Fort Lauderdale – In an interview with Wireless Week at CCA’s conference in Fort Lauderdale this week, CCA president and CEO Steve Berry said he anticipates small carriers will continue to be at the forefront of wireless innovation as the industry moves forward with 5G.
Though Berry said smaller and rural carriers face certain obstacles that aren’t an issue for large carriers – such as limited resources and the necessity to immediately monetize network investments – he cited small carriers’ pioneering efforts from the past as proof of their innovative spirit.
“The first people to deploy a 4G network was a small carrier, MetroPCs,” Berry said. “The first people to do weekend calling, the first people to do free all you can eat, the first people to do text, all of those innovations were small carriers that were trying to distinguish themselves in the market. And I think we’re going to see MVNEs, MVNOs, small carriers teaming with other people and we’re going to see a lot of changes.”
One of the ways small carriers can move forward, Berry said, is through cooperation to build a universal 5G system that will allow smaller carriers to stay competitive as they upgrade their networks.
“You have to be really strategic on money spent and what you spend it for,” Berry said. “So we’re going to have to be a little bit more collective-minded when we say ‘how can we create this ecosystem so that we can all share in it?’ And that’s the challenge, can we create a pathway that has an ecosystem that is ubiquitous that everyone can adopt it and somewhat be assured that when I deploy this network I have partners, I have roaming relationships, I have devices that allow me to continue to be competitive.”
Berry also offered his thoughts on the upcoming FCC incentive auction, saying the presence of a spectrum reserve with Category 1 (with 0-15 percent impairment) ratings is a huge victory for small and rural carriers.
“I think there’s going to be healthy competition in that we think the small carriers have an honest to goodness shot at bidding and winning in that spectrum,” Berry said.
Despite his enthusiasm for the FCC’s reserve decision, Berry said he thinks the commission could stand to make improvements to how it looks at the communications industry, particularly by changing the focus from wireline to wireless.
“[FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly] said [today] the FCC seems to be fiber-wireline biased, and I think that he’s right,” Berry said. “A lot of things have changed and we need to reassess high speed mobile broadband. We’re getting speeds on 4G LTE in rural areas, especially in those areas that are sparsely populated, at speeds in some cases that exceed what the wireline service offerings are. And when we’re looking at 4G advanced and 5G…we could see gigabit speed with a wireless profile.”
“So I think the FCC could do a better job and take a more comprehensive approach to broadband in rural America because many of those areas aren’t going to see a fiber product laid in the ground,” Berry continued. “So I think wireless has to be seen as a necessary element in marching forward on the broadband deployment.”