5G will be a transformative moment for the wireless industry as operators provide the new, expansive services made possible by multi-gigabit speeds and minimal latency, Marc Ganzi, Digital Bridge CEO, told an audience at last week’s Wireless West Conference, held in Los Angeles. The wireless infrastructure industry will have to transform, too, through technological convergence to provide an estimated 1.2 million small cells, miles of fiber optics and computing pushed to the edge of the networks.
Digital Bridge itself is a prime example of convergence, with ownership of companies across multiple platforms, including macrotowers, small cells, wholesale data center solutions, enterprise-class data centers, neutral-host distributed network systems and fiber optics.
Ganzi challenged the audience members to think bigger and expand beyond towers to serve the operators’ needs. “How do you stay relevant?” he said. “We should be in the business of delivering networks. We are not in silos anymore. Convergence is now. It is not something ethereal or happening in the distant future.”
The 5G buildout will be a complicated build that will take place over the span of seven to eight years, Ganzi forecasted. “It will involve a lot of the pieces of the ecosystem – fiber optics, data centers and small cells — that the wireless industry, the tower industry in particular, hasn’t always been a part. These are complex things that have to all fit within an ecosystem that works harmoniously together,” he said.
Fiber optics will be a critical component of 5G because it is the “connective tissue” of the network, whether it linking a Wi-Fi node, a small cell, an indoor DAS system, an outdoor macrosite or mini-macro. “We are beginning to see companies like Zayo and Crown Castle International where the lines are blurring. They are building both the small cells and the fiber to backhaul them,” Ganzi said.
On the backend, software will define 5G networks and will serve as the catalyst that helps the carriers make money. “SDN allows the operator to deliver the most efficient user experience across the network,” Ganzi said. “That’s really, really hard. It will demand a lot of engineering.”
Also at the backend of the network, and just as important, are the data centers. Ganzi sees a lot of opportunity there. Digital Bridge has been investing a good deal of capital in them, finding the business model to be similar to the tower industry. “The data center industry is where towers were 10 years ago when 80 percent of the towers were owned by the carriers, very fragmented,” Ganzi said. “Currently, 70 percent of data centers are owned by enterprises.”
The wireless infrastructure industry must seek to understand how operators’ needs are changing with the advent of 5G and learn how to meet them. “If you want to be a critical partner, you have to change how you think about MLAs, leases, new sites,” he said. “Speed and accuracy are paramount. Owning and building the different elements of the network is critical if you expect your phone to ring.”
J. Sharpe Smith
J. Sharpe Smith joined AGL in 2007 as contributing editor to the magazine and as editor of eDigest email newsletter. He has 27 years of experience writing about industrial communications, paging, cellular, small cells, DAS and towers. Previously, he worked for the Enterprise Wireless Alliance as editor of the Enterprise Wireless Magazine. Before that, he edited the Wireless Journal for CTIA and he began his wireless journalism career with Phillips Publishing, now Access Intelligence. Sharpe Smith may be contacted at: [email protected]