Top Tower Execs Go Virtual

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Connect (X) Coverage

The industry’s top tier towerco executives addressed the FCC’s upcoming 5G upgrade order, workforce shortage and tower threats during a WIA Connect (X) panel discussion Tuesday. Participants included Crown Castle President/CEO Jay Brown; Vertical Bridge CEO Alex Gellman; SBA Communications President/CEO Jeff Stoops; InSite Wireless Group President/CEO and Co-Founder David Weisman and EVP/President of the U.S. Tower Division for American Tower, Steven Vondran. WIA President/CEO Jonathan Adelstein moderated the panel titled: “The View from the Top: Tower Executive Roundtable.”

Concerning the Commission’s upcoming order to clarify co-location rules, Brown said the company appreciates the agency’s decision. “Not being able to co-locate, there’s a cost to that time that’s critically important.” So too, is knowing timelines for 4G and 5G build-outs, he said.

Adelstein asked how the order will impact the ability to use existing assets.

“It will increase predictability and streamline the timelines. Knowing that we can actually expand those … without regulatory barriers will make it easier to plan,” said Vondran.

Gellman called the order, “a great example of WIA’s work. Everyone on this panel has spent time at the FCC with the Commissioners.” The order, he said, “is a benefit for anyone who wants to co-locate on existing assets.”

Asked what changes the T-Mobile-Sprint-Dish deal will create in the wireless industry, Brown said the Dish impact “remains to be seen,” however the industry knows T-Mobile well and its 5G build-out is “underway now. We expect to see a significant ramp [up] as we get into the second half of this year.”

Then Adelstein turned to the workforce issue. “We have lots of unemployed people” now due to the pandemic. “Some of those jobs won’t come back,” he noted. Adelstein asked what that bodes for the wireless industry.

Stoops called the labor issue “an important question. Now, we’re about to double or more, workloads in the field. There’s a lot that’s coming. Add to that the current environment of COVID-19.” It’s difficult for the typical tower crew to socially distance that work, especially with four men in a crew cab going to a site, he explained. Stoops said his company worked out procedures to make that happen. “There will be timing challenges to meet a lot more demand in the second half of the year. We’ll get it done,” Stoops added.

Stoops said WIA programs are “perfect” for retraining unemployed workers. “I think we will be a bright spot in what otherwise might be a not so bright employment picture for the next 12 months.”

Brown agreed the labor need is great and the wireless industry “can be a real bright spot. The 5G build is going to need people for years, according to Brown. “We’re probably in a buildout for a decade to a decade and a half.”

Finally, Adelstein turned to recent tower attacks allegedly caused both here and abroad by those who believe conspiracy theories linking 5G to the coronavirus. Gellman said during turbulent times, people tend to search for answers. “This movement against 5G is really motivated by mistrust of government.” Rather than leaving it to the FCC to say there’s no link between 5G and the virus, he said, “it’s going to fall on us as an industry to educate the public.” As the virus calms down, the fear will too, Gellman believes, but in the meantime, “We have to educate them. We can’t [only] rely on the FCC to tell the facts because people won’t believe them.”

By Leslie Stimson, Inside Towers Washington Bureau Chief

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