Maintaining the 5G Roll Out During the Pandemic and Natural Disasters

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By Chris Bondurant, Chief Operating Officer, SAC Wireless

When it comes to workflows, deadlines and scheduling, there was never such a concept as “normal” in the wireless industry; so as the COVID-19 pandemic progresses, there will still be plenty of challenges to face as we keep the 5G rollout on track and help close the digital divide.

While it’s comforting to believe things will suddenly change New Year’s Day 2021, or when the coronavirus vaccine is introduced, the truth is that we must be prepared to handle whatever is next. That’s why SAC Wireless is diligently ensuring we’re prepared for any uncertainty.

The COVID-19 pandemic and waves of resulting lockdowns in early 2020 reinforced the importance of data access, security, reliability and speed — as wireless connectivity allowed a great number of Americans to work, go to school, access telemedicine, and stay entertained and connected with friends as the year played out.

January 2020 feels like a lifetime ago, but back then we had several big initiatives on our calendar: continue the 5G buildout in many markets around the nation while bringing new services to rural communities and Native Lands. Breakneck speed was anticipated, as all the major providers were touting up to the minute, down to the block 5G coverage maps to entice customers to upgrade their devices and plans. And then, of course, everyone’s plans changed.

In February 2020, once we knew COVID was a threat, but before it fully hit our shores, we went into disaster response mode, much like we have done whenever hurricanes and wildfires affect regions all over the map. Then, from March through early summer, 2020 (an unofficial Phase 1), we revised work plans and schedules to keep as many 5G buildout projects on track, all while playing a role to keep existing networks fully operational.

The dramatic shift in end user data usage also generated lots of interest in potential business verticals to discuss the data speed and security advantages of network edge solutions and private LTE networks. While we were quick to pivot with booked projects and proposals, we had to continually balance two primary concerns: safety and supply chain.

Safety is part of the SAC DNA. Getting all of our workers home safely every night is our #1 priority, and with that comes the safety of everyone we come into contact with during a given day. We proudly hosted the NATE symposium on the issue in 2019 and it was a hot topic during this year’s virtual summit.

To keep all projects progressing, we work diligently to ensure we’re fully stocked with products and supplies, and fully trained with safety protocols to deploy them. While SAC is a Nokia company, we’ve always been OEM agnostic. Considering the intricacies of each network we work on, there’s a lot of precise equipment from a wide variety of manufacturers to keep track of. Our streamlined SAC Connect operating platform, powered by Oracle, helps keep countless moving parts working in harmony.

For disaster response, we also keep warehouses fully stocked with water, food and fuel reserves to get crews safely in and out of areas where essential services aren’t available. With the wildfires out west and an active hurricane season in the Gulf, 2020 has been a year like no other before you even factor in the pandemic. For COVID-19, we added PPE to the mix, including masks, shields, and sanitizer — plus the training to use them effectively on the job without compromising safety. For digital divide projects, including a major rollout for the Navajo Nation that’s underway through the end of 2020, we’re mobilizing staff and resources to build new towers and small cell sites where essential services are desperately needed.

Now that we’re operating in this new world, at this new pace, we’re actively leading projects on many fronts, while playing a support role in others. When other companies may be in need of extra manpower to meet tight deadlines, or detailed code and local regulation data from our SAC Engine Room™, we’re here to help. We couldn’t have imagined collaborations such as this a decade ago, but as consolidation dramatically reshapes the industry, we continue to keep our teams on the front lines of the 5G revolution.

Should another lockdown happen, we’re well-stocked and well-trained to keep our projects moving forward, to best serve our customers as needed, and to play our role in keeping the world at large connected. Even once COVID-19 is a distant memory, new crises will likely emerge — it’s just the nature of life. That’s why we’ll never stop learning, sharing and adapting to always remain at the ready.

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