AGL Magazine, April 2016 — The bell warning that the wireless infrastructure business was slowing down initially was rung by industry veteran, industry supporter and trusted adviser Jennifer Fritzsche, a managing director and senior analyst in the equity research department at Wells Fargo Securities. Careful analysis and the numbers are rather irrefutable. I’m glad it was Fritzsche who rang the bell first, because there is no doubt about her dedication and abilities. The facts are the facts. Game over for the large tower companies? Of course not. Are things slowing? Yep. It really is not a big deal, and it really should have been expected — a little bump in the road. Let’s make sure to keep things in perspective.
“We believe the industry is facing some growing pains right now in the United States,” Fritzsche wrote. “Will it pass? Yes, we believe so. But will the stocks outperform in this period of growing pains? Probably not.” I can live with that. I hope you can too.
I’m eager to see voice over LTE (VoLTE) technology in action, and I decided to give the Google Project Fi device a try. Although I only put one SIM card into the phone, Google Project Fi uses voice over Wi-Fi for routine call processing and uses Sprint and T-Mobile USA networks as traditional mobile virtual networks when Wi-Fi is not available.
After a week of messing around with it, I can report that the service sounds great. It costs $20 for access and $10 a month for a gig. I know it is not VoLTE; however, it is proving how the handsets deal with multiple data streams of packets from multiple technologies to deliver a voice call.
And on that note, early 5G experiments seem to be working. Sprint announced it is passing 300 Mbps of traffic through a Samsung Galaxy S7. What I can’t figure out is whether 5G will unfold as nothing more than higher-speed wireless or will come in the form of a new modulation method or multiple communications streams through carrier aggregation. In this reference, carrier aggregation doesn’t mean one wireless carrier buying other wireless carriers. It means multiple carriers’ data streams being aggregated in the handheld device. In the face of this simplified definition, I may have to resign my IEEE membership; however, the formal definition is one thing to us engineers, and what the expression of carrier aggregation has become in the public mind is totally different. Thanks to the, um, media.
I have been a member of the Association of Federal Communications Consulting Engineers (www.afcce.org) for decades, as was my father before me. AFCCE is seen pretty much as a broadcast engineers’ association. I attended AFCCE’s March luncheon where the current hot topic was the incentive auction, and not only about who is going to bid, but also whether the broadcasters will be able to move their stations from one channel to another within the 39-month window specified in the FCC rules. It is unclear whether the auction will start on time.
Lately, a flurry of legal filings has focused on low-power TV stations, which didn’t receive protection in the incentive auction rules and were not allowed to offer their spectrum for sale. Some lawsuits have been rejected, and other parties have won lawsuits to participate.
Another question is whether resources exist for performing all of the tower work needed to move antennas and to move and retune transmitters in order to pump multiple stations through new or modified antennas — and to do it all safely and with crews that already have business relationships with the TV station licensees.
I heard one good metric in all of this for us tower folks. Somewhere between 400 and 1,500 stations will need to be readjusted, either by moving antenna sites, changing antennas or, rarely, just changing frequency. In the end, even if the 39 months allowed is insufficient, few parties are looking at what would happen. Turn off the TV stations? Not likely, if you understand the powers that be in Washington. Stay tuned. This is going to be a wild ride. And that’s only commentary about incentive auctions — please notice I didn’t even touch on the primary elections for presidential nominees.