IEEE Future Directions Talks 5G: David Witkowski Bridging the 4G/5G Gap
"I think it's incumbent upon all stakeholders—municipalities, agencies, and the industry itself—to figure out how we're going to bridge the gap between the tower monopole world that we were in five years ago to the small cell 5G world that we're going into now."
David Witkowski is an author, advisor, and strategist who works at the intersection between wireless telecommunications and local/regional governments. After serving in the U.S. Coast Guard and earning his B.Sc. in Electrical Engineering from the University of California, he held managerial and leadership roles for companies ranging from Fortune 500 multi-nationals to early-stage startups. David is the Founder & CEO of Oku Solutions LLC and serves as the Executive Director of Civic Technology Initiatives at Joint Venture Silicon Valley. He also serves as Co-Chair of the Deployment Working Group at IEEE Future Networks, Co-Chair of the GCTC Wireless SuperCluster at NIST, on the Board of Expert Advisors for the California Emerging Technology Fund, and is a Fellow in the Radio Club of America and a Senior Member in the IEEE.
David is leading a two-part course from IEEE Future Networks called "Bridging the 4G/5G Gap: Telecommunications Roadmap for Implementation." This course provides crucial insights to local government officials and staffers who need to understand how telecom projects work, and to industry professionals (sales staff and deployment staff) who are looking to build out new infrastructure in local municipalities. Learn more and register for one or both parts here.
Question: Moving from 4G to 5G requires more than simply flipping a switch on a new technology. What do city planners and public works officials need to know?
Witkowski: In today's world where we're moving from the macro towers that cover tens or hundreds of square miles to small cells and 5G, we're dealing with coverage that is at the neighborhood level. The responsibilities within cities have really shifted. In the past, cities were permitting towers and monopoles based upon zoning and planning. These were private property transactions. And the question was really, is it safe is, does it aesthetically match with the neighborhood and what are the issues with a large structure on private property? Now that we've moved from that macro monopole world into small cells and 5G, we're deploying wireless technology on light poles or utility poles in the public rights of way. And so cities have really had to ramp up their ability to deal with the applications that are coming from telecommunications carriers and the companies that help them build these facilities. Of course, at the same time, people are using their phones more and more — during the pandemic we've seen a massive explosion in the use of smartphones; people are in their homes and they need those devices to work. So the responsibility that cities have had to shoulder for working with telecommunications, and with the wireless industry, has really grown over the past five years, and that's not going to slow down anytime soon — we're going to see a continued explosion in the amount of deployments that cities are going to have to deal with, and so I think it's really important that cities learn how this technology works, that they become well versed in the topic, and to help bridge the gap between the macro monopole world that they were in and the small cell world that we're entering today.
Bridging the 4G/5G Gap - IEEE course for US towns and cities Video
The role of local government in wireless technology has grown dramatically over the past five years and will continue to grow in the future. How does the era of 5G change the dynamic for city governments?
Witkowski: In the past, cities were primarily focused on zoning and planning when it came to telecommunications, because they were large towers monopoles that were on private property. And so the question of zoning and aesthetics was really the thing that they were primarily concerned with. As we've moved into the 4G era and now we're beginning to enter into the 5G era, we're deploying wireless telecommunications on public property on light poles and utility poles, and we're doing this in the public rights of way which means a couple things. One is that the number of applications has gone up dramatically. The second is that it's now public works that is involved with this — it's no longer planning, zoning, or real estate. And that really changes the dynamic. Cities are really good at parks and sidewalks and streetlights and traffic lights and roads and sewers and all the things we traditionally associate with city governments. Telecommunications is a relatively new thing for them. And with our use of wireless communications growing exponentially, and certainly we've seen the pandemic that a lot of people are moving towards their cell phones as their primary means of communication, and that trend existed before the pandemic — but it's even accelerated since then. The amount of work that cities are going to have to do to review and approve these permits for wireless communications facilities in the public rights of way is going to continue to increase, and so I think it's incumbent upon all stakeholders; municipals, agencies and the industry itself to understand this intersection, and to figure out how we're going to bridge the gap between the tower and monopole world that we were in five years ago to the small cell and 5G world that we're going into now.
Question: For cities to upgrade to 5G, can they use existing 3G and 4G sites? What challenges do they face?
Witkowski: 5G is an evolution of 4G technology. And in many cases the lines between 4G and 5G are not clear. There's a gradual change in our networks that's moving towards 5G. It's important to remember that 5G is both a new technology as well as new frequencies, and so cities have to understand that not only are existing sites, 3G and 4G, going to be upgraded to 5G, but also that new facilities will be installed, and how they come up to speed on that, there's a challenge there. It's really important that they become familiar with the terminology, just so that they can review applications. The federally-mandated shot clocks for approving applications for wireless communications facilities are frankly very stringent, and cities must respond within that timeframe or they risk running into trouble with the application process. So it's really important that cities know how to handle these applications, that they know how to process them, and that they be really familiar with the terminology and the technology that goes into these applications.
Question: What role does IEEE Future Networks Play In 5G technology globally?
Witkowski: Certainly there's a lot of material out there that local governments and agencies could access on this topic, the IEEE Future Networks Initiative, and the deployment working group which I'm the co-chair of has really taken the work that we did at Joint Venture Silicon Valley and extended it out to a national and international audience, trying to help cities and the wireless industry come together in partnership and really build a convening process with stakeholders that are communicating on a regular basis, and making sure that both sides are talking to each other — and that they are hearing each other. I think there are a lot of places where cities can go to learn about the technology, but what we're doing is unique in that we're working out not only the technology questions, but we're also working out that interface question; how do cities to the wireless industry, and likewise we're also trying to help the industry understand how to talk to cities.
Question: What is the IEEE Future Networks Deployment Working Group?
Witkowski: The deployment working group came about after I spoke at the IEEE 5G World Forum in Santa Clara, California. And having spent the day listening to a lot of presentations at that conference, I came to the conclusion that there was not a lot of talk about deployment — there was a presumption that deployment would occur, but it was not programmatic. Nobody was really thinking about the question of “Will these technologies be accepted by the cities that were going to be tasked with approving or denying those applications?” and knowing first-hand how with some of the early 4G technologies had run into problems in cities. For example, in the early days of 4G small cell, we saw a lot of deployments that included active cooling fans, which make noise. And people were upset not only at the idea of having this equipment on a pole outside of their house, but also on a hot summer night you want to open your window and let that breeze in. You don't necessarily want to hear a fan from a piece of telecommunications equipment blowing into your bedroom window. So, I think that it becomes really important that the industry understand how deployment occurs, and that we design the equipment to be deployable. And so I began lobbying the IEEE to create the deployment working group within Future Networks, because I thought that it was really important that we look at that question of, ultimately, is this going to be a deployable product, and will cities accept it.
Question: Why should city planners and public works officials get engaged in IEEE Future Networks?
Witkowski: In the IEEE Future Networks Initiative Deployment Working Group, one of my co-chairs is David Young, who is the Chief Information Officer for the city of Lincoln, Nebraska, and also serves as the FCC’s Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee Vice Chair. He's directly involved in not only deployments in his city, but is also responsible at the national level for representing the city's interests in the FCC. I think that it is really critical that we have cities involved in the Deployment Working Group, and I would welcome any participation from local governments that wants to be involved in our Deployment Working Group because I think, in the work that we've done a Joint Venture Silicon Valley, bringing the cities of Northern California together with the wireless industry that convening between the stakeholders has been very powerful. And we've seen great success in Northern California by doing so, and we want to take that out onto a national level. So I definitely want to see more involvement from local governments in the IEEE Future Networks Initiative, and specifically within the Deployment Working Group.
We had a gentleman from the city of San Jose, California who was part of Deployment Working Group, and he came to one of the conferences and everybody was very interested in what he had to say, because he was really talking about the reality of deployment — if you come to me with a piece of equipment and you want to deploy it on a light pole in my city, it needs to look like this, and it needs to have these characteristics, or else we're not going to be able to say yes to it. And I think a lot of people at that conference were very interested in hearing what he had to say, so I think the voice of cities within the Deployment Working Group is very powerful, and we want to encourage that.
Question: What is the IEEE Future Networks International Next Generations Roadmap (INGR)?
Witkowski: The International Next Generations Roadmap project is an attempt to bring together technology futurists who see not only 5G, but also beyond 5G, and where are those technologies going over the next three, five, ten, and beyond years. Where is that technology going to be, and what do we need to do to get ready for that? It's a challenging project, because the concept of 6G is, at this point, only that — a concept. There is no formal definition of 6G, no one has begun working on definitions for 6G or technologies that would adhere to the United Nations 6G definition, but it's still important that we think about the question of where we are going in the long term. Telecommunications is far too important in our 21st century lives to be left to chance. And it shouldn't be something that we do as a secondary thought, it should be something that we do programmatically. So what I'm trying to do in my group, and what the other groups and INGR are trying to do, is create a roadmap that looks forward to where we're going to be, so that we can begin thinking now about what we need to do to reach those points. And of course, as a famous general once said, “No plan survives first contact with the enemy,” but the reality is another general once said “Plans are nothing, but planning is everything.” So the fact that our roadmap may not actually be able to predict the future, doesn't mean that we shouldn't do it, we should still be asking these questions and constantly iterating towards a refinement of vision of where we want to go in the future.
Question: What is the impact of the IEEE Future Networks International Next Generations Roadmap?
Getting from 4G to 5G: Industry and Municipal Challenges at the Local Level Video
Witkowski: I've been involved with the IEEE for a long time, dating back to when I was a student in college. I've always felt that the IEEE did a fantastic job of bringing engineers together, providing information, training, it was a great place for me to learn about what other engineers were doing, learn about technologies. What we're doing in Future Networks is that and more, because we're now beginning to look at the question of non-engineers being involved in the IEEE. What we really want to do in Future Networks and INGR is look at the question of how we bring our technology to cities, to the population, to the public. Most people in the public are familiar with the IEEE, because they know that their Wi-Fi access point has something called “802.11” — they don't know what that means, but they know that 802.11 means Wi-Fi. And so everybody has had some interaction with IEEE, because the standards that it produces affects their daily life, but people are not really thinking about the question of what is the IEEE, as a go-to resource. And so what we want to do within Future Networks, and within the INGR, is not only to provide a stakeholder convening, and a roadmap that's based upon the input from all those stakeholders, but also to be a place where the public and the media can go to for answers about these increasingly complex technologies that affect our daily lives. I’m really proud and pleased to be involved in what we're doing, because this is a model for the IEEE going forward and that we need to talk to more than just other engineers, and so I'm really pleased to be involved with this and I'm really happy that the INGR leadership has allowed me to bring this perspective into the organization, because this is critical to success of technology in our 21st century world.
Question: How will next-generation mobile technologies like 5G improve the lives of citizens in our towns, cities and states?
Witkowski: Certainly nobody would argue that telecommunications is not a critical part of our life in the 21st century. Practically everybody has a smartphone, we access the Internet constantly. Our ability to get things done in our daily lives is really contingent upon access to that information. And increasingly, we want that access to be mobile, we want to be able to do it from wherever. The popularity of smartphones has really been based upon the ability to access a vast world of information from anywhere. Wireless communications is in that vein, it’s just as important as electricity, water, gas or sanitation. I call it the “Fifth Utility.” It's just as important as those other technologies to make life in the 21st century possible. And increasingly, we see that people who do not have access to the Internet, and do not have access to mobile internet technology, are increasingly left behind in our society. So we’ve create a digital equity problem, which is something we really need to think about going forward, because if we're going to bring these technologies into mass use, we not only have to think about how we get them out there but also how do we get them out there equitably. It's important that everybody have access to this, because not having access to the internet in the 21st century would be like not having access to a car — you can't go to work if you don't have a way to get to work. So how do you have a job if you have no transportation? In the pandemic we've seen, for example, some students did not have internet in their homes. And so when we went in the pandemic into shelter-in-place, students were not able to access their remote learning, and the schools had to take heroic measures to bring those students online by providing them with prepaid hotspots that included unlimited data plans. And if we weren't able to do that, then we would have a significant number of students in our country that would not have progressed in their education, so they would be stuck at whatever level they were at in March of 2020 — waiting for the pandemic to end so that they could go back and complete their education. That's one example of how communications technology has such a fundamental impact on our daily lives. It's something we need to be very programmatic about supporting and moving forward. It can't be left to chance — we can't allow telecommunications to be an afterthought in our country.