2023 predictions

Wireless leaders look ahead to 2023

2022 was a busy year for the wireless industry. As the pandemic began to wane, the industry was left to consider how the connectivity needs of the world had dramatically shifted. 5G buildouts continued to move forward, and the exciting new universe of applications and services enabled by next-generation technology began to emerge. An emphasis on solving the digital divide that came to the forefront during the pandemic continued to influence spectrum policy and spurred new funding opportunities.

Heading into 2023, the wireless industry’s thought leaders expect a continued focus on fixed wireless access, further development of the network edge and increasing use cutting-edge technologies like robotics and artificial intelligence. Read more about what they expect in the year to come below.

Patrick Halley

President and CEO, Wireless Infrastructure Association

The biggest development in 2022 – the one that caught me most by surprise – was the explosion of fixed wireless access (FWA) to the home. FWA (see WIA’s recent white paper) emerged as a 5G killer app and a real competitor to fiber and cable home broadband access. You know FWA is having an impact in the market when Comcast is running ads to compete with the technology.   

Ericsson estimated in their recently-published Mobility Report that there were more than 100 million FWA connections globally at the end of 2022. And by the end of 2022, more than 8.5 million households will use fixed wireless access as their primary means of in-home broadband connectivity. The top two wireless providers added an incredible 900,000 new U.S, subscribers in Q3 alone, with T-Mobile doubling its total number of internet customers in only six months. UScellular is doubling its FWA subscriber base every 18 months.

As for 2023, the trend will be continued explosions in speed and capacity available to consumers (for mobile and fixed wireless service) as WIA’s members – carriers, infrastructure companies and service providers – work together on C Band, 3.45 GHz, 2.5 GHz and mmWave deployments, with further network densification to optimize the use of that spectrum. Maybe not the boldest prediction since it’s largely a given, but that doesn’t make it any less meaningful as the work we do together in 2023 will have a lasting impact on the trajectory of the wireless industry for years to come, and the lives of the citizens who benefit from these networks.

Steven O. Vondran | WIA Board Treasurer Executive VP and President, U.S. Tower Division American Tower

Steven Vondran

Executive Vice President and President, U.S. Tower Division, American Tower Corporation

What was the most significant development that happened during 2022 in the wireless infrastructure industry and why?

The availability of mid-band spectrum for wireless marked a step forward in the acceleration of 5G in 2022. With the rising demand for 5G services, these frequencies provide capacity, speed, and reach to increase performance that wasn’t possible with low bands. As a result, last year we saw increased wireless deployment at scale from Mobile Network Operators. On top of offering improved mobile services, this spectrum is being used to deliver Fixed Wireless Access (FWA), giving customers an alternative to traditional wired broadband services and extending connectivity to unserved or underserved areas.

The Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) fund is another important step toward bridging the digital divide. The BEAD fund recognized the need for a mix of broadband technologies, including wireless, to meet the national goal of ubiquitous broadband. Now it’s up to NTIA and fund recipients to consider all technology solutions to create the fastest and most cost-effective deployment.

What trend do you think will impact the wireless infrastructure industry the most in 2023 and why?

For businesses facing a volatile economy this year, technology will be more important than ever to fill resource gaps. High-bandwidth, low-latency applications, such as Artificial Reality/Virtual Reality (AR/VR), Artificial Intelligence (AI), machine learning, digital twins, remote robotics, and the Internet of Things (IoT), will provide new services and create efficiencies never seen before. However, these use cases will tax a cloud-only network, which can be costly and difficult to scale. That’s why an increasing number of enterprises are migrating to a hybrid strategy, with near-premise data storage coupled with cloud services. CoreSite, acquired by American Tower in 2021, is optimally suited to win in this hybrid cloud world, with 28 Data Centers in 10 markets, robust connectivity ecosystems, and native cloud onramps.

We are also excited about the potential of edge over the next several years. As 5G becomes fully realized, moving data closer to the use case will be critical to reaching latency requirements. We will take the interconnected fabric and cloud onramps of CoreSite and cascade them to the edge, where our wireless business has available access to real estate. It will be a pivotal time, as we see the convergence of our wireless and wireline businesses come together to provide the platform for innovation.

Dr. Shirish Nagaraj

Director, Wireless R&D, and Chief Technologist, Corning Optical Communications

What was the most significant development that happened during 2022 in the wireless infrastructure industry and why?

The continuing rollout of 5G will remain the focus of wireless providers and telecommunications equipment suppliers in 2023. While there is still a lot of 4G/LTE in the cellular network world, 5G will be the technology of choice moving forward and companies planning and managing network deployments will have that in mind.

Of course, it feels like we’ve been hearing about 5G and the potential it brings for years. In fact, many networks have already begun rolling it out across the country. What will be truly different about 5G in 2023? It’s all about how it’s deployed, starting with a long-awaited migration to “standalone.” That’s the first of my three trends to watch for 2023.

What trend do you think will impact the wireless infrastructure industry the most in 2023 and why?

While 5G deployments have been ongoing, it has been a complicated evolution. Most 5G networks have been deployed as non-standalone (NSA) networks, meaning they require 4G technology as an anchor. In the early days of 5G rollouts, it helped reduce costs and speed up timelines by relying on existing infrastructure so communication service providers (CSPs) could focus on augmenting the radio access network (RAN) elements.

But a true 5G standalone (SA) network will have a 5G core and 5G New Radio, unleashing the full potential of the latest generation of cellular technology. Many of the key attributes of 5G that wireless companies have been touting, like very low latency and full network slicing, are only possible with 5G SA. Operators are evolving their packet core along with the radio access equipment to deliver new capabilities for their customers.

All of this capacity needs fiber on the x-haul, including the backhaul, midhaul and fronthaul, something that has become more essential with 5G as deployments have focused on the equipment at the edge of the network to deliver powerful speeds and high capacity. Ultimately, even in “wireless” networks, fiber has a key role to play in bringing the next generation of connectivity to consumers and businesses.

*Excerpted from 2023 Wireless Trends | 5G Standalone, Indoor Private Networks, Disaggregated Systems | Corning

Robin Mitchell

Sales Engineering Manager, iBwave Solutions 

What was the most significant development that happened during 2022 in the wireless infrastructure industry and why?

For mobile carriers, 2022 was a year to admit that 5G has not delivered the original promises for rejuvenated growth with the consumer market i.e. ARPU staying flat (average revenue per use). That’s why carriers have started re-orienting their strategic focus on Enterprise to deliver 5G tailored-experiences to various industry verticals i.e. transportation, manufacturing and farming; introducing a greater variety of network design for in-building and outdoor, different deployment environments and more complex network operations.

Global implementation of 5G still faces many challenges, but in 2022 we saw a shift in more decentralized government broadband infrastructure funding. With the $1 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), U.S. wireless operators raced to expand their 5G coverage and continued the “robust pace” of its 5G deployment and network integration. Building the infrastructure to support 5G requires massive capital investment and 5G can’t be powered using 4G-LTE’s mechanics, therefore, it requires a complete overhaul of existing base stations, the construction of smaller towers and the laying of networks of fiber optic cables that will connect them. Nevertheless, the transition to 5G is the only sustainable long-term solution due to the low maintenance costs in comparison to 4G-LTE and infrastructure costs are a small price to pay in comparison to the massive potential that 5G-powered innovation holds in transforming our world. 

What trend do you think will impact the wireless infrastructure industry the most in 2023 and why?

2023 will be the year to see the acceleration of 4G/5G private network deployment surpassing the 1,000 landmark of private network deployments worldwide across all industries. The U.S. market with CBRS will lead the way. Particularly mining, manufacturing and education will be the top sectors where PN will pick up in 2023. With the increase in connected devices and the resulting amount of metadata, users and organizations need faster, more secure and more reliable connectivity. 5G is the generation that is said to bring together the advancements from 2G, 3G, 4G and Wi-Fi, and in doing so, will support the exponential growth in mobile data demand and expectations. 5G’s lightning speeds and ultra-low latency, promise to replace current technologies (e.g., legacy-wired broadband and cable modems) in the coming years, especially when it comes to IoT networks. In conjunction with 5G, FWA and Private LTE are expected to gain momentum in 2023 from the $20.4 billion funds allocated for the construction of broadband networks in rural communities. We can expect to see more education institutions step into this arena of expansion as well to reach those underserved communities. 5G will undoubtedly enable a revolution in connectivity but this move will take time. There are challenges to overcome, including building enough infrastructure and keeping 5G networks secure.

Leticia Latino-van Splunteren

CEO, Neptuno USA

What was the most significant development that happened during 2022 in the wireless infrastructure industry and why?

2022 was the year where there was “less talking” and “more doing” around 5G infrastructure deployment and networks modernization. Even if supply chain challenges and workforce shortages may have hindered achieving the expected deployment speed, it was still a year of substantial progress and on laying a foundation on that front. The equipment being deployed together with several device manufacturers officially launching their 5G smartphones allowed us to start getting “glimpses” of what 5G has promised to do for the world. Spatially immersive internet, or the Metaverse as it has been dubbed, came into mainstream conversations and wireless infrastructure deployed in 2022 will definitely be a substantial enabler for it.

What trend do you think will impact the wireless infrastructure industry the most in 2023 and why?    

I see 2023 as a year to “test drive” broad arrays of new applications that will converge Artificial Intelligence (AI), Augmented and Virtual Reality (AR/VR) and Robotics, that will create a long-awaited portfolio of use cases around 5G as the fuel to ignite a whole new way to live. The Internet of Things (IoT) can finally be unleashed, with massive machine-type communication (mMTC), poised to support tens of billions of network-enabled devices to be wirelessly connected, driving more and more data being generated at the EDGE supporting the need to process it there, which is the strong value proposition for Multi Edge Computing providers have been selling the industry on. I also want to believe that an important trend for the new year will be wireless and telecom leaders becoming more ESG conscious and starting to implement more tangible measures to contribute to the world’s sustainability development goals. Some infrastructure vendors are already heavily focusing on developing more energy-efficient equipment to build more sustainable mobile networks, but achieving the United Nations’ goals will require a much bigger ESG effort from the wireless industry, efforts that focus not only on the environmental part of the equation, but also on the social and governance aspects of it.

Darrell Ingram

Chief Operating Officer and President, Tilson

What was the most significant development that happened during 2022 in the wireless infrastructure industry and why?

The most significant development for 2022 was the building undercurrent for the shift in deployment spending. Throughout the year, investments in fiber-to-the-home projects increased, and I expect that to become even greater in 2023. For wireless, there was a more focused approach by large telecom companies on how and where wireless is being deployed.

What trend do you think will impact the wireless infrastructure industry the most in 2023 and why?

This year will bring an even greater need for trained/skilled labor to keep up with the growing demand across the industry. At Tilson, we are solving this problem by continuing to make a heavy investment in state-of-the-art equipment and tools and by providing training and skill development opportunities for our field crews. We’re also currently hiring for over 120+ positions nationwide. I expect the increased demand for wireless infrastructure to continue into 2023, and the only way to keep up is to create innovative solutions to old problems, invest in self-perform (safety and training), and maintain a focus on solutions for our customers.

Sam Johnston

CEO and President, Arcadia Towers

What was the most significant development that happened during 2022 in the wireless infrastructure industry and why?

Dish Network’s 5G network going live in June, marking a significant milestone for the company as it establishes itself as a formidable player in the wireless industry. Dish’s efforts to launch a next-generation network have been closely watched by industry experts, who see the company as a potential fourth national wireless player, capable of competing with the likes of AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile. In addition to its efforts to build its own network infrastructure, Dish has also expressed interest in becoming a tenant for existing infrastructure owners, which furthers the importance of developing wireless infrastructure ahead of time.

What trend do you think will impact the wireless infrastructure industry the most in 2023 and why?

As Verizon and AT&T work to catch up to T-Mobile in the mid-band spectrum, the deployment of C-Band technologies is expected to play a significant role in their efforts. As a result, it is expected that both Verizon and AT&T will ramp up their C-Band buildouts in the coming months, potentially leading to increased demand for tower space and other infrastructure assets. This increased activity is likely to benefit tower companies, as they may see an influx of new tenants and potentially be able to negotiate favorable lease amendments with existing tenants.

Julie Song of ADRF

Julie Song

President, Advanced RF Technologies, Inc. (ADRF)

What was the most significant development that happened during 2022 in the wireless infrastructure industry and why?

The most significant wireless development in 2022 was the maturation of nationwide 5G, driven in a large part by the great progress of the three major US carriers in building out their networks this year. This was made possible because of AT&T and Verizon’s significant acquisition of C-band spectrum, which is evident when you look at how much 5G speeds improved for AT&T and Verizon following their C-band deployments. According to Open Signal research, AT&T and Verizon’s average users’ 5G Download Speed has increased by 34.6% and 15.8% respectively between March and December this year because of C-band.

What trend do you think will impact the wireless infrastructure industry the most in 2023 and why?

Due to the continued maturation of nationwide 5G networks, I anticipate we will see a major uptick in 5G in-building wireless deployments across every industry, especially the ones that require better connectivity to perform mission-critical tasks like healthcare and manufacturing. Since most cellular connectivity begins and ends indoors, it will definitely signal 5G’s true arrival for consumers and businesses. More indoor 5G connectivity also means that many of the 5G applications hyped back in 2019 will become reality this year.

Charlie Kennamer

Vice President of Telecom, Americas, Sitetracker

What was the most significant development that happened during 2022 in the wireless infrastructure industry and why?

The underlying theme across the wireless industry in 2022 was the continued deployment of 5G on existing infrastructure. The most promising use case for 5G began to emerge – fixed wireless access – further pushing convergence in services to the end customer. Also, Dish Network met its first FCC obligation, covering 20% of the U.S. population. More noteworthy, though, was Dish’s demonstrated capability to system-integrate a virtualized core network/ORAN at scale in a matter of months. This may further support 5G viability with private networks and with deployment models that were previously seen as cost-prohibitive.

What trend do you think will impact the wireless infrastructure industry the most in 2023 and why?

The MNOs have signaled less CAPEX spending on 5G in 2023. With VONR deployments and testing underway, there will likely be an emphasis on network optimization of existing infrastructure for interference (SINR) and end-to-end latency that can drive greater customer experience and capacity. A continued commoditization of service offerings to subscribers will also lead to additional pressures on OPEX. The incumbent MNOs will look for cost reductions in leases/transport as well as efficiencies in operations. This may lead to high-rent relocations, network redesigns, and increased digital transformation. Beyond the incumbent three, ISPs with MVNO offerings will drive small-cell deployments to reduce roaming costs in contiguous areas of high traffic. 

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2021: The wireless infrastructure industry looks ahead

2020 Vision: Wireless Infrastructure Industry Leaders Predict Trends for the Coming Year

Do you have a prediction for the wireless infrastructure industry for 2023? Send your thoughts to Kristen.Beckman@WIA.org.