Wireless infrastructure trade association PCIA recently named Jonathan Adelstein CEO and president, replacing outgoing CEO and President Michael Fitch who announced plans to step down from his position earlier this year.
Adelstein previously served as Administrator of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service as well as a commissioner at the Federal Communications Commission from 2002 to 2009. During his time at the FCC, which coincided with the George W. Bush administration, Adelstein along with fellow democrat Michael Copps often butted heads with republican FCC chairmans, including Kevin Martin and Michael Powell. Adelstein often lobbied for greater government scrutiny of mergers and acquisitions across the mobile space, including mandates designed to protect smaller operators.
Adelstein stepped into his new position at PCIA Sept. 17, just head of the trade organization’s annual trade show set to begin Oct. 1 in Orlando, Fla., and took a few minutes to answer some questions from RCR Wireless News regarding his vision for PCIA.
RCR Wireless News: What are your thoughts heading into your new position as CEO at PCIA?
Jonathan Adelstein: I have always been interested in infrastructure. My most recent career at [Rural Utilities Service] was all about investing in infrastructure, be it telecom, electric or water. We’re seeing the demand for mobile data services continuing to grow and you can’t build this infrastructure fast enough. We are going to fall behind no matter what we do. So I found it a good mission in life to find a way to do everything we can to get government to continue to help, to not be a barrier to investment and build out. It’s a great time to be doing it because I think we have achieved a bi-partisan agreement that the government needs to help. Congress enacted the collocation by right, the FCC with the shot clock, the Executive Branch of the White House put out the executive order regarding siting on public land. We have this bipartisan consensus that now is the time to build out this infrastructure.
It’s a great time for me to continue to take the reins at PCIA when it has been very successful in helping to get policies in place. The [FCC] chairman is coming to the show in Orlando and I think that is recognition. The chairman gets it. The White House gets it. That’s the kind of support we need to meet this huge challenge that we are facing. This goes along with the challenges I have worked for. Getting greater broadband coverage as well as taking care of capacity issues. The issue is meeting the demand with smaller cells, DAS as well as macro sites, which continue as the cornerstone of getting data on the airwaves.
RCRWN: Coming back into a central role in the wireless space, what specific changes have you seen across the industry?
Adelstein: The move to small cells – filling in the gaps – is definitely something that has been a big change most recently. When I was at RUS we financed a 4G system to cover portions of Vermont, and what I have seen is the explosive changes in growth of broadband data. When I left for RUS, the BlackBerry was the big device. Now between the iPhone, the iPad and the Android devices we are seeing a capacity demand growing at a rate that I don’t think anyone anticipated. I have learned myself about these challenges of getting wireless broadband wherever you go. I think this is just the beginning. I think it’s going to continue to ramp up and people are going to expect in just a few years to be able to stream high definition video no matter where they are. They are not going to be patient about how fast it loads.
With more and more people using these high-bandwidth applications, there will be more of an expectation that these download quickly. Once you are used to broadband, there is no going back, no matter where you are. People are going to get spoiled and begin making carrier decisions on the quality of service that they receive. There are two ways to get that done: spectrum and infrastructure. If you get the spectrum, you will need that infrastructure to be able to use it. If you don’t have more spectrum coming on line, you can use infrastructure to densify the network and increase capacity. Obviously you will eventually need more spectrum, but infrastructure is a big part of the solution to meet this data crunch. So no matter which way you turn, we are going to be at the heart of solving this issue and in a way that is constructive.
When I decided to move on from RUS I wanted to make sure that I went in a direction, was careful in what industry I choose to move to, where I could continue working towards my goals and PCIA is the right place to help ensure that this infrastructure is built out as quickly and efficiently as possible. Our mission is to maximize the deployment of wireless broadband everywhere, and that is a mission I have tried to work towards for many, many years now.
RCRWN: What do you think you are bringing to the plate at PCIA?
Adelstein: This is a trade organization that is operating successfully, that operates in three major functions: It has a big show that is well subscribed this year and going gangbusters; we’ve got a frequency coordination business that is going very well and been very successful; and the advocacy side, which has racked up a number of big victories recently at the FCC, White House and in Congress. So this is an organization that is fundamentally on the right track. I am coming in here and wanting to build on what has already been done successfully. Continue to have more wins like that.
I don’t think there will be a retooling, but think there might be a greater focus across more aspects of the industry. There are a lot of sectors that we would like to work with: the OEMs, the folks that build the networks on the ground. It would be nice to work more closely with our state wireless associations that we want to be our grass-roots force. There is a lot we can do building on the successes that we have had.
RCRWN: What sort of challenges do you see coming from your previous position at the FCC and RUS into your new position at PCIA?
Adelstein: I feel comfortable coming into PCIA because we are focused on the issues that I have always pushed for: extending mobile broadband everywhere. PCIA fits in with my beliefs and life’s work so well that the transition has been smooth. I miss government and really believe in what can be done from that side, but I have been lucky in my career in that I have always been able to get interesting jobs. Just when you think you are not going to last very long in one position, someone comes in and says “why don’t you go run this,” and next thing I know 25 years have passed.
I have been mostly in government positions throughout my career, but am now moving into the private sector, but still working closely with the government on many levels. A lot of the work here is locally based, about getting things sited on the ground working with local and state governments. We are in such a great position now that we have the federal government helping us, recognizing the importance of what we bring. The collocation by right, the shot clock, the executive order: this is the government recognizing we need to tackle this spectrum crunch, we need to get these barriers out of the way. The government recognizes we need to take of this very quickly so we are going to weigh in on the behalf of investments and of employment.
It’s sort of seminal time in the history of wireless industry in that we have never seen this level of support for infrastructure deployment and this level of bipartisan recognition that this needs to be done and needs to be done now. PCIA has played a key role in that and I am excited to continue playing a role in what Mike Fitch has done such a good job on over the years. This is just a great fit at the right time.
RCRWN: What sort of changes if any do you expect to see from the upcoming elections and the chances for a change in administration?
Adelstein: I think with the bipartisan agreement in support of what we are doing, on creating jobs now, shows that there is support for this industry. This industry is a growth industry in a very difficult environment. These are folks that want to build this infrastructure out. In order to get the capital that is needed they need some certainty. Both parties are talking about the need for jobs, and this is an industry that is delivering jobs, so I think that no matter what the outcome is we are going to continue to have support for these job creators to do what they do best. The best part is that they create jobs building out these networks, but once they are built they are the platform for new job creation and economic growth for years to come. Policy makers get that on both sides of the aisle.
Wireless broadband is something that when a business wants to locate to an area they want to ensure that there is the capacity in place to allow for them to grow and expand; to increasingly use mobile in their workforce. You have to have coverage for our economy to be the most productive and it’s good to know there is bipartisan support for that and that our job creation abilities can succeed now and beyond November.
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