’s most remote with population density down to only a few customers per linear mile, government assistance will always be needed to help serve them because the economics of deploying the infrastructure basically forces the operator into a loss they can never recover.
Thompson also noted with the extraordinary amount of money for the program, there are more interested parties looking to get involved, including venture capital firms and others. Thomas agreed and said states should qualify bidders in the process to demonstrate they can deliver where access is needed but we won’t know where that is until new maps are provided by the FCC.
Greene described the “Buy America” provisions in the legislation as a challenge and that a waiver would be needed because “global technology supply chains can’t be moved to the U.S. overnight.” He also explained that with government programs like BEAD, “the devil’s in the details” because things like “affordability” and “rural” are open to wide interpretation. Thomas agreed and described how the economics must work in addressing affordability in that we can’t change too much or too little because it would hurt the business by making it too expensive to afford or too inexpensive and thereby reducing future investments in the network.
Thompson then described how prevailing wages created issues in previous grant programs because of the potential difference in the cost of living in one area compared to another. Greene provided an example of how wages can vary even in the same state going from the metropolitan area to the rural area. Additionally, he noted the new item in that the BEAD Program also demands companies come with supply chain risk management plans.
Thompson couldn’t help but flag that BEAD funding currently would be recognized as taxable income and hopes that will be addressed because it would be odd for the government to give an organization money and then take a portion of it back. The panel agreed in the end that new maps will help both states and providers. Preventing overbuilding, keeping bidders honest, and ensuring that this once-in-a-lifetime broadband investment is put to good use.
To access the event information and register to view session content on demand, visit: https://tiaonline.org/2022-virtual-member-meeting-and-global-conference/