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Connect (X) Recap: Why reflecting on an age-old fable may do the wireless infrastructure industry some good.

The Wireless Infrastructure Association (WIA) held Connect (X) in New Orleans earlier this month, bringing together the full complement of industry experts tasked with staying one step ahead of consumers ever-growing connectivity needs worldwide. As the pillars of interconnection, those in attendance are, ultimately, responsible for building, maintaining and managing the physical and logical infrastructure needed to support every app, phone call, text message and digital experience every person has, every second of every day.

The challenges facing this segment of the industry run the gamut. From the integrity of the actual structures, to automating tasks to drive economies of scale, to thoughtfully mapping new builds to support the ever-increasing demand for connectivity. Listening to the keynotes and panelists, it became clear that this seemingly mature industry is at the precipice of a new day – bringing with it new business models, new workforce skills and a complex level of cross-industry collaboration that is still very much in its infancy.

The theme of crawl, walk, run was echoed in several sessions as vendors extolled the values of bespoke solutions that addressed specific challenges but left the audience questioning -- in one session after the other – “How will they all work together?” Add to that the known and recognized reality that the need for connectivity will only increase to support the low-latency, high-bandwidth data eating services of the future and an increased sense of uncertainty and urgency emerged. 

Competing priorities from spectrum allocation to network sharing possibilities were debated and discussed all within the context of how it impacts the dependency of the infrastructure that facilitates the points of interconnection today and in the future. Drones, AI and automation were the buzzwords used to address how companies will be able to successfully stem the impact of the increasing costs that are inevitable as more infrastructure is needed to support the expanding connectivity expectations of people everywhere.  Interestingly, collaboration, standardization and leveraging what already exists rather than building from scratch seemed to be missing from most of the discussions.

Words of caution emerged in recognition of the speed of execution married with the amount of data and the need to validate that information from the start to make smart business decisions that drive efficiencies and revenue. As several panelists noted, not doing so will be a major issue.  As the conference ended, it became clear that there is a recognition – yet a resistance – to taking a pause to build it right, right from the start, to avoid the inevitable pitfalls that will emerge for those companies that try to run before they crawl. It is reminiscent of the tortoise and the hare. Perhaps those willing to take a more methodical approach now may ultimately be the winners in the end. Time will tell.