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Noah Tulsky: Shared Infrastructure Can Make 5G Work For Cities

Cities should prioritize competitive processes to select an open access neutral host infrastructure provider.

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The author of this Expert Opinion is Noah Tulsky, partner at Sidewalk Infrastructure Partners.

Wireless data throughput is expected to increase nearly fivefold over the next four years, a surge driven by overall demand for data and enabled by new chipset technology and increased spectrum allocation.

Traditionally wired internet service providers like Comcast and Charter are investing in mobile connectivity, alongside incumbent mobile network operators. Meanwhile, mobile network operators are amortizing their spectrum investments to compete in the fixed broadband market wirelessly.

A quiet but critical race to deploy wireless networks throughout the country is well underway.

For cities and towns, this rapid growth can represent both a blessing and a curse

More demand for fixed and mobile wireless services means more infrastructure in the form of radios close to end users with annual small cell deployments in cities expected to grow at a roughly 25% compound annual rate through 2026.

Uncoordinated growth can cause headaches and have lasting local and national implications for digital equity, urban landscapes and economic growth.

At the same time, cities that harness the wireless revolution can propel themselves into the future.

Wireless broadband can complement fiber technology, which can drive down consumer costs and help close the digital divide.

And 5G mobile connectivity itself is quickly becoming a necessity. Communities without 5G will be cut off from coming technologies that can save lives and spur economic growth, including autonomous vehicles to serve transit deserts, drone-based maintenance of essential infrastructure and distributed renewable energy.

The deployment of 5G must be carefully managed

Not all 5G build-outs are created equal.

If providers build discrete, separate networks, cities can become overwhelmed by permitting requests to mount radios on light poles and street infrastructure.

If three different companies latch their technology onto the same telephone pole, city infrastructure will end up cluttered, and city residents will be understandably frustrated.

These promising technologies might roll out slowly as city departments work through 5G deployment permitting backlogs.

Worse still, service providers might end up building only in the wealthiest areas—where they can most easily recover their investment. Thus, communities and even whole towns at the margins may be left out.

Policymakers have an opportunity to leverage their infrastructure and ensure that networks are built to be compatible with their goals. State and local officials can use their clout to deliver real and lasting value to as many residents as possible.

Seek out neutral hosts through public-private partnerships

Cities should prioritize competitive processes to select an open access neutral host infrastructure provider that can work with multiple carriers to co-locate on shared infrastructure.

A neutral host can marshal private investment to accelerate network builds and organize the service providers on behalf of the city — all while keeping the process competitive.

This type of public-private partnership has a multiplier effect: Private capital can be united with any public broadband funding and directed toward municipal priorities.

In this model, cities also retain control. Leaders can promote equitable build-outs, ensure that neutral hosts commit to aesthetically consistent and minimally invasive infrastructure, and even earn back a portion of the rent that neutral hosts charge from service providers.

At Sidewalk Infrastructure Partners, where I work, we believe that the best type of neutral host for a city is one that allows multiple operators to share more than just the passive pole infrastructure, and by doing so reduce the visual clutter of the deployment.

For this reason SIP established its innovation platform CoFi and acquired Dense Air Networks, which uses software-defined networking techniques to share radios among multiple MNO tenants, significantly reducing their rental costs and allowing MNOs to deliver quality service economically in areas that would otherwise be underserved.

Coordinate fiber and wireless builds to put federal funding to highest and best use

Cities can now access unprecedented federal funding to fast-track connectivity.

In the recent infrastructure bill, the federal government allocated $65 billion for broadband expansion, in addition to the $10 billion made available through the American Rescue Plan.

These are huge sums, and as with all government funding, they can be used wisely or poorly.

Much of this funding will go toward building fiber and, if done correctly, cities and their private fiber partners can leverage these dollars to ensure that fiber network plans anticipate and enable wireless footprints as well.

Close consultation with wireless neutral hosts, MNOs, and ISPs can help cities get the most bang for their federal buck.

Cities can also avoid the faulty ideas of the past, such as one-time public WiFi builds. These have largely become cost centers, and they rarely deliver quality connections or cover a meaningful geographic footprint.

Cities can instead allocate funding toward financially sustainable projects, which align incentives and help build networks that can last beyond the limits of federal funding.

The 5G rollout offers an opportunity for cities to correct past mistakes — and bring millions of people online and into the digital economy.

With innovation in public-private partnership models and technology, cities can, and should, harness the secular growth in wireless broadband to their advantage.

Noah Tulsky is a Partner at Sidewalk Infrastructure Partners (SIP), where he focuses on SIP’s CoFi platform, which works to advance shared broadband solutions, and 5G strategy. SIP owns, operates, and invests in innovative technology to transform infrastructure systems, advancing scalable solutions to society’s biggest challenges. Previously, Noah worked at Goldman Sachs, where he invested across the power & energy, transportation, and telecommunications & data sectors on behalf of the firm’s infrastructure funds. This piece is exclusive to Broadband Breakfast.

Broadband Breakfast accepts commentary from informed observers of the broadband scene. Please send pieces to commentary@breakfast.media. The views expressed in Expert Opinion pieces do not necessarily reflect the views of Broadband Breakfast and Breakfast Media LLC.

5G

5G Connected Traffic Structures Will Facilitate Safer, Environmentally Friendly Travel: Industry

The release of more spectrum will help move autonomous vehicles forward.

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Screenshot of Joe Moye, CEO of Beep

WASHINGTON, September 13, 2022 – 5G-connected street infrastructure, such as traffic lights, will make commuter travel environmentally friendly and safe, said a panel at a Punchbowl News event Thursday, and it can be facilitated by the release of more spectrum.

The move toward autonomous vehicles will require vehicles and road structures communicating with each other. Some vehicles on the road include sensors that detect objects to avoid collisions – but these vehicles still require someone behind the wheel.

Nick Ludlum, senior vice president and chief communications officer of the event’s sponsor, CTIA, spoke about the environmental benefits of autonomous transportation and said vehicles and road systems can “all work together…to make more efficient transit patterns…so people aren’t sitting and idling in cars with, [producing] all the emissions.”

But Ludlum noted that the Federal Communications Commission can facilitate such autonomous travel by auctioning off more spectrum. “More spectrum means better networks, and better networks means bigger innovations,” he said.

Joe Moye, CEO of autonomous transportation company Beep, said that his company’s specialty is autonomous shuttles – with capacities of 12–14 passengers.

“The vehicles have to interface with infrastructure like a human would,” said. Beep’s CEO argued that 5G-enabled real-time communication between vehicle and infrastructure is “absolutely critical to the safety and effectiveness of these types of vehicles.” Moye also explained that with 5G technology, Beep is developing systems by which a remote operator can take control of an autonomous vehicle and maneuver it out of an emergency.

Moye said he believes that adoption of autonomous mass transit could also significantly reduce commute-driven emissions.

“If we’re gonna really transform mobility as we know it,” Moye said, “we need to have a convenient, safe alternative to our personal vehicles.”

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Open Radio Access Networks Can Save Energy, Say Panelists at Industry Summit

Broadband players in both the fiber marketplace and 5G space are pushing for energy-efficient networks.

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Screenshot of Paul Challoner, vice president of Network Product Solutions at Ericsson

September 8, 2022 – Open radio access networks allow administrators to utilize software that save energy, said Paul Challoner, vice president of Network Product Solutions for Ericsson, at Fierce Wireless’ Open RAN Summit on Wednesday.

Radio access networks connect personal devices – such as phones and computers – to core networks through radio waves. Open RANs’ components, unlike those of traditional RANs, are “interoperable” – a single network can function with pieces made by different manufacturers.

A crucial part of an Open RAN is the RAN Intelligent Control, a software component which enables users to obtain and run native as well as third-party software.

For instance, to eliminate energy waste during periods of light traffic, these sophisticated controls employ artificial intelligence software to direct signals to designated base stations only . This allows other base stations to hibernate. Traditional RANs lack the software capacity of O-RANs and therefore must run all base stations at all times.

Energy initiatives across telecom industry

Elsewhere in the telecom industry, broadband players are pushing for energy-efficient networks as well. Federal Communications Commission Commissioner Geoffrey Starks regularly calls for sustainable, net-zero carbon emissions. “We must continue to find ways to do more while using less,” he said in June.

Additionally, the Fiber Broadband Association recently released a report that found that fiber to the home technology creates less CO2 than either DSL or cable broadband. What’s more, the report found that since FTTH users are disproportionately likely to work from home, FTTH also results in less commute-driven CO2 emissions.

O-RAN as a 5G player

Many believe that open RAN technology will play a substantial role in creating an alternative to proprietary telecommunications equipment. As concerns mount about Chinese telecom manufacturer Huawei – including its connections to the Chinese Communist Party –O-RAN has emerged as a viable alternative to provide 5G coverage.

To safeguard O-RAN networks, networks must employ a bottom-to-top approach to cybersecurity, said Douglas Gardner, chief technologist for the Analog Devices’ CTO Office Security Center of Excellence, at Wednesday’s Open RAN Summit. Gardner argued that every part of the network – down to the chip level – must be constructed with potential cyberthreats in mind.

Ultimately, Gardner believes that expensive up-front investments in cybersecurity prevent far more expensive breaches down the road: “Good security costs vendors money. Get over it.”

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David Flower: 5G and Hyper-Personalization: Too Much of a Good Thing?

5G, IoT and edge computing are giving companies the opportunity to make hyper-personalization even more ‘hyper’.

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The author of this Expert Opinion is David Flower, CEO of Volt Active Data

It’s very easy for personalization to backfire and subtract value instead of add it.

Consider the troubling fact that we may be arriving at a moment in hyper-personalization’s journey where the most hyper-personalized offer is no offer at all. Nobody likes to be constantly bombarded by content, personalized or not.

And that’s the paradox of hyper-personalization: if everyone’s doing it, then, in a sense, nobody is.

5G and related technologies such as IoT and edge computing are giving companies the opportunity to make hyper-personalization even more “hyper” via broader bandwidths and the faster processing of higher volumes of data.

This means we’re at a very interesting inflection point: where do we stop? If the promise of 5G is more data, better data, and faster data, and the result is knowing our customers even better to bug them even more, albeit in a “personal” way, when, where, and why do we say, “hold on—maybe this is going too far.”?

How do you do hyper-personalization well in a world where everyone else is doing it and where customers are becoming increasingly jaded about it and worried about how companies are using their data?

Let’s first look at what’s going wrong.

Hyper-personalization and bad data

Hyper-personalization is very easy to mess up, and when you do mess it up it has the exact opposite of its intended effect: it drives customers away instead of keeping them there.

Consider an online ad for a product that pops up for you on a website a couple days after you already bought the thing being advertised for. This is what I call “noise”. It’s simply a nuisance, and the company placing that ad—or rather, the data platform they’re using to generate the algorithms for the ads—should already know that the person has already bought this item and hence present not a “repeat offer” but an upsell or cross-sell offer.

This sounds rudimentary in the year 2022 but it’s still all too common, and you’re probably nodding your head right now because you’ve experienced this issue.

Noise usually comes from what’s known as bad data, or dirty data. Whatever you want to call it—it pretty much ruins the customer experience.

Hyper-personalization and slow data

The second major issue is slow data, which is any data being used way too slowly to be valuable, which usually includes data that has to the trip to the data warehouse before it can be incorporated into any decisions.

Slow data is one of the main reasons edge computing was invented: to be able to process data as closely to where it’s ingested as possible in order to use it before it loses any value.

Slow data produces not-so-fun customer experiences such as walking half a mile to your departure gate at the airport, only to find that the gate has been changed, and then, after you’ve walked the half mile back to where you came from, getting a text message on your phone from the airline saying your gate has been changed.

Again, whatever you want to call it—latency, slow data, annoying—the end result is a bad customer experience.

How to fix the hyper-personalization paradox

I have no doubt that the people who invented hyper-personalization had great intentions: make things as personal as possible so that your customers pay attention, stay happy, and stay loyal.

And for a lot of companies, for a long time, it worked. Then came the data deluge. And the regulations. And the jaded customers. We’re now at a stage where we need to rethink how we do personalization because the old ways are no longer effective.

It’s easy—and correct—to blame legacy technology for all of this. But the solution goes deeper than just ripping and replacing. Companies need to think holistically about all sides of their tech stacks to figure out the simplest way to get as much data as possible from A to B.

The faster you can process your data the better. But it’s not all just about speed. You also need to be able to provide quick contextual intelligence to your data so that every packet is informed by all of the packets that came before it. In this sense, your tech stack should be a little like a great storyteller: someone who knows what the customer needs and is feeling at any given moment, because it knows what’s happened up to this point and how it will affect customer decisions moving forward.

Let’s start thinking of our customer experiences as stories and our tech stacks as the storytellers—or maybe, story generators. Maybe then our personalization efforts will become truly ‘hyper-personal’— i.e., relevant, in-the-moment experiences that are a source of delight instead of annoyance.

David Flower brings more than 28 years of experience within the IT industry to the role of CEO of Volt Active Data. Flower has a track record of building significant shareholder value across multiple software sectors on a global scale through the development and execution of focused strategic plans, organizational development and product leadership. This piece is exclusive to Broadband Breakfast.

Broadband Breakfast accepts commentary from informed observers of the broadband scene. Please send pieces to commentary@breakfast.media. The views expressed in Expert Opinion pieces do not necessarily reflect the views of Broadband Breakfast and Breakfast Media LLC.

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