How will President Trump change the wireless industry? For one, let me say I don’t know. It is President Trump, not King Trump. Just like President Obama, not King Obama. The president has great power and influence, but can’t just wave a scepter and say, “I have said it so let it be done”! He can push legislation but it still needs approvals and any bills or laws have to go through congress, the house, and the supreme court may get involved. What I am saying here is pure speculation.
First off, this is not an article for or against Trump. This is simply my perception of what I think Trump may do based off what I have read and what I know about the industry. If you are for or against, it doesn’t matter, now we must move ahead to make the future brighter for the communication industry. If you have any doubts on who won, let’s count the electoral votes, Clinton got 228 and Trump got 290 That is how we determine a president, not by popular vote or by who we hope would have won. The winner is Donald Trump. Now, let’s move on.
What I see someone like President Trump doing is getting actively involved in getting businesses up and running. I see him as someone who will help American businesses grow and expand. He knows that wireless is a huge business. He also knows that small business is a catalyst for growth and the wealth of Americans like you and me.
To do this he will probably shake up the FCC a bit, having them get more involved with the implementation of spectrum to get not only the carriers rolling, but smaller businesses a chance to complete and expand. We already see some of this with the IOT rollout by SigFox and others.
Let’s break this down by wireless business. I am basing this off of the Contract that the Trump Campaign put out for the election, which is his contract for his first 100 days, found here.
Tower Climbing Industry
I know that the unions are a big supporter of trump. Workers everywhere seem totally behind this guy. The reason is because he did create a lot of work for construction and infrastructure as well as services industry in the USA. He has started companies and many people made a lot of money from this work. If the tower climbers could unite and create an industry specific union, I think that President Trump would support it, but the climbers need to do that and as we have seen, they just haven’t done it yet. There are many climbers in other unions like the IBEW, CWA, and possibly even the Ironworkers. However, the way I see it, climbers have not rallied to create a Tower Climber’s Union. NATE is who the government looks to when they want information on the tower industry, not any specific union. OSHA has tried to help the tower climbers with many programs, but most climbers still don’t perceive OSHA as their friend, although they should.
Let’s answer the question, “what will President Trump do for the tower climbers?” This is how I see it. He will help create work by improving the infrastructure of America and lower corporate taxes on wireless companies that will stimulate growth across the USA. More jobs, steady work means climbers keep busy and possibly can get make more money. This is a positive outlook.
RF Engineering Industry
Here is the question, “how will President Trump help the RF engineering workers in the USA?” Here is how I see it. He is going to make it harder for offshoring to happen. If you are in this business, you know that the carriers specifically use offshore engineering services to cut costs dramatically. If he can change this, then RF engineers in the USA will have a better shot at getting work for a decent wage again, but don’t count on it.
It will be very hard for the government to regulate something like that. Offshoring is very cost-effective and is all done over the internet. I don’t see the President creating a mandate to stop professional services from happening, he has too many other issues to work on. While offshoring is a key issue, I think that he means for manufacturing, not engineering services. We shall see.
What will President Trump do about backhaul? Is this a strange question to you? It should not be and I am telling you why. One of the key points in he made in the election was infrastructure. Infrastructure today is not what it was in the 50s. So many politicians think that it is only that, roads and sewer and water and maybe natural gas.
Today we need to add to the infrastructure list fiber and wireless and all internet connections. I don’t mean Wi-Fi or free access; I mean backhaul so that we can grow and expand. At one time, we all thought it could be Wi-Fi, it’s not. Then we all thought Fiber everywhere, that paradigm has changed. Now we know that fixed wireless will be the key to connecting everything cost effectively and efficiently. It will be a mix of fiber and wireless to connect businesses and homes. We will have incredible access everywhere, eventually, in the USA, if we are willing to pay for it. However, for this to happen it must be available. I partially blame the FCC and the municipalities for getting in the way of this growth. I believe that, with the right consultation, President Trump will be able to open spectrum for this priority and to allow fiber and wireless to be widespread across America. If you think I am pro carrier on this issue, I don’t think we should limit this to those large corporations but allow other players to get in the market, this is where the FCC has made it next to impossible for a startup to do this when spectrum costs billions of US dollars before you do anything! Enough said.
Larger Wireless Carriers
This is a tough call. What will President Trump do to help the wireless carriers? For the sake of argument let’s limit this to the big 4, Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint. They may want to merge or take over more companies. This is complicated, but Trump did say that he was against the AT&T Time Warner merger, link found here, because of the massive control one entity will have. He also came out against the Comcast and NBC merger, but it’s too late to do anything about that, the way I see it anyway. So, mergers may not be as likely to happen as we thought. I get the feeling that T-Mobile would like to sell off its US operations. I also feel that Softbank would like to sell off Sprint. However, both companies want to make money, so they will not give it away. With LTE being the main format moving ahead well into 5G, this is going to make it easier for a merger from a technology standpoint. However, the government may not like companies rolling back into one larger company. However, there is a wildcard that few are thinking about and it’s a long issue, but please, have patience.
Trump is working to add term limits and eliminate lobbyists. While you think this doesn’t affect mergers like this, do you? Well, you are wrong. You see, there are politicians that rely on massive donations from larger companies to get re-elected term after term after term after term. There are lobbyists who represent the larger companies that are in bed with many politicians. The lobbyists represent more than the carriers. You see there are lobbyists for the carriers, like AT&T and Verizon, that work on senators and the FCC. There are lobbyist for the OEMS, same deal. There are lobbyists for the groups that the carriers are members of, like CTIA, WIA (formerly PCIA), NATE, CCA, and more. They all have lobbyists and representatives that have influence with politicians and the FCC. I am not saying that this representation is bad, in fact they bring a lot of knowledge and good ideas to groups that may have no idea. But it’s still outside influence.
I believe President Trump will call on experts to help make decisions on specific issues. I also think he will not just look at the C suites of the OEMs and carriers. I believe that he will find the industry experts who also are feet on the street that care about the specific parts of the industry for the good of the industry and the workers.
Trump will probably remove a lot of the regulation that is out there and that will make it easier for the carriers to do business. He will lower the business taxes, allowing more cash to be spent. Maybe this is what the carriers were waiting for so that they could have more cash to expand and build their systems. Maybe this will allow them to move ahead with new networks and add to existing systems on a mass scale.
Smaller Wireless Carriers
I believe that President Trump may help level the playing field by allowing the smaller carriers to get more spectrum and compete. To do this he will provide spectrum to the smaller carriers that should not be available to the larger carriers at a better rate than the billions they are paying the FCC now. They should also have some pretty healthy tax rates compares to the big 4. Yes, Sprint, while you are a member of the CCA, that doesn’t mean you should get the same breaks as Carolina West, come on now!
It is time to level the playing field and give more help to the smaller carriers who do not have the resources. I believe that the incoming president will provide a set of rules to make it fair.
I am not sure what President Trump will do with the FCC. There are so many articles about Trump and the FCC, like here and here and here. He seems to dislike regulation, which means that Commissioner Wheeler may be at odds with the new president. Would Trump bring in republicans to run the FCC? I think he will not follow political lines, but think of what’s best for the industry. After all, the republicans didn’t support him during the election. He doesn’t owe them anything. He does owe America the best communications systems it can afford. When I say “it can afford”, that means you and me, we pay the bills here. When carriers need to add costs like billions for spectrum, billions for permitting and zoning, and billions for all the regulations they need to stay on top of legally and technically, we pay for it. The customers, the consumers, you and me. We pay for it. Our companies pay for it. It is the true meaning of trickle down. The way carrier combat this cost is to create reverse auctions and pull the money from simple tasks like tower climbing, (sarcasm). It is true, tower climbing is not a high paying job anymore, risking your life doesn’t mean as much as it used to, ask anyone who worked in the turf system for AT&T in the 90s. I digress, so sorry.
I do think that Commissioner Wheeler may be ousted because Trump will want someone in there to follow his agenda. Will Wheeler do that? I guess we shall see. The FCC will be critical in building out the infrastructure in America, so critical. Trump knows this and will see that it is a supporter, not a cog in the gears.
It is not easy being the FCC commissioner. The FCC is constantly being bombarded with complaints and questions about what to do and what is wrong. They are hit up by lobbyists and by senators and Representatives who want their constituents to get their way. They are being told what they are doing wrong. They are involved in safety issues, commercial issues, industry issues, and political issues. They have many chairmen but they cannot keep up with all the issues. Each chairman has their specific concerns and allegiances. The issues are rarely black and white, but many shades of grey. While we think we know what they should do, we can only scratch the surface on a specific issue. That is why replacing Wheeler will not be an easy task. The guy knows all the issues and is good at delegation. However, Trump will pick someone who he trusts or he may continue to move ahead with Wheeler.
Trump will need to think this through and look at the team that is in place, evaluating each member carefully. Good luck Mr. President. Your decision will change the future of communications.
Permitting and Zoning for Wireless
Here is a great question, “How will President Trump change the wireless rules for permitting and zoning?” Awesome to think about. For one, we all know that to roll out wireless the slowest part of any new system build is the development of new equipment and fulfilling the permitting and zoning requirements of the thousands of municipalities out there. This includes cities, towns, townships, counties, states, villages, and so on. If Trump is serious about building up the infrastructure, then he will need to figure out how to get things rolling quickly.
I know that most of you think that this is just wireless, but it’s not. Wireless is obvious because you have national companies that want to add an RRH they jump through hoops to get it on a tower. What does this mean? Let me be specific, because most of you don’t realize what it takes.
To add another RRH and antenna to each sector to towers across the USA, here are the steps, from a high level, but you will get the picture. (It is very similar for small cells):
- Begin the project
- Plan the rollout.
- Order the equipment and hope that the OEM gives you good equipment.
- Start the permitting and zoning process by hiring local zoning and permitting companies to work with each government to get approvals to add something to the tower, even though most governments rarely if ever go to the tower.
- Start working on lease modifications with the tower companies.
- Test in a lab and then at a site with live traffic.
- Order, provide logistics, create an RFP. Some carrier put it to reverse auction. Bid 1 price for thousands of towers, even though they are not all the same and they all have individual issues.
- Sign with a GC that will hire all the regional GC that will hire the tower climbers in each region.
- While all of this is going on:
- Make tower modifications where necessary. This could be making tower improvements or beefing up the tower.
- Increase backhaul if needed.
- Continue to modify the rollout schedule based on the results coming back for each.
- If permitting and zoning is blocked or delayed, work on that case to see why.
- Then, after all the approvals, do the work which includes:
- Commission and integrate
- Test, site acceptance testing, maybe drive testing.
- Bring live
- Customer gets 2 or 3 times the download and upload speeds due to the new equipment.
There are so many variables that could cause delays and that will affect the schedule of the rollout, and the price of the roll out because efficiencies are lost. This is a major problem with rollouts that cost so much money because few municipalities truly understand the tower use. All the know is what they think is going to be a problem.
I believe that the new president will see this, as the FCC sees it, and start to make changes. I believe that the municipalities will unite to fight it.
To be clear, Trump has said that he intends to deregulate business. He has mentioned how the FCC should step back on some regulation. How far will this push? We shall see.
The Wireless Infrastructure OEMs
I think that the wireless OEMs will be affected. For one, Huawei has tried to sell its infrastructure in the US, but the US government has said NO! More on that here. It’s the same with ZTE, the US government does not trust Chinese OEMs. However, you should know that most other OEMs all get equipment manufactured in China. China is very cost-effective for these companies to make radio heads, BBU parts, and more for the carriers. Soo it’s not like China doesn’t make other equipment. It is more about the level of trust the US government has with these companies.
I don’t see any of this changing except that the new president may ask the companies to make equipment here in the USA. I don’t see it happening because it’s not cost-effective, and we would have ramp up factories and production for something that generally has a very limited run. But hey, what do I know.
I will be honest, ZTE and Huawei make some great equipment that is sold worldwide, including Mexico and Canada, neighbors of the USA. I am sure that Nokia, Ericsson, Samsung, and Cisco are very happy not to have the competition in one of the richest countries in the world. If they could compete in the USA, then it would drive hardware costs down. Huawei has some great equipment used across the world. In fact, they make phones for the USA, many people had HTE smartphones. Yes, they are in the USA, for examples look here, here, and here. We already have Huawei product in the USA in the carrier’s systems. It’s just for the end-user, not the carrier.
The OEMs try to support the carriers with hardware and services but lately the carriers want to hire their own people. This is not always cost-effective, even though they go direct, they get poorly trained or inexperienced people in exchange for saving cost. But, if you look at the big picture, the costs are more for support, repair, and doing things the second time. I see it all the time. It all depends on what specific part of the project cost you look at.
The OEMs should benefit in sales and deregulation, allowing the carriers to build out more and more. It may be a positive for them, but we won’t see much until mid year 2017. That is when we will see if this prediction holds true. By then the OEMs will have laid off more of their workforce.
I also see the permitting slowdowns coming to the forefront of political business. The carriers one major roadblock to rolling out quickly is permitting and zoning. Local municipalities should be very worried. They may see laws passed that give a precedence to wireless rollouts. They will need to get zoning ordinances into place quickly. Thanks to Mobilitie and the way they pushed the ROW limitations over the last year or so, many have already changed their rules. If you are a municipality, I would recommend that you start joining a coalition that will give you strength in numbers to fight something like this. Stand united and start today.
Services in the USA may change by how they are done. For instance, there is a great deal of off shoring of RF and data design services but Trump has vowed to pull more jobs back into the USA, so that may change. This is going to make us all look at how business should be done. All wireless military work currently must be done by US citizens; they may expand to all public safety and first responders and all government work. When I say all government work, it could mean more than federal buildings, but state, local and schools. Many of them have wireless services and all have IT services.
What about new projects? From what I have read, Trump wants to build up the US infrastructure. Don’t count out wireless because wireless and data are a serious part of infrastructure. It’s not just roads and rail. It the information superhighway that travels on fiber and airwaves. They are all part of making America great again.
I believe the carriers will start to have less regulation that will allow them to grow quickly. However, they may pay more for services since they can’t offshore and because the reverse auction and turf practices may be considered.
What about mergers? Will T-Mobile or Sprint merge with a carrier or a cable company? Will AT&T be able to continue merging with media companies? I think President Trump will see the value in mergers in wireless. I also think that if T-Mobile wants to merge with AT&T, Sprint won’t have any say in it because the lobbyists will start to lose power. So, it will be completely up to the SEC and FCC, not all the politicians who are getting donations from various competitors. I see the way companies and groups lobby the government as changing. Which means many politicians will lose their massive donations! The new President already made it clear he was going to change the way they get political donations and that he will fight for 2 term limits. President Trump did say he would block the AT&T/Time Warner merger, [get link] in this article. So, he may be against companies getting too large, then the mergers will be off the table once again. Maybe he thought that the ‘too big to fail” issue is real. By the way, to be clear, Time Warner does not own Time Warner Cable, just similar names.
What about the tower climbers and unions? Well, it seems like President Trump will be pro-union, but from what I have seen no union seems to want any more tower climbers than they already have. This may not be up to the next president but up to how the tower climbers come together. So far, I don’t see an organized workforce, I just haven’t see them work together outside of NATE. It appears that NATE will continue to represent the tower climbers. To be honest, the president hasn’t been hurting the tower climber’s union, it has been a lack of interest by the tower climbers.
Be smart, be safe, and pay attention!