NATE Unite exhibition floor at the 2015 show. President Todd Schlekeway says the number of exhibitors this year will exceed the record of 123.
Credit: Courtesy NATE
Credit: Courtesy NATE Now that 2015 has passed we can stop looking “Back to the Future” — with or without hoverboards — and look beyond.
That is what NATE Unite 2016 will look to do, with a number of panels that will dive into a number of tower industry hot topics. The annual conference looks to be a “conduit of information and that resource to help [NATE members] and prepare them to diversify their company moving forward,” according to NATE President Todd Schlekeway.
While much of the event relates to wireless industry infrastructure, it also deals broadly with all aspects of tower erection, service and maintenance.
DRONES TAKING FLIGHT?
NATE Unite, which will take place in New Orleans from Feb. 22–25, has a range of panels and educational offerings to highlight what Schlekeway calls the “evolving nature of the industry.” Part of that evolving nature includes drones, the big buzz technology that may get people even more excited than hoverboards.
“Impact of Drones on the Wireless Infrastructure Industry” is an educational session that will focus on what drones can do for the tower industry. At the moment, a lot of it is more theory than actual practice, as regulation and the still developing technology offer more questions than answers, but excitement is palpable. “The drone technology is so new that we’re just trying to figure out what they can be used for; the ideas are floating out there,” said Todd Thorin, director of safety and training at Sioux Falls Tower and Communications, who will serve as one of the panelists.
Thorin says right now the use of drones in the tower industry is primarily limited to taking photos or videos, but he and others excitedly speculate that drones can one day be used for measuring data to produce analytics, or even specific tasks like changing a lightbulb on the tower.
IF YOU GO
What: NATE Unite 2016
When: Feb. 22–25
Who: Members of the broadcast and telecommunications tower erection, service and maintenance industry
Where: Hilton New Orleans Riverside
How Much: Advance rates $149 (member), $449 (non-member)
to Feb. 12
All of this will be beholden to future regulations laid out by the Federal Aviation Administration, but Schlekeway says NATE isn’t taking a back seat on the possible future of drones in the industry. “We’re being proactive on that front, talking with officials from the FAA, the National Institute for Trial Advocacy Training, and stakeholders on how the integration into our industry will work, with the [emphasis the] whole time, from NATE’s perspective, being safe integration.”
Safety, of course, is a primary goal of NATE, which is why it will also hold a session on the recently formed National Wireless Safety Alliance. Establishing itself as a standalone organization in February 2015, the NWSA’s goal is to create a certification process for tower workers to prove their competency in their field and provide greater safety. The panel will feature Chuck Slagle, a retired Sprint executive who now serves as a consultant for the NWSA, and others on how the NWSA is developing its certification program and why.
As Slagle explains it, the NWSA is a separate entity from NATE; it will not look to train tower workers but to assure that those working in the industry know their craft, providing a greater sense of professionalism and safety for the industry. “There are certifications all over; certified safety professionals, there’s nurses, there’s all sorts of people,” said Slagle. “But never in this industry has there been a certification process.”
John Celentano, senior consultant at Skyline Marketing Group, will take part in the panel “5G and Other Emerging Technologies.”REDEFINING THE JOB
The NWSA may have to come up with more certification tests, however, if what John Celentano and Sharpe Smith plan to talk about in their panel “5G and Other Emerging Technologies” comes to fruition over the next few years. Celentano, a senior consultant at telecommunications marketing consulting firm Skyline Marketing Group, and Smith, a senior editor at AGL Media Group, will go into detail about the next generation of wireless technology, 5G.
Compared to 4G/LTE, 5G is expected to offer higher speed connectivity, but also to function as an enabler of machine-to-machine communication or “m2m.” The big change for the tower industry, though, could be the fact that 5G won’t be reliant solely on towers.
The new 5G will see the implementation of access points and nodes at locations other than towers — according to Celentano and Smith, places like street lamps, bus stations or other low-level buildings. These sites will still require the skills of experience tower technicians, but perhaps under a different name.
NATE Welcome Reception at the Mercedes Benz Superdome Lounge
Feb. 22, 6:30–8:30 p.m.
NATE Keynote Luncheon
New Orleans Saints Coach Sean Payton
Feb. 24, Noon–2 p.m.
“Future of the Wireless Industry” panel
Feb. 23, 8– 9:30 a.m.
“Creating the Wireless Workforce of the Future” panel
Feb. 24, 8– 9 a.m.
Optional Training Courses — Available only to NATE members. Topics of these in-depth courses include OSHA training, PIM, distributed antenna systems and qualified rigging/signal person. Separate fee applies.
“We’re going to see a lot of deployments much closer to the ground, but those skills, to be able to not only install the equipment but to test and verify and make sure it’s all working properly, are still going to be needed,” said Celentano.
Smith said, “In a sense, we’re going to have to stop calling them tower climbers and call them telecommunications technicians, because that is really what they are.”
Schlekeway concluded, “This industry continues to evolve and NATE is evolving with it and is ahead of the curve when it comes to preparing our members and the industry at large to be diverse in terms of skill sets their workforce has to and the type of work that is going on.” He hopes to reaffirm that with these panels and more at NATE Unite.