NATE Conference Addresses Contractor Concerns and Outlook Amid Slowdown

The slowdown in the wireless contracting business was the buzz at the NATE WIN Rocky Mountain Regional Conference, sponsored in part by the Colorado Wireless Association and held at TopGolf Denver on Wednesday. Nearly 100 attendees used the opportunity to air their views on the current state of wireless contracting and heard from several expert panels that addressed the most pressing issues and offered some outlook perspectives.

Keynote speaker Richard Leitao, DISH Wireless’ SVP National Development-Wireless Operations provided an update on DISH’s network build progress. He pointed out that there is more work to be done as the MNO works towards its next coverage target of 75 percent of nationwide PEAs by June 2025. Leitao emphasized that it was DISH’s adoption of a 5G cloud based Open RAN network that enabled the company to build out a 5G network that now covers over 70 percent of the U.S. population in just three years, Inside Towers reported. He says that 5G voice over new radio, or VoNR, is available now to 100 million POPs. More importantly, Leitao expressed optimism that the recently announced deal with Apple to make the iPhone 15 available through Amazon will add 5G subscribers to DISH’s network that he expects will cover 200 million POPs by year-end 2023. 

A panel moderated by Craig Snyder of VIKOR along with Shawn Clark, Leticia Latino, Melissa Acosta and Chris Memmott (pictured) addressed contractor concerns and offered some pragmatic approaches in the aftermath of MNO slowdowns of contracted field operations earlier this year. Solutions included diversifying field work activities, avoiding systematic work problems and processes, and how best to respond to matrix pricing offers. The question of tower climber unionization came up but was downplayed by the panel.

In a separate session, Pathmal Gunawardana of SBA Communications and I covered the topic of edge data centers as an extension of the tower business. We provided an overview of edge architectures and use cases and presented an Inside Towers Intelligence projection of the edge data center growth along with identifying field work opportunities for tower contractors in this space.

JP Jones of SafetyLMS chaired a panel discussion on the use of powered ascenders in telecom structures with Bryant Bertrand of RONIN, Doug Mercier of SKYLOTEC and Tom Wood of SPRAT.

In a final discussion entitled ‘Communications Infrastructure and the Digital Divide: All Hands on Deck,’ a panel moderated by consultant, Dan McVaugh along with Cory Moffat of Crenshaw Communications Consulting, Brett Bonomo of Castle Rock Microwave, Brian Hollister of Bonfire Infrastructure Group and Scott Wendland of NCIX debated issues on BEAD funding requirements for fiber and wireless projects, the scarcity of spectrum to meet future demand, and working with municipalities and tribal groups on deploying and operating broadband infrastructure.

Kudos to Chelle Eischens of VIKOR, and NATE’s Megan Reiffenberger and Paula Nurnberg for organizing and managing a productive session.

By John Celentano, Inside Towers Business Editor

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