The inaugural Pro Panel (watch here) by Inside Towers entitled “COVID-19 & Network Deployment” concluded with a very positive outlook for new infrastructure builds despite the impacts of COVID-19.
The discussion proved timely. Carriers, tower companies and their suppliers are reporting their 2Q20 results. At this juncture, the wireless industry has experienced one full quarter of operations since the pandemic hit in March. We now have the advantage of seeing how network deployments have been affected, understanding what adjustments were necessary and which ones likely will remain, and more important, assessing where we go from here.
On July 28, I moderated a panel of industry veterans that included: Michael Hill, Assistant General Counsel Regulatory Affairs, ExteNet Systems, John Lamond, National Sales Director, GME Supply, Joe Cecin, CEO Hylan and Giuseppe Incitti, CEO, Sitetracker.
The panel comprised a diverse mix of experience and expertise in outdoor and indoor infrastructure builds (ExteNet, Hylan), supply chain logistics (GME Supply) and software tools for efficiently managing field labor and material costs and scheduling (Sitetracker).
Panelists responded to three main questions: How have you managed your business since the pandemic hit? Where are you now? What are your expectations going forward?
All agreed that in the first weeks of the pandemic, their companies faced operational issues with managing staff who were working from home as well as those in the field. Access to cell sites and buildings was restricted and street closures in big cities limited outside plant work.
As well, the required local permitting process was delayed because municipal offices were closed. And coordinating timely delivery of materials to the right sites was challenging.
The panelists pointed out that despite the initial COVID-19 disruptions, demand for infrastructure products and services has held up because telecommunications is an essential service.
An audience poll asked: Has COVID-19 affected your business? About 70 percent indicated that for the most part, with adjustments, they were working as close to business as usual.
The carriers and their suppliers responded to new service demands, and the network has proven resilient in handling increased broadband traffic loads with no major disruptions or down time.
Responding to an audience question regarding a possible COVID second wave, GME Supply’s Lamond stated: “The work will continue … it’s about the ability to get everything you need to a site including the people that’s going to be the challenge of a second wave.”
To another audience question on carrier capital spending, Hylan’s Cecin said: “We are just in the 2nd inning. The expansion of telecom infrastructure will continue. There are a lot of RFPs for new construction … the largest carriers have not pulled back.”
A second poll asked the audience: Where will network investment go in the next 6-12 months? The majority of respondents, 78 percent, believe there are a lot of positive opportunities ahead.
Sitetracker’s Incitti added: “We are about to see an increase in volume … We need to do everything we can to train younger folks coming into the industry to help meet this demand. … the number one problem is to have a skilled headcount at all different levels in all different areas.”
Echoing the panel’s comments, ExteNets’s Hill said: “ … certainly we’ve seen issues, challenges and delays … we’ve largely been able to get through it … almost as close to business as usual as you can get … and that speaks to the essential nature of what we do.”
To access a replay of the full session, click here.
Our next Pro Panels is scheduled for Q4. Stay tuned for date and time.
by John Celentano, Inside Towers Business Editor