There are many words that could be used to describe 2020. ‘Unprecedented’ rises to the top of any list of descriptors applied to a year that included a global pandemic and widespread societal shutdowns that have fundamentally changed the way people work, learn, socialize and live.
At WIA, there are many words we can choose from to describe the past 12 months. ‘Thankful’ for our members who continue to engage with and support our initiatives despite a challenging year. ‘Inspired’ by our industry of essential workers that keep designing networks, climbing towers, and doing work to keep our nation connected when the pandemic separated us from each other. ‘Fortunate’ that COVID-19 shined a bright light on the importance of wireless and broadband and buoyed our industry when many other industries were not as lucky.
Perhaps the best word that we can use as an association to describe 2020 is ‘perseverance.’ Like our members, our industry and everyone around the world, we have been faced with challenges this year and have learned to adapt. In addition, work we began in many areas years ago bore fruit this year for the benefit of our members and the industry as a whole.
Our government affairs team achieved major victories at the federal level that will streamline the siting process as we deploy 5G networks. The 5G Upgrade Order announced by the FCC in June includes a declaratory ruling and notice of proposed rulemaking that eliminates siting delays, promotes collocation, and accelerates wireless network builds by clarifying rules for upgrading equipment on existing infrastructure. In October, the FCC further streamlined wireless infrastructure deployment by specifying that modifications to existing tower compounds involving limited site expansion can proceed without unnecessary and potentially extensive and costly reviews. Both initiatives were the culmination of years of work by WIA’s government affairs team.
In addition, WIA’s ongoing efforts at the state level resulted in South Carolina becoming the 30th state to pass small-cell legislation that modernizes and streamlines rules for expedited small-cell deployment and lays the groundwork needed for jobs, economic growth, telemedicine, and distance-learning opportunities.
WIA won support from the Department of Labor to drive initiatives that will be crucial to building the workforce the industry will need to build out 5G wireless networks. In February, WIA was awarded a $6 million DoL grant to expand apprenticeships in the telecommunications industry in partnership with the Power & Communications Contractors Association (PCCA). The nearly $6 million grant is supplemented by over $9 million in matching support from industry, including cash and in-kind contributions from WIA, PCCA, Ditch Witch, FS3, and participating employers, for a total commitment to apprenticeship of $15 million in a public-private partnership.
DoL also provided WIA a multimillion-dollar contract in September as the National Sponsor of the Telecommunications Industry Registered Apprenticeship Program (TIRAP) with the objective of expanding the industry’s multi-employer apprenticeship model to meet employers’ occupational and skills development needs.
To support these important initiatives, WIA named Dr. Rikin Thakker as Chief Technology Officer; Brent Weil as Vice President, Workforce Development; and Jason Nelson as Vice President, Partnerships and Development. These new leaders will expand WIA’s wireless workforce development initiatives and extend WIA’s thought leadership and convening role for businesses in the wireless industry.
The important work of educating the wireless workforce continued despite pandemic-related disruptions. WIA’s Telecommunications Education Center (TEC) adapted to a new environment and customer needs by transitioning to a virtual format. TEC now offers 5 eLearning self-pace courses as well as live virtual training. TEC also introduced a variety of cutting-edge courses, including Edge Computing, 5G Ecosystem, Mastering CBRS and, most recently, a CBRS Certified Professional Installer (CPI) course. During 2020, TEC trained more than 500 students through a combination of in-person, virtual delivery and eLearning. Live instructor-led webinars and eLearning opportunities proved to be especially popular this year, with strong interest in many fundamental courses such as Wireless 101, 5G Ecosystem, DAS & Small Cell Basics, Macro Site Fundamentals and 5G Outlook and Technologies.
When COVID-19 hit in March, WIA was already deep into preparations to host our annual Connectivity Expo tradeshow and exposition, which was scheduled for May in Miami. When it became clear an in-person event would not be possible, the WIA events team quickly pivoted to a virtual format – securing a platform, re-imagining sessions and exhibits, and completely producing a brand-new show in just weeks. Virtual Connect (X) was a resounding 2020 success story for WIA, as more than 4,500 attended the show online and industry heavyweights from FCC commissioners to technology experts to CEOs of infrastructure companies provided insights through keynotes, roundtable discussions and breakout sessions that provided crucial information for an industry learning to adapt to new realities brought about by the pandemic.
Despite challenges created by COVID-19, WIA’s frequency coordination department moved forward with an upgrade to the License Link Plus application management system and has worked diligently to make additional refinements that will enhance the user’s experience. The system allows customers to benefit from an efficient and paperless environment for the private land mobile radio licensing process. The cutover to the upgraded system began in September.
Two WIA working groups produced white papers this year. The Innovation & Technology Council wrote a paper titled “The CBRS Opportunity: New Spectrum, Stakeholders, Networks and Devices,” which highlights the benefits, impact and opportunities for commercial-use shared spectrum of CBRS for existing and new networks. The Fiber Working Group produced a white paper called “Fiber: An Essential Facet of the Connected Community” designed to help municipalities understand the benefits of fiber and best practices for working cooperatively with industry to deploy it.
WIA President and CEO Jonathan Adelstein joined with Inside Towers Managing Editor Jim Fryer at the ‘Wireless Water Cooler,’ a joint monthly podcast that explores the small and big issues in the wireless industry. Special guests on the podcast have included Congresswoman Yvette Clarke, FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr, FCC General Counsel Thomas Johnson Jr., and workforce advocates Leticia Latino of Neptuno USA and Adria Horn of Tilson Technology Management.
Finally, WIA members showed not only perseverance in the face of unforeseen challenges this year, but also compassion in helping their communities and fellow citizens survive when COVID-19 hit.
In what could have been a year overshadowed by negativity, WIA is proud of the many positive things that our members and our industry have achieved this year and look forward with optimism to the year ahead when we will all continue to deliver connectivity to our communities and fellow citizens each in our own important ways.