FirstNet Part of a “Perfect Storm” for Tower Workers


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NATE Goes to Washington  (Part One of Four)

National Association of Tower Erectors (NATE) representatives came to Washington, D.C. recently to lobby Congress, the FCC and other government agencies. Inside Towers Washington Bureau Chief Leslie Stimson sat down with the six members of their lobbying team to discuss NATE’s regulatory priorities and get a sense of their 30 meetings. Sitting at the table were: NATE Board Director John Paul Jones, Board Chairman Jim Tracy, COO Paula Nurnberg, Board Director Randy Scott, Executive Director Todd Schlekeway and Director of Legislative and Regulatory Affairs Jim Goldwater.

IT: Why did you come to Washington?

Tracy: We came here to explain our legislative and regulatory priorities, to members of Congress and their staff. At the end of the day we might do towers, we might do certifications, antenna swaps, new builds, DAS, small cell — all of the incredibly complex ecosystem that wireless has become, but we’re still the “elevate wireless safety people.” We elevate wireless and it’s safety first, safety always.

Worker Shortage

IT: Is it new to the people you’re meeting with that there aren’t enough workers to do the television repack work?

Tracy: It’s not just the repack. We talked about the perfect storm. We’re not done with 4G yet. We’ve got 5G right around the corner, FirstNet, tower marking and broadcast work. The public safety work alone that we’re looking at in terms of FirstNet, there’s 100,000 towers that are going to need to be somehow altered.

Here’s the real story—there are places in America still that do not have ubiquitous cell coverage. There’s places in America where you can call 911 and hear: “I’m sorry. You can’t connect.” And that, when you talk about a competitive marketplace, we don’t want people in America to be in a disadvantageous position because we as an industry didn’t do our job. Our job is to make everybody connected.

IT: What kind of tower work has to be done for FirstNet?

Jones: It’s a new system so it will be an entirely new network.

Tracy: interoperable radio access network that not only involves land-mobile radio but also involves [much Radio Access Network work.]

IT: So you have the perfect storm…

Tracy: The perfect storm for the wireless worker.

IT: …for the repack, FirstNet and tower marking.

Tracy: And 4G, 5G. And here’s what everybody forgets to say, is that while we’re deploying all the new stuff, the old stuff is still breaking down. The old stuff is still subject to weather conditions — wind, ice and water — so we have to maintain that during the process. While we’re putting up this new tower, the old tower or old site cannot lose its enhanced 911 connectivity. If it does, not only are you going to get in some issues with the FCC, their customers aren’t going to be happy. We have to make sure that our customers — which are wireless carriers, public safety agencies, broadcasters — all those folks in the ecosystem have to be cared for by these folks that are climbing towers.

Schlekeway: NATE members do more than just macro towers. I don’t think some people, by virtue of our name, know that a lot of our members, contractor companies, are doing small cell and DAS work — in-building DAS. We profiled one of our member companies who did the DAS at the U.S. Bank stadium in Minneapolis, which is the Super Bowl venue. So they’re involved in the small cell densification. It’s macro towers and beyond, so we have a lot of our members engaged in that space.

IT: Are those entirely different skill sets? Small cells vs. macro towers?

Tracy: They’re different skillsets. One leads into another. If you know how to do fiber on a macro site, your odds of being able to connect fiber on a stadium site are pretty good. Because as the industry has morphed, they’ve gone away from most of the multi-mode fiber to all single mode. So if you’re splicing fiber for big jobs, you can splice fiber for little jobs. In a stadium you might have 100,000 splices.

Note: We continue the interview in subsequent segments covering workforce development, the administration’s infrastructure package and drones later this week.

By Leslie Stimson, Inside Towers Washington Bureau Chief

November 15, 2017

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