If we want our world to be as connected as it’s ever been, fiber is key. Without question, experts across industries agree, IoT, 5G and SmartCities all require fiber. But as we learned, there are still obstacles and challenges to fiber deployments that must be worked through.
In a recent white paper titled “Fiber: An Essential Facet of the Connected Community,” the Wireless Infrastructure Association (WIA) studied the role of fiber in next-generation connectivity and laid out best practices to help bring connectivity to communities across the U.S. The President of WIA and two contributing companies to the paper shared their findings on the latest Fiber for Breakfast live video series, emphasizing the important role fiber plays.
“The real backbone of communications is fiber,” said Jonathan Adelstein, president and CEO of WIA. “And when it comes to 5G, you can’t have it without fiber—that isn’t a choice.”
The report specifically examines the impact 5G will have—both from an economic standpoint, as well as from an infrastructure standpoint—and why fiber is essential to make that happen. According to a 2019 HIS Market report cited by WIA, 5G will enable $13.5 trillion in global economic output by the year 2035. But to make that happen, there needs to be a strong backbone to support 5G and the massive amount of data that will require backhaul.
But building out fiber networks can be easier said than done according to the panelists. In their experience, there are several impediments to building a fiber network, including restrictive local, state and federal ordinances, unpredictable costs and the make-ready process. These problems inspired WIA to create a list of best practices for both municipalities and utilities to lean on, as well as those deploying the actual networks.
Jeffrey Strenkowski, vice president, deputy general counsel of governmental affairs for Uniti Group, said when putting together the white paper, he and the other authors found a key issue was preparedness. Those deploying networks need to do a lot of research before going into a new build to understand what the community requires of them. The pre-planning administrative phase is a key part of the process that needs input from both the network builders and community leaders.
“Every place we go seems to have a different standard,” Strenkowski said. “It requires a lot of flexibility and cooperation with the localities to make sure all the stakeholders are being addressed.”
He said it’s imperative to meet with community stakeholders and understand what requirements are necessary. What is a realistic timeline to gain access to rights-of-way? What kind of specific certifications are required from a deployment team? What does their permitting process look like?
Rebecca Hussey, managing counsel, utility relations at Crown Castle, said the authors recommend doing a series of kick-off meetings. These should include key stakeholders from all areas of the build—government leaders, business owners, utilities—who can provide a 360 degree view of a project and identify areas of concern, scope and potential costs or resource constraints. From there, coordinated check-ins should occur on a regular basis, regardless whether there is any significant update.
“Start off with that dialogue—let the communities know what you intend to do,” she said. “Effectively as the process continues, continue with that communication. Open and early and often communication drives results.”
Having these meetings will help give insights into what issues might arise before they actually happen. It can also ease fears from communities unfamiliar with this type of work and why it matters.
“Clarity and open communication at the get go is really, really important in trying to lay the groundwork,” said Strenkowski. “We’re partners in this process. Tell them why you’re there and how you got to be there—sometimes fiber deployments aren’t happening because there’s a huge market demand, sometimes it’s because you’re supporting a wireless backline or you’re supporting 5G. Provide some background on the markets and the dynamics on the reasons why you’re there in the first place.”
It’s also important to understand and communicate resource constraints. From labor challenges and costs to the make-ready process, different communities will have different limitations based on several different factors. Understanding the limitations—and the potential costs—should be a collaborative process with the communities being served.
“When we’re looking at ways to structure these types of deployment, we look toward the common sense approach,” Hussey said. “We want to be able to utilize the infrastructure already available and make sure that we’re deploying at the lowest cost possible and along the way, we’re exploring potential avenues to get these deployments done and that requires a little bit of flexibility for us and the municipality we’re working with.”
Overall, Adelstein said the report is meant to shine a light on the need for fiber and give communities and providers takeaways to make those builds happen. He said as things like 5G continue to grow and will become an integral part in our way of life, fiber is going to be the backbone of it all.
“WIA advocates for a wireless infrastructure, and since fiber is part of that, to promote fiber connectivity is important,” he said. “This industry is growing. Come on in, the water is fine.”
Join us for the next Fiber for Breakfast live video series on Aug. 26 at 10 a.m. ET. The topic: Pipeline Safety, Building Integrity? Measuring an Earthquake? Yes. Fiber Optics Can Do That. An Overview of Fiber Optic Sensing.