Amid all the minus signs in the most recent U.S. Census Bureau data on non-residential construction, the communications sector was among the handful of subsectors where spending increased from the previous month. And even if the market isn’t white hot, contractors service communications carriers appear to have plenty of work.
Marty Travers, president of Black & Veatch’s telecommunications business, says that consumers’ “insatiable desire” for greater speed, coverage and reliability is just one of the drivers behind a continuing stream of projects aimed at extending fiber optic networks, deploying gigabit-speed capacity and filling wireless coverage gaps with small cells and other technology infrastructure.
According to CTIA, the wireless industry trade association, U.S. carriers invested almost $32 billion in 2015, including adding almost 10,000 new cell sites. Smartphones, the wireless device of choice among Americans, now number more than 228 million units domestically, with nearly three-quarters of the population owning at least one.
Small cells are advantageous for adding network density in areas with height restrictions, Travers says, because “they can be placed atop light and utility poles, which are already part of landscape.”
For that reason, he adds, telecommunications firms are counting on their design consultants to bring a measure of creativity to their assignments, “and understand how to most effectively get a site installed with least disruption to existing infrastructure.”
With wireless access increasingly considered an essential public service—not merely an adjunct to landlines, government involvement in telecommunications projects is growing. Initiatives include FirstNet, a federally supported broadband enhancement program for first responders, and the KentuckyWired Middle Mile, a public-private partnership to bring more than 3,400 miles of high-speed, high capacity fiber optic Internet connectivity to Kentucky’s 120 counties.
But there’s more than just a mass craving for cat videos and Pokamon Go behind the sector’s activity. Intensifying competition to handle all those calls, texts, Tweets, Facebook updates and app downloads has carriers of all sizes scrambling to protect their respective customer bases.
“It’s not unusual to see new entrant target a market,” Travers says, “and then have the incumbent carrier provide upgrades.”