UPDATE On Tuesday, Jennifer Fritzsche of Greenhill moderated a panel comprising executives from DigitalBridge, Mox Networks, Uniti Fiber, and Verizon Partner Solutions who tackled the topic: “How can we accelerate 10G to the tower nationwide?” With data traffic projected to double every two to three years from increasing mobile data-intensive use cases, there is a growing need for higher capacity backhaul to the tower. The common 1 Gbps fiber backhaul connection is sufficient capacity for current usage. A 10 Gbps connection would provide growth capacity but also requires updates in the network core to support the higher volume of diverse data traffic from each tower. The panel concluded that a collaborative effort is needed among MNOs, fiber companies and tower operators to facilitate network wide 10G implementation.
The Wednesday program featured an opening keynote address from April McClain-Delaney, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA). She underscored the need for digital infrastructure expansion nationwide as a way to close the digital divide and to enhance America’s international competitiveness, and how the U.S. government funding is enabling that expansion. McClain-Delaney highlighted the various available digital infrastructure funding programs, and the U.S $42.5 billion Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) program, as Inside Towers reported. She encouraged the audience to take advantage of those funding programs as a way to facilitate widespread broadband deployment.
Wednesday’s agenda included informative discussions on a range of digital infrastructure topics. One panel consisting of executives from Lumos, Allo Communications, Greenlight Networks, Novacap, Solomon Partners and Bank Street, addressed the state of the fiber-to-the-home business in 2023. With an estimated 50 million U.S. households passed by fiber at year-end 2022, the panelists agreed that there is significant potential for FTTH growth in rural, suburban, and urban markets alike.
The panel discussed the overall addressable FTTH market opportunity in the U.S., and the competition facing independent FTTH players from incumbent telcos and cable companies already established in many markets. Panelists talked about capital expenditure, permitting, supply chain and workforce challenges in deploying FTTH in 2023 and beyond. All agreed a focus on local markets and customer service would provide a competitive advantage in markets where telco and cable companies operate. Panelists suggested that with capex per home-passed in the $1,200-1,400 range, homes-connected penetration rates of 30-40 percent are needed to sustain a viable, long-term operation. The discussion included how FTTH operators can benefit from the BEAD program and other funding sources to help facilitate a large-scale rollout.
Another panel with executives from Segra, Vertical Bridge and TDC talked about how increased collaboration across vertical markets would help accelerate 5G in the U.S. In a different discussion, executives from Evoque Data Center Solutions, Element Critical and ING addressed how data centers can be designed to be more energy efficient and how data center architecture needs to evolve beyond basic data processing and data storage and become more applications-oriented to serve specific customer needs.
Despite the soft macroeconomic environment, conference attendees at large came away with a positive outlook for the digital infrastructure business in 2023 and the next several years.
By John Celentano, Inside Towers Business Editor