With Christmas just a few days away I thought I’d put in a few requests to jolly old Saint Nick and his crew in the North Pole. It’s been a tough year for everyone but now it’s time to look ahead and see what the wireless industry can do to improve itself in 2021. Here’s what I want this holiday season:
- Put an end to the digital divide. This year we’ve seen exactly how detrimental the digital divide is to our country. The Covid-19 global health crisis has shown us that wireless connectivity is critical for education, work and entertainment. For those living in rural or underserved communities where wireless coverage is either not available or slow and unreliable, the lack of broadband services has put them at a significant disadvantage.
Wireless operators like Verizon and T-Mobile are taking steps to resolve this by offering fixed LTE services. Verizon says its fixed wireless offering covers rural parts of 189 markets in 48 states and T-Mobile says its service is available in parts of nine states. And we’ve seen some new entrants in the rural wireless broadband game, such as SpaceX’s Starlink low-Earth orbit satellite service and Amazon’s Project Kuiper. But as Alex Gellman, co-founder and CEO of Vertical Bridge noted, these LEO satellite services aren’t really targeting rural customers in the U.S., however, they could help fill some of the gaps in very remote areas.
These efforts for wireless operators and LEO systems are a good start but without comprehensive coverage maps, it’s difficult to know how successful these programs are to ending the digital divide (see item 2).
- Deliver accurate wireless coverage maps. Last December, a report released by the FCC revealed some embarrassing details about U.S. wireless coverage maps. While it may not be that surprising that U.S. operators’ coverage maps are not 100% accurate, the fact that many operators overstated their LTE coverage shouldn’t be taken lightly. These coverage maps are important tools that many customers use when deciding which operator to purchase service from and these maps are key to the commission’s ability to determine what areas of the country are unserved and eligible for federal funding.
U.S. wireless operators should be more forthcoming about their LTE wireless network coverage and also their expanding 5G coverage areas. And the FCC should consider implementing some type of guidelines or specifications for how operators report their network coverage and then penalize those operators that provide inaccurate maps to customers.
- Dump the 5G marketing hype. The wireless industry is once again doing a disfavor to the latest “G” by over-stating what 5G can do today vs. what it will be able to do in the future. 5G networks are beginning to be much more pervasive in the U.S. but the experience that users get is vastly different depending upon which operator’s 5G network they are using and where they are in relation to the 5G cell site. For some reason, there is an expectation that consumers will be able to digest the complexities of low-band, mid-band and mmWave spectrum when they are trying to decide which 5G service is the best. I don’t think this is a good long-term strategy.
We’ve also seen a lot of hype about what 5G will deliver —from interactive gaming to telemedicine and self-driving car. And those applications will likely happen eventually, but not today.
5G networks are much more complex than previous iterations (2G, 3G and even 4G), but the message to the consumer still needs to be simple and easy to understand. Let’s leave the hype behind and come up with compelling reasons to upgrade to 5G.
- Establish an FCC that isn’t gridlocked. Many beltway insiders are fearful that the confirmation of Nathan Simington to the FCC earlier this month means that the commission will be deadlocked with two commissioners from the Democratic party and two commissioners from the Republican party once FCC Chairman Ajit Pai steps down as chairman in January.
There is also concern that Republicans will try to block any nominee for FCC chairman that President-elect Biden puts forward. Even if Biden elevates one of the two Democratic commissioners to FCC chair, a three-vote majority will be needed to implement new rules and regulations.
An FCC that remains deadlocked on votes will be a detrimental to many key issues that are critical to the wireless industry, such as spectrum auctions.
- Bring back live events. I never thought I’d miss trade shows or industry conferences, but I do. I miss seeing all the colleagues that I’ve spoken to over the years and sharing valuable insights (and a little gossip) with everyone.
While I’ve tuned into many virtual events over the past several months and I commend all the companies (including FierceWireless) that have quickly transitioned to this mode, it’s not the same. I learn so much more in face-to-face meetings. And I get my best insights during the casual discussions that occur in hallways, at trade show booths and yes, even at the casual cocktail parties held at the end of the day.
I know I’m not alone. As some sources have pointed out in recent days, not only are these gatherings helpful for gaining insights on where the industry is headed, it’s also valuable for learning what the competition is up to.
My list may not be long, but my wishes aren't going to be easy to grant. I hope Santa has some business-savvy elves ready to buckle down and get to work. And I wish all of you a very happy New Year.