When Keith Pennachio, executive vice president of SQUAN, envisions the future of telecom infra, he sees a world where the skillsets needed to build smart cities have more to do with wireline than wireless.
“We are viewing wireless through a wireline lens,” he said. “We are building our expertise in the outside plant, in addition to traditional wireless development. We are able, in a seamless way, to bridge the gap between wireless and wireline.”
SQUAN purchased Communications Specialists Inc. (CSI) earlier this year, which brought it a suite of aerial and underground fiber optic services that complements the company’s small cell deployment services. Last year, it purchased Osmose Communications Services, which provides outside plant and inside plant design engineering services.
“We saw in them an opportunity to take advantage of the shift to small cells and how it is trending toward the utility fiber contractors,” Pennachio said. “We wanted to bring that expertise in-house instead of being put in a position that we had to subcontract out the work.”
With the purchase of CSI, SQUAN comes full circle to a degree. It was founded in New Jersey in 2008 to do fiber to the tower work before expanding into macrocell construction and eventually DAS and small cells construction throughout New York, as well as New Jersey, Washington, D.C., and in parts of New England. Three years ago, SQUAN was sold to a private equity firm, RFE Investment Partners, has led to two more acquisitions so far.
Through its purchase of CSI and Osmose, SQUAN now has access to nearly a dozen additional fiber companies as customers, all of which have been contemplating how to capitalize of their existing fiber through wireless services.
“When you think of the assets we purchased, you have to look at the information we glean from our fiber clients,” he said. “We take that intelligence, repackage it and sell it to our wireless clients as a streamlined service offering.”
In addition to the carriers, SQUAN works for municipalities, Internet of Things providers and cable companies.
“We do quite a bit of work with a cable company in the northeast, doing test beds for strand-mounted small cells,” he said. “We have fiber-optic experts who are comfortable working in the telecom right-of-way space. Our first plan of attack is to use the outside plant resources that are already familiar with this type of application. But instead of installing a DSLAM [Digital Subscriber Line Access Multiplexer] in the right of way, they are deploying small cell radios and antennas.”
Jobs in the Future: Wireless Versus Wireline
As the line has blurred between wireless and wireless, Pennachio notes that friction is occurring as wireline and wireless employees compete for jobs.
“I think the wireline employees have the greatest advantage if they can understand RF wave propagation,” he said. “The line is disappearing, but the wireline will take control because it is outside plant, at the end of the day.”
Pennachio believes it is easier for a wireless company to add fiber optic expertise through acquisition than for a major company to consolidate wireless and wireline divisions. “It is so much easier to bring an outside plant group into our wireless space where we don’t the politics. We see it as a service offering that complements the rest of our business,” he said.
Pennachio expects the closing of the AT&T/Time Warner deal and the Century Link/Level 3 merger will bring a rapid acceleration of the market for services in the next five years.
Over the long term, as smart cities build out, deployment methods are going to favor the expertise of fiber companies, as opposed to the wireless site development companies, according to Pennachio.
“My background is wireless, but the addition of fiber services adds some clarity as to how these networks will develop over time,” he said.
J. Sharpe Smith is senior editor of the AGL eDigest. He 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.