Wireless broadband service providers finish 2021 brimming with confidence, expectations higher for 2022 (Reader Forum)
Like so many industries, businesses that supply high-speed connectivity to business and residential customers worldwide were forced to navigate through a global pandemic and lingering economic uncertainty. But despite that dreary backdrop, wireless broadband service provider operators finished 2021 more optimistic about their prospects than at any time in the last five years.
That was just one of the takeaways from our annual global survey of broadband service providers with predominantly wireless networks. Our survey compiled feedback from 412 operators located in 23 countries. We explored a range of topics to assess service providers’ ability to meet increased customer demand for video, data, voice and IT services to remain competitive.
Despite another year of unique challenges, 81% of of these operators still said that they were either more or equally optimistic about the future, up from 77% in 2020. In part, that remarkable optimism reflects an ability to quickly adjust to shifts in demand and technology. For example, respondents were quite comfortable assuming the mantle of early adopters of wireless technology as they made the most of new spectrum, like Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) in the United States and 60 GHz frequency band globally to cement their reputation for providing reliable service at competitive prices.
Providers also expressed confidence about their ability to deliver higher performance at lower costs as they expand their service offerings to existing customers while capitalizing on new opportunities in urban, suburban and rural areas. In fact, many network operators enjoyed success offering additional services beyond managed services and IT support to include residential Wi-Fi, outdoor hotspots and video surveillance solutions. Also, they provided more managed Wi-Fi services for enterprise and government institutions.
At the same time, wireless broadband service providers grew their service offerings with 22% adding residential Wi-Fi, 14% adding outdoor hotspots and 3% now offering mobile services. Meanwhile, the focus on some service offerings that saw growth in 2020 declined in 2021, including managed Wi-Fi (16%), voice (16%), IT support (12%) and video surveillance (11%).
Funding, financing and RF spectrum ranked as the top three concerns when it came to factors that might constrain future growth.
While 44% provide coverage in rural, low-density areas, 24% provide services in areas with an even split of urban, suburban and rural communities. As 28 and 60 GHz millimeter wave technology has become available, with many trials and early deployments in 2021, coverage in urban areas has climbed from 15% to 18%. On the aggregate, it shows that these operators are becoming equally adept at providing connectivity in urban, suburban and rural applications.
Yet while RF spectrum remains a limited resource essential to operating a wireless network, all the operators surveyed were developing plans to capitalize on the opening of the 6 GHz spectrum in the new year. Currently, 5 GHz remains the most popular among these operators, while the planned 2022 availability of new 6 GHz spectrum is viewed as an exciting opportunity for expansion, with respondents developing plans to capitalize on the new technology to better meet the needs of increasing demand for connectivity.
At the same time, these broadband service providers were less concerned about the prospect of competition; which, while still important, remained flat with last year’s survey results and down considerably from 2018 and 2019. Respondents noted that when given spectrum and financing, they know how to focus on their target customers and still win.
Interestingly, the survey detected a sequential decline in technology as a potential constraint on growth. With manufacturers developing innovative technology solutions, they remain confident about their ability to meet the needs of their growing business and customer base. Case in point: The advent of wireless gigabit networking at the edge using 60 GHz spectrum; the operators who were early adopters of this technology have emerged from successful proof-of-concept trials and are already planning deployments for 2022.
A chronic labor shortage — a long-standing problem — continues to be a source of concern for operators hard-pressed to find enough skilled technicians. It’s a particularly keen concern in an industry in which 68% have fewer than 10 employees and losing a skilled technician can greatly impact the business. However, many operators report improved efficiency when it comes to planning, installing and managing wireless networks, getting the most from their existing skilled talent as their businesses scale.
These entrepreneurial operators are nonetheless finding success in expanding service offerings leveraging a satisfied customer base. 16% are offering Managed Wi-Fi, voice, IT support and video surveillance services. They are also expanding their service offerings to include residential Wi-Fi, outdoor hotspots and some are moving into offering mobile services.
While it’s always risky projecting results into the future, it’s clear that they are entering the new year brimming with the most confidence we’ve seen in years. And for good reason: 2022 will see continued demand for broadband driving the deployment of hybrid fiber/wireless networks for service provider and enterprise private networks. Also, the adoption of Wi-Fi 6 technology and the opening of the 6 GHz frequency bands will drive rapid adoption.
In 2022, we’ll continue to see increasing demand for high-speed connectivity at home to meet the needs of remote work, distance learning, better entertainment and fulfilling the dream of a smarter home. As technology innovation in the wireless space continues apace, wireless broadband service providers will be bringing more affordable high-speed internet to more locations than ever before.
Download the full report here.