What’s Your G? The wireless infrastructure industry’s story told by those who were there

As the wireless industry forges full-steam ahead into 5G and all of the applications and advances it promises, WIA takes a look back at the generations that came before. From pre-1G when cellular’s predecessors were taking shape, to the birth of cellular during 1G and 2G and the rise of wireless data in 3G and 4G.

Everybody has a G in the wireless industry — the generation in which they came in and began helping build or expand the foundation of the wireless industry. WIA asked industry veterans to share their stories from the birth and growth of the wireless infrastructure industry and their predictions for what the next G will bring.

Denny Albertini

Director, Program Support-Project Delivery, Crown Castle
Joined the industry in 2000 as Office Operations Coordinator

“One of my most vivid memories from 2000 is stacks of files on my cubicle desk. These files contained site licenses (SLAs) for carriers to install on our towers and they were awaiting my VP’s signature. Everything was manual, even the routing of the file with the SLAs, and everything was on paper from application through close out. Crown Castle had about 750 employees then – wow, have we grown!!! I’ve held various roles both in sales and implementation/project delivery. I am proud to have been witness to such amazing evolution for Crown Castle and our industry.”

What do you think 5G will bring to the wireless industry and the world?

“Opportunities. Opportunities for greater efficiency and effectiveness in how businesses and individuals stay connected. Those connections then lead to countless opportunities for innovation, stronger relationships, and transformation. Crown Castle plays a critical role in developing infrastructure to support these opportunities, and it is exciting!”

Josh Aranov

RF Field Engineer at Altaeros
Joined the industry in 1979 as a two-way radio repair technician

“I started working in wireless in 1979-1980. Before 1G, there was the Omniphone system, you might call that 0.1g; before that, was IMTS (Improved Mobile Phone System), call that 0.01g; before that, there was MTS (Mobile Telephone System), call that 0.001g. Before that, two-way radio. I worked on all these systems.

Cellular service was just coming to the Boston area around 1982. I worked on a LOT of AMPS/1g phones, including the very first, by OKI, NEC, EF Johnson, Fujitsu, Mitsubishi, Toshiba, Motorola, GE, Novatel. These had to be installed in vehicles, and were voice-only. The first “portable” cell phone was an OKI, in a 28 lb briefcase. Then the first “pack” phone by NEC (8 lbs). The first handheld phone by Motorola (a “brick with a stick”), was also voice-only. You didn’t need a smartphone, there was no internet yet, only BBS systems (like Compuserve) and a little bit of two-way paging (plain text only, maybe 32 characters), and early email (plain text only). You accessed those with a data terminal. Netscape, the first commonly used web browser came out in 1994. I worked on the first Geotek FHMA system, competing against Nextel’s iDEN, using a novel-for-the-time technology. By then you could get 9600 baud data, wirelessly. I’m not sure which “g” this would be considered, perhaps 1.75. Later, came 2,3, and 4G.

One memorable day in 1986, I was at the 850-foot level of the WBZ tower in Needham, Massachusetts, (a 1200-foot broadcast tower). There were two of us, myself, the radio specialist, and an expert tower climber, to get me up there.  You have a pretty good view of Boston from there, and even the curvature of the earth, it seemed. I was jammed tight into a small radio equipment shed; the task that day was to tune up a few Community Repeaters. (I am afraid of heights, which is why I was IN the shed and my friend the tower climber was outside. Besides, I had to work on the radios and there was definitely no room for two!)  Fortunately, we didn’t have to climb 850 feet. The tower had a small service elevator you can ride up. While we were up there, a hawk came cruising by, and shocked by our presence up in his domain, did a double take, as if to say, ‘what are you doing up here?!’

Now, Altaeros SuperTowers fly at about 1000-foot but thankfully, whenever the RF equipment needs servicing, it comes down to you!”

Mike Belski

EVP of Leasing and Marketing at Vertical Bridge
Joined the wireless industry in 1992 selling phones for Tel-Tech Enterprises, owned by Steve Bernstein.

“In 1992, I was working for Steve Bernstein and Associates, which is now SBA Communications. I started off doing site acquisition, which I enjoyed very much. Back then we did not have cellphones while doing site acquisition and there was no coverage. When we acquired sites, many of them were in rural areas and they were all macro towers, 300 feet and above. I remember it being the most enjoyable part of the business I have ever experienced. You would go to farmland and a cell site would cover a 15-mile radius. It was fun, and I met a lot of interesting people. You would fish in their ponds, have dinner at their tables, and then end up doing the acquisition work and putting a tower on their property. Very enjoyable.”

What do you think 5G will bring to the wireless industry and the world?

“5g is going to change everything. Just look at the artificial intelligence that is going to be built into 5G. 5G is not just going to be your cellphone. We are talking about wearables, appliances, etc. Your refrigerator will literally be able to restock itself once it learns your habits of consumption. So, for example, if you are running out of orange juice, your fridge is going to know, and you will have it automatically delivered to your home. When you look at 5G and the way it is going to impact our life, just about every aspect of it will be affected.”

Johnny R. Crawford

Senior Vice President of Development at Vertical Bridge
Joined the industry in 1987 deploying a network in Greenville, South Carolina.

“I started my career in 1987, or about 35 years ago, working on deploying the network in Greenville, Spartanburg, and Anderson, South Carolina. We had a Motorola 100-E switch and eight cell site locations. The sites were all HD equipment, which stood for high density, which is kind of ironic because it required 3 or 4 racks for 16 analog channels. I physically installed and wired many sites, switches, back-to-back channel banks, dc power systems, microwave radios, etc. Never anything on the tower, just the ground-based equipment. In those days, we also did all the data fill for the new sites as well as drive testing, handoff topology tables, wired up T1s for trunking and backhaul, and did translations for call routing. As we grew, we DMX’ed switches together to enable additional sites to be added and also to facilitate call delivery to other wireless switches when traveling. I recall every site had two datalinks with 64 mbs modems. Smoking!

As a carrier, we also built and owned our own towers. There was no such thing as a tower company. It wasn’t unusual to do leasing and zoning as well during the day and work on the network at night. One of my fondest memories was coming to work in Charleston the day after Hurricane Hugo in September of 1989. I was in my early 20s and was driving an RV, pulling a generator, and had a lot of cash and gas provided by the Greenville GM to bring to the Charleston market (oh, and beer…).  The switch was downtown Charleston on East Bay Street and was colocated in the same building as a TV studio and radio station. The generator behind the facility provided power for the entire facility, and the fuel tank was buried underground. Inside the switch facility, you walked in the front door and up about 5 feet of steps to get to the switch room. There was a water-stained mark on the sheetrock about 4 feet high that marked the water level during the storm. Unfortunately, the generator fuel tank was full of water, so we lost all power to the switch once the batteries died. We eventually pulled the meter from the building and jumped the generator power to the service panel. We were pretty innovative when required!

I made lifelong friends and learned a ton from that experience. That was probably one of the catalysts in my career that gained me a lot of recognition from the executives and enabled me to grow on the carrier side pretty rapidly. Disaster begotten opportunities. I worked on the network side of the industry up until 2004, where my last job was as Vice President of Engineering for a carrier. Since then, I have been on the infrastructure side building communications towers. I have probably been involved in the construction of over 2,500 towers, and over a 1,000 of those at Vertical Bridge. So, I guess I’m a 3.5G for 35-year veteran!”

What do you think 5G will bring to the wireless industry and the world?

“Well, that is a huge question because there are so many ways that 5G will affect and change so many aspects of our lives, with the obvious being more bandwidth and lower latency—all things that are promised by 5G. There will also be additional capacity and connectivity for billions of devices. Outside of the obvious, the increased bandwidth and lower latency will bring about the advent of new apps and technologies that rely on 5G. There will be apps that enable autonomous self-driving cars and trucks, which we are already seeing some of today. I think as 5G is rolled out, there will be an even greater capability for those types of devices.

We have also been hearing a lot about telemedicine, and 5G may be a major key in allowing more rural areas and lesser developed countries to receive quality care because there will be the ability for doctors to practically be on site with the advanced technology. Another big change for us will be smart cities and how that will become more of a reality in the coming years. We are already seeing examples of this, such as the gun shot detecting microphones in high crime neighborhoods, and the waterflow sensors which detect when the water in the sewers is too high. Just in this past year, as 5G has slowly started to become a thing, we have seen major changes in workforce techniques, which Covid seemed to fast-track. Major applications which we use to telecommute, such as Microsoft Teams and Zoom, will only get better as 5G continues to be rolled out. 5G will certainly bring benefits and advancements to both the wireless industry and the world. Virtual Reality, IoT and AI will see huge advances with 5G. I think we are on the brink of one of the biggest breakthroughs in our lifetimes. In my youth, we didn’t have cell phones, the internet, or even computers available at a retail level. We didn’t know that those things were coming and how they were going to change our lives so drastically. I think we are seeing the same thing with 5G today. There are a lot of known facts about 5G, but I can only imagine that there are even more unknowns that we will learn and discover over the next 3 to 5 years. It’s an exciting time to be in the wireless industry!”

Deepak Das

Vice President of Solutions, Federated Wireless
Joined the industry in 2001 at Bell Labs, Lucent Technologies (now Nokia) as a member of the technical staff.

“I started working on multi-antenna/MIMO technology innovation – something I had started exploring in my PhD research. At that time this game-changing technology was coming out of academic research into early industry evaluation. Commercial network deployments at that time were transitioning from 2G (GSM) to 2.5G (EDGE/UMTS) and 3G technologies (EVDO, W-CDMA) were just around the corner. Some of the multi-antenna technologies that folks at Bell Labs and other innovation labs were working on in 2001 found a home in commercial 3G networks and later became a cornerstone element of 4G-LTE.

Around 2001, there was a great deal of excitement in the wireless innovation community around the promise of pumping bits over the air at Mbps data-rates using Multi-Input Multi-Output MIMO technology, leveraging multiple antennas at the transmitter and receiver of a wireless link. Academic work at Bell Labs and other research institutions had laid the theoretical foundations for this technology breakthrough and the wireless ecosystem was beginning to rally around this. This sounds a far cry from the promise of 1Gbps wireless data rates in 5G, but it was big deal then, especially when wireline modems were still trying to reliably support 100s of kbps of data. As a researcher coming out of academia, it was fascinating for me to see first-hand what it took for theory to transform to practice and how it really took a village and several years to convert a theoretically solid idea into mainstream technology. The work that the wireless industry did in those years really enabled the smart phone revolution and today makes wireless data the linchpin for Digital Transformation/Industry 4.0.”

What do you think 5G will bring to the wireless industry and the world?

“With each generation of wireless technology we have seen the need for wireless data progress steadily from a “good-to-have” to a “must-have.” In 5G, there are no more questions that the ability to transport ever-increasing amounts of data over a wireless link is an absolute necessity for almost all consumer as well as enterprise use cases. 5G’s essential promise is that data will be available where it needs to be in the way that best works for the use case/application – wirelessly, reliably, ubiquitously – with the data-rate and latency performance that is required. The singular focus on use cases (not a “one-size-fits-all” approach) during 5G technology development is going to be one of its lasting legacies – every future wireless technology will have to embrace a “use-case/application-first” mindset in my opinion. I am especially excited to see how 5G enables more enterprise-friendly network models such as private networks on shared spectrum, better user experience for a multitude of use-cases, game-changing use of AI/ML on timely and copious data, while making the security aspects of such a vital part of our lives stronger. As each new generation of wireless technology rolls out, it spurs innovations in the user application space that in turn create the need for the next generation of wireless innovation (recall how the smart phone revolution that launched on 3G networks hastened the need for better 4G technologies) – I am curious to see what new innovations will galvanize the need for 6G and beyond!”

Michael Hofe

President, Liberty Towers, LLC
Joined the industry during 1G in 1983 providing FCC engineering and network deployment services


“When I entered the industry in 1983, the only cellular systems that existed were the AMPS test system in Chicago and a couple of cell sites in Baltimore and Washington (BAWA).  At that time, I was an RF engineer preparing engineering exhibits and FCC applications for the FCC’s comparative hearing process for the issuance of the original Cellular Non-Wireline (A Band) MSA licenses (1G Analog).


My initial industry involvement was for Vanguard Cellular Systems (now AT&T). Once the FCC began awarding the A Band Licenses, we then had to design and construct/implement the network infrastructure (switching centers, cell site locations, towers, billing systems, etc.) alongside equipment suppliers such as AT&T, Northern Telecom/GE and Astronet/Mitsubishi. As there were no real documented wireless network development guidelines available, short of AT&T’s and the Bell System’s internal guidelines for telco central offices, we had to develop plans and specifications from whole cloth and as we progressed with each new greenfield network we applied lessons learned to future deployments.”

Luis Jaimes-Illanes

Senior Network Engineer at Altaeros
Joined the industry in 2011 as an RF engineering intern at Nokia

“I started working in wireless in 2011 in Cochabamba, Bolivia – my home country – taking RF Field measurements. We did many hours of drive testing and data collection all over the country; I got to see the state of wireless in Bolivia first-hand. The tests were intended to find the gaps in coverage and signal quality so that we could optimize the network – 2G and 3G in urban areas and 2G in rural towns. After working on wireless in my home country, I wanted to keep helping other developing countries like my own. In 2013, I left Bolivia and began working in Accra, Ghana, to help with 4G network planning and rollout. The idea of having a brand-new all-IP Evolved Packet System with a simplified Radio Access Network architecture was appealing and a gamechanger in the evolution of the wireless generations. And while the work was rewarding, I could see firsthand that changes still needed to be made to make wireless equality a reality. In 2017, I was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship and went to work on my master’s degree at Northeastern University in Boston. While I was in Boston, I met Altaeros and its team of skilled engineers who were addressing the worldwide challenge of the Digital Divide. I joined the team as a Research Fellow in wireless technologies, including 4G and 5G, for autonomous airborne platforms. Living in Boston/the US gave me insights into the innovations for developing countries around the world. It was inspiring and life-changing to become part of an initiative to help communities and countries like my own. I am so grateful to be doing work that will help so many people.”

What do you think 5G will bring?

“5G is a new generation – but goes beyond that. I see 5G as a unique innovation framework that will allow advancements in our societies, industries, and economies. It will also help us to overcome the inequality barriers and make our societies more inclusive. We need to be mindful that the technology itself will not make this happen — we all need to make changes to create this future. 5G is an opportunity for engineers to truly reach and connect the world. Altaeros SuperTowers will help us to bring 5G to these hard-to-reach communities. I am excited to see what the future holds!”


Jim Lilienfeld

Sales and Business Development Manager, Southeast Region and Latin America, Advanced RF Technologies, Inc. (ADRF)
Joined the industry in 1993 as the National Sales Director for AirNet Communications

“I started my career in the wireless industry during the first auction for the PCS bands. A-F bands were auctioned for billions of dollars through the FCC and this was the wild, wild west of wireless. The big players were just getting started and everyone was bidding on spectrum. The only phones available at the time were from Motorola, Nokia and Ericsson and they went from bricks to tiny little phones that fit in your top pocket. Ericsson, Nokia and Motorola were also the only market leaders in base station technology. The only data usage for cell phones was text messages since there was no Internet. Bluetooth was only a dream at this point.

At the time I worked for a small company, AirNet Communications, that was developing a software defined base station system that channelized spectrum using software and expanded coverage with the use of translating repeater technology. The software provided large low capacity coverage using limited backhaul capability available throughout the rural markets in the US. This technology would compete with Ericsson and Nokia. We grew the company from the seed money provided by Harris Corporation and Motorola to ultimately take the company public. The technology was way ahead of its time and we sold our equipment to the risk takers in the rural community because they were willing to see the future. I had the honor of seeing parts of this country that most people only dream of seeing and meeting the true path burners in our nation. The AirNet technology followed the same ideology of today’s network, a more software-driven product that had the promise of efficient and effective frequency reuse.

During this time, there were hundreds of small 10 MHz spectrum holders spread across the country that consisted of rural telcos, pharma companies, and folks that just wanted to get into the wireless business including AT&T, Bell South, Nextel, Western Wireless, Primeco, Alltel, Cell South, Carolina Wireless, Panhandle Telephone, Cellcom, just to name a few.  Trade shows for this industry were way over the top, and anyone who was playing in the tech wireless space was participating. Millions came to these shows and were amazed at the technology and the over-the-top booth displays. The big boys like Ericsson, Motorola, Nokia had million-dollar booths at these shows with displays that educated and amazed the show attendees. Over the next few years things matured. The carriers and companies consolidated, networks expanded, and there was a push to gain more coverage and expand the footprint. I helped with this expansion by offering our customers tower top Low Noise Amplifiers (LNA), also known as hearing aids for wireless technology. We covered more people in smaller populated areas. The push was to cover more with the same sites initially and get deeper into the buildings with repeaters. Analog was coming to the end of its life and replaced by TDMA and GSM. Some carriers were even exploring the possibility of moving to wideband, and a little-known company in San Diego called Qualcomm was looking at a technology developed by the military called CDMA to expand the use of the mobile phones to both voice and data. It was a great time to be in the wireless industry – wow what an amazing ride! Being a part of the trailblazers was what we all strived for in these days. Technology was new and exciting.”

Morgan O’Brien

Executive Chairman, Anterix
Joined the industry in 1970 as a lawyer at the Federal Communications Commission




“In 1970, I started in wireless as an attorney in the Mobile Services Division of the Federal Communications Commission’s Common Carrier Bureau.  At that time, there were no Gs–1G didn’t yet exist. My most vivid recollection from that time is receiving a copy of Docket 18262 to read, the docket in which the FCC ultimately reallocated upper UHF spectrum (then used for TV channels) for cellular radio and specialized mobile radio (SMR) services.  Five years into my time at the FCC, I joined the Commission’s team that granted the first SMR applications using channels in that reallocated spectrum. And then, in 1982, the Mobile Services Division processed the first cellular applications.  Five years later, having left the FCC, I started Fleet Call. Fleet Call became Nextel, and Nextel consolidated the SMR industry to become a cellular competitor.”

What do you think 5G will bring to the wireless industry and the world?

“In my 51 years working in wireless, I have never seen anything that offers as much promise as 5G.  There will be numerous slips and slides along the way, and nothing will happen as fast as it is promised.  Like all of the preceding Gs, 5G will be driven by global standards and global adoption, but it will stand out from the others: 5G will become an essential element of a fourth industrial revolution.”

Mark Reynolds

Associate Director IT Voice communications, University of New Mexico – ABQ, NM
Joined Telecommunications in 1973 as a USAF Autovon technician (1973-1979 – Vietnam Era Veteran) – Torrejon AFB, Spain and through 39 years in higher education and consulting

“As a Baby Boomer, I have lived through the 75 baud modems – polling devices 300 baud coupler modems, pagers, brick phones, wipe antennas, 2-way radios, microwave, outside and inside plant design for copper, fiber plant, engineer and support to alarm systems – fire, security, through this century with 5G, small sell, macros, MM wave, LMR technologies, 40+ gig connections. Living through the Mountain Bell standards through BICSI-UL-TIA today has been a journey that most have and will not ever have again, except for my telecommunications peers. Watching, living, design, engineer and supporting this growth has been something I will always be grateful for that learning opportunity and keeping up with the trends, the “need for speed” has elevated that basic knowledge to where I am today in the industry.  I have lived through all of the pre and current “G” levels and used, tested most if not all of the technology. What a Journey!”

Bernie Vaysenberg

GM of OEM partnerships, Federated Wireless
Joined the industry straight out of college in 2001 as an inside sales manager for a boutique distributor. “At the time, I thought wireless was like magic. It was there that I grew and learned the industry from Fixed Wireless Access all the way to mobile solutions for connecting people and things.”

“Early on in my career we were pioneers in the fixed wireless market for Wireless Internet Service Providers. In an effort to close the Digital Divide, and at the time it was much greater than it is today, an industry of operators was born to serve the communities that had little to no access to data and voice at homes, offices, schools, utilities, etc. The places where fiber was just too expensive to get to. Wireless was the only way. As demand for more data become more important many OEMs developed amazing products to get those entities connected. Over the years, more and more bandwidth has become available. Now with CBRS and shared spectrum we have taken connectivity to another level by helping to mitigate interference, access to more bandwidth, higher levels of security, and an ever-evolving ecosystem which is ready for the 5G revolution.”

What do you think 5G will bring to the wireless industry and the world?

“We will absolutely revolutionize the way people and things connect to each other. Warehouse automation, data driven applications, voice, AI, IOT, fixed wireless and more. We are finally at a point where if done with the right expertise, we can connect anything with tremendous reliability, security and capacity.”

Do you have a memory about the history of the wireless industry that you want to share? Email it to Kristen Beckman at kristen.beckman@wia.org.