Wireless broadband service providers finish 2021 brimming with confidence, expectations higher for 2022 (Reader Forum)

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Wireless broadband service providers finish 2021 brimming with confidence, expectations higher for 2022 (Reader Forum)

Like so many industries, companies providing high-speed connections to business and residential customers worldwide were forced to navigate through a global pandemic and persistent economic uncertainty. But despite the sad backdrop, wireless broadband service providers ended 2021 more optimistic about their outlook than at any point in the last five years.

That was just one of the things we could pick up from our annual global survey of broadband service providers with predominantly wireless networks. Our survey collected feedback from 412 operators in 23 countries. We examined a number of topics to assess the ability of service providers to meet customers’ increased demand for video, data, voice and IT services in order to remain competitive.

Despite another year of unique challenges, 81% of these operators still said they were either more or just as optimistic about the future, up from 77% in 2020. In part, this remarkable optimism reflects an ability to adapt quickly changes in demand and technology. For example, respondents were quite familiar with taking on the cloak of early users of wireless technology as they made the most of new spectrum, such as Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) in the US and the 60 GHz frequency band globally to cement their reputation for providing reliable service at competitive prices.

Providers also expressed confidence in their ability to deliver higher performance at lower cost as they expand their service offering to existing customers while taking advantage of new opportunities in urban, suburban and rural areas. In fact, many network operators have been successful in offering additional services in addition to managed services and IT support to include residential Wi-Fi, outdoor hotspots, and video surveillance solutions. They also provided more managed Wi-Fi services to businesses and government institutions.

At the same time, wireless broadband service providers increased their service offerings by 22% adding residential Wi-Fi, 14% adding outdoor hotspots and 3% now offering mobile services. Meanwhile, the focus fell on some service offerings that experienced growth in 2020 in 2021, including managed Wi-Fi (16%), voice (16%), IT support (12%) and video surveillance (11%).

Financing, financing and RF spectrum were ranked as the three biggest concerns when it came to factors that could limit future growth.

While 44% provide coverage in rural areas with low density, 24% provide services in areas with an even division of urban, suburban and rural communities. As 28 and 60 GHz millimeter-wave technology has become available, with many trials and early implementations in 2021, coverage in urban areas has increased from 15% to 18%. Overall, it shows that these operators are becoming equally skilled at providing connectivity options in urban, suburban and rural applications.

Although RF spectrum remains a limited resource essential for operating a wireless network, all the operators surveyed developed plans to take advantage of the opening of the 6 GHz spectrum in the new year. At present, 5 GHz remains the most popular among these operators, while the planned availability in 2022 of new 6 GHz spectrum is considered an exciting opportunity for expansion, with respondents developing plans to take advantage of the new technology to better meet the needs of increasing demand for connection.

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 a significant drop compared to 2018 and 2019. Respondents noted that once they got the spectrum and funding, they know how to focus on their target customers and still win .

Interestingly, the study discovered a sequential decline in technology as a potential constraint on growth. With manufacturers developing innovative technology solutions, they remain confident in their ability to meet the needs of their growing business and customer base. Example: The emergence of wireless gigabit networking on the edge using 60 GHz spectrum; the operators who were early users of this technology have come out of successful proof-of-concept trials and are already planning implementations for 2022.

A chronic shortage of manpower – a long-standing problem – remains a source of concern for operators, who are under heavy pressure to find enough skilled technicians. This is a particularly major concern in an industry where 68% have fewer than 10 employees, and losing a skilled technician can have a major impact on the company. However, many operators report improved efficiency when it comes to planning, installing and managing wireless networks, and getting the most out of their existing skilled talents as their businesses scale.

These entrepreneurial operators are nevertheless successful in expanding their service offering by leveraging a satisfied customer base. 16% offer managed Wi-Fi, voice, IT support and video surveillance services. They are also expanding their service offering to include Wi-Fi in homes, outdoor hotspots, and some are on their way to offering mobile services.

While it is always risky to project results into the future, it is clear that they are entering the new year filled with the greatest confidence we have seen in years. And with good reason: 2022 will see continued demand for broadband driving the proliferation of hybrid fiber / wireless networks to service providers and private enterprise networks. The adoption of Wi-Fi 6 technology and the opening of the 6 GHz frequency bands will also drive rapid introduction.

In 2022, we will continue to see a growing demand for high-speed connections at home to meet the needs of teleworking, distance learning, better entertainment, and fulfilling the dream of a smarter home. As technological innovation in wireless space continues at a rapid pace, wireless broadband service providers will bring more affordable high-speed Internet to more locations than ever before.

Download the full report here.

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