As the giants of the global wireless industry turn their focus to 5G, the head of the Competitive Carriers Association aims to ensure smaller and rural carriers don’t get left behind.
Steve Berry, the group’s president and CEO, said CCA members know they must move quickly to incorporate 4G LTE and VoLTE technology as devices that work with older network technology are phased out.
Those carriers, meanwhile, also need to ensure they will have the flexibility to take advantage of the technologies of the future: ultra-fast 5G networks and the Internet of Things.
The CCA will convene in Las Vegas for its annual Mobile Carriers Show beginning today, and Berry told Wireless Week that companies in attendance will talk with each other to help chart a path through 4G and, ultimately, to 5G.
“They want to see what is available out there and how can they spend their money wisely,” Berry said.
Industry and regulators continue to wrestle with how to put more high-speed broadband connections into sparsely populated rural areas, and Berry touted significant “policy gains” in allocation of the Universal Service Fund to help make that happen.
But although 5G networks will rely on a dense network of small cellular sites — a system more conducive to urban or suburban communities — he said small cells also offer tremendous value in rural areas.
Berry said small cells could be deployed on buildings — such as the West Virginia high school he recently visited with FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr — or on existing wireless towers. Carr authored a measure to lift federal oversight of small cells that passed the FCC last week.
Rural businesses could also take advantage of emerging narrowband technology to power IoT applications.
Agriculture, in particular, could use take advantage of faster connections to improve efficiencies — as well as boost farmer revenues and lower food costs.
“If you don’t have coverage in those areas where no one lives but a lot of people may actually work … you’re not going to be able to take advantage of that,” Berry said.
In addition to infrastructure needs and device availability, those systems will also need more spectrum. The CCA, Berry said, continues to focus on repacking 600 MHz spectrum, exploring millimeter wave deployment and taking advantage of the CBRS band.
“Our priority is to make sure that all carriers … can actually bid on and win spectrum auctions,” he said.
In the aftermath of streamlined federal regulations, Berry also hopes to be able to address regulatory obstacles at the state and local level. He said wireless technology evolves too quickly for potential projects to be tied up for years in the permit process.
“We’re not going to build networks the way we did in the 1980s anymore,” Berry said.