Post-Covid comms in urban markets

Mike Brescio, CFO of ZenFi Networks, reflects on how the urban telecom landscape has been impacted by this pandemic.

Enterprise Shift to Residential

Swelling data demand, already a strong macro trend, has surged during the Covid-19 response.

The rapid decentralisation of the US workforce in a matter of days put new strains on existing digital infrastructure. As office workers have traded their cubicles for kitchen tables, the flow of data has been dramatically modified. Everything from water cooler chats to on prem server queries now move as streams of ones and zeros across the nation’s fiber optic cables and radio waves.

As can be evidenced by glitchy performance, networks have been showing the signs of stress. Networks will need to be enhanced with additional fibre capacity, edge colocation facilities, and software enhancements to meet this shift in use and bring full network capabilities closer to remote end users.

Remote work will continue beyond Covid-19

A key strength of urban environments, particularly NYC, has been the high density of humanity bumping into each other and sharing ideas.  In a viral pandemic, this strength has become a dangerous liability.

Elevators and subway cars are no longer benign vessels that deliver riders to their destinations. They will continue to cause justifiable anxiety for the foreseeable future and stand as an impediment to a holistic return to high rise offices.

Plus, many workers have improved their work productivity by cutting out commuting times. As such, we expect distributed data usage to continue in the NYC area.

Mobile Telecom Infrastructure… 5G Still the Main Story

As economies start to reopen and people begin to venture out, some of the shift in data demand has transferred to mobile devices as some workers take calls and video chats from the road as opposed to on home Wi-Fi connections.

However, the larger story in the mobile infrastructure space continues to be dominated by the conversion to 5G.

In preparation of 5G’s roll out, MNOs and their infrastructure partners have been upgrading their infrastructure to support a more mobile workforce, among many other use cases.  This includes the construction of vast numbers of new antenna sites, particularly in urban environments like NYC.

These antenna sites need power and fibre connectivity, both of which require navigating several layers of municipal consent to secure permits and consents in order to construct.  In an era of social distancing and remote work, these bureaucratic pathways have been complicated.  Simple steps in the process, like acquiring a notarised signature, can now add days to the turnaround of documentation.  Automated advances such as electronic filing and public meetings held virtually have helped.

Overall, the industry along with federal, state and local governments are adapting and continue to forge forward.  Additionally, the recent 5G upgrade order in the US aims to improve the process for wireless infrastructure deployments through colocation and thus, more efficient 5G deployments.

Importance of Shared Infrastructure

While Covid-19 has certainly added challenges to the 5G rollout, we have not seen a reduction in the MNOs’ desire to move forward.  MNOs have leaned on neutral infrastructure providers to deploy.

As with traditional macro towers, shared small cell and fiber infrastructure reduces time to market, roll out costs, and ongoing operational expenses. This leads to a more efficient deployment of capital and ultimately a better overall consumer experience.