Crown Castle is betting big on distributed workloads

Crown Castle doesn’t need to predict what will be the “killer” 5G application, instead it just needs to able to handle network traffic wherever it’s needed, whether it’s at the tower, the small cell, over fiber or even at the network edge.

“We’re an infrastructure company,” said Paul Reddick, SVP of strategy, business and product development at Crown Castle. “We don’t have to bet on a specific application. We just have to bet on demand.”

Reddick, a wireless industry veteran who spent a decade working in product innovation at Sprint, headed up wireless application firm Handmark, and also did a stint in business development at Google before joining Crown Castle, said he believes it is still early days in the 5G evolution and he thinks that we won’t see all the benefits of 5G until more operators deploy standalone 5G (SA). “It’s still early,” Reddick said. “We haven’t seen all the benefits of low latency or the applications that will rely on low latency.”

Dish Network, which is in the midst of deploying its greenfield SA network in the U.S. is a Crown Castle customer and the operator signed a long-term agreement with Crown in which Dish will lease space on up to 20,000 Crown towers and also receive fiber transport services. 

Reddick said that being part of a greenfield network deployment for a new operator is a big deal, even for one of the largest tower companies in the world. “It is ‘all hands-on-deck’ to meet their coverage goals,” Reddick said, adding that there was extra pressure because Dish has to meet specific coverage goals that were set by the FCC as a condition of T-Mobile’s acquisition of Sprint and Dish’s related purchase of Sprint’s Boost Mobile prepaid business. In June Dish met its first build-out goal of providing 20% of the U.S. population with coverage. Its next goal is to cover 70% of the U.S. population by June 14, 2023.

While Reddick is hesitant to say exactly what applications he believes will truly showcase 5G’s capabilities, he is bullish on augmented reality and virtual reality (AR/VR) apps for consumers as well as factory automation and security cameras on the enterprise side.

He also is a big believer in edge networking, even though many of the edge computing initiatives today are still in the early stages. “We believe the trajectory [of edge computing] is certain. But the timing is uncertain,” he said, adding that the company invested in edge computing company Vapor IO in 2017 in anticipation of edge computing becoming a big business.  He added that Vapor IO does have edge computing workloads running today that could not be done without distributed computing.

Reddick said that while he doesn’t believe that edge computing sites have to be at all tower sites, he does believe that some tower sites do make a good fit for edge computing because those sites already have some of the key components like land, power and connectivity.   

But other sites will also work, such as a small cell hub or a central office.

Although Crown is a major infrastructure provider with an abundance of towers, small cells and fiber connectivity, Reddick doesn’t believe that one provider will be able to do it all. Instead, he envisions a world of shared infrastructure that is interconnected and applications are running across many different sites.