The telecom industry is coming off a very strong year in 2021, after significant headwinds like the COVID-19 pandemic, a major carrier merger, and regulatory pressures slowed the pace of growth for more than 12 months. The solid performance that everyone was waiting for finally came to fruition in 2021.
And despite inflationary pressures and impending interest rate hikes, 2022 promises to be an equally good (if not better) year for businesses in the telecom space. These 5 trends will dominate the industry in the short term and play a major role in how the year shapes up for telecom businesses and the providers they partner with.
The Infrastructure Bill Will Start to Make an Impact
Any time the US government passes major legislation, there’s often an expectation that federal funding will surge right out of the gate, resulting in more new business than the approved contractors could possibly handle. The reality is usually more modest.
With the passage of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, $65 billion in federal funding has been allocated to expand high-speed Internet access across the US, especially in rural areas and other underserved communities. While industry analysts have forecast a dramatic influx of funding to telecom, engineering, and construction firms, it’s more likely to be a slow and steady ramp-up beginning in the second half of 2022. Before funding is awarded to telecom providers and the vendors they partner with—including engineering firms that provide supporting CAD services—the federal government will conduct studies, identify contractors, and funnel funds to state and/or regional agencies that eventually award contracts.
The good news is that the sheer volume of work will enable more engineering firms to capture their share. The challenge will be how to greatly expand their capacity in a tight labor market.
The 5G Rollout is Gaining Traction
All the major carriers have their own strategies and priorities for rolling out 5G, and all are pressured to meet consumer demand for a capability that’s been promised for a long time.
- T-Mobile and Sprint are still in the process of consolidating their respective networks and decommissioning where they now have an overlap in coverage.
- Verizon and AT&T are working to expand their overall footprints.
- In some geographic areas—especially those prone to natural disasters—carriers are working to improve their generator systems and other backup measures to better support their 5G rollouts.
As 5G starts to gain traction, the nature of the work in the telecom industry will evolve. During the wait-and-see period of the past couple of years, small cell work had dropped off as the focus shifted to new macro tower construction and upgrades. Now, it’s expected that the pendulum will swing back to small cell work as the major carriers ramp up their 5G rollouts. A recent agreement between the US Federal Aviation Administration and the Federal Communications Commission on the construction of cell towers near airports is one example of efforts that will spur increased activity on small cell towers to support the 5G rollout.
Private Cellular Networks Are on the Rise
For companies that operate across a large and diverse geographic footprint—or those running critical business or industrial applications that can’t afford reliability risks—private cellular networks offer significant advantages, including:
- Greater security, coverage, and reliability than traditional public networks
- The flexibility to configure the network to its specific needs
As the technology required to deliver scalable, reliable private cellular networks continues to advance, expect more businesses to move in this direction—particularly in the utility industry, where geographically dispersed infrastructure creates unique network requirements.
The growth in private cellular networks will likely be a boon for architecture and engineering firms that specialize in mapping these complex networks. It’s an opportunity to diversify their client base and fuel their growth, but it may strain capacity and require creative approaches to building out a skilled, reliable workforce that can capitalize on these opportunities.
Remote Work Isn’t Going Away Anytime Soon
The work-from-home trend accelerated by COVID-19 was one of several factors that caused the major telecom carriers to temporarily pause their 5G rollouts. Instead, they focused on macro tower improvements and expansion designed to meet the tremendous surge in need for at-home bandwidth for employees and students. With fewer people commuting to work or spending time away from home for dining and recreation, small cell coverage became a lower priority than ensuring customers could obtain the best possible coverage in their homes.
Though some organizations are now bringing employees back to the workplace, few are mandating that their staffs return on site 100 percent (excluding industries that rely on an on-site workforce, such as healthcare, retail, and hospitality). With the Great Resignation placing employees in the driver’s seat when it comes to flexible arrangements, remote work is expected to remain a reality for a large percentage of the workforce.
This trend will place continued pressure on telecom carriers to improve their coverage and reliability, spurring continued infrastructure investments. Vendors that serve the telecom industry are likely to see an increase in macro tower projects for the foreseeable future.
Demand for Electric Vehicle Charging Stations is Increasing
With the major automakers pledging to expand their electric vehicle (EV) product lines and eventually stop producing internal combustion engine vehicles, a large and reliable network of charging stations across the US will be critical to boosting EV adoption. The passage of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act got the ball rolling, with significant funding allocated long term for the deployment of a nationwide EV charging station network.
In February, the federal government pledged the first $5 billion over five years for EV charging station expansion along major interstate highways, with additional grants coming later for rural and other unserved areas. An estimated $615 million has been allocated for 2022.
Beyond the surge in work to map, construct, and install a large volume of charging stations, this additional infrastructure will require improved telecommunications to connect charging stations to the cloud. And as more autonomous vehicles are rolled out, a strong telecom network will be key to supporting this burgeoning area of the IoT (Internet of things).
How These Trends Will Impact Telecom Vendor-Partners
The anticipated surge in telecom-related projects in 2022—resulting from pent-up demand, increased federal funding, and competitive pressures—has created high expectations for a big year for companies that serve the telecom industry. But that enthusiasm also comes with concerns over how to staff up to meet growing demand at a time of labor shortages, high turnover, and unprecedented competition for talent.
With the type of telecom-related work continually changing—sometimes as rapidly as quarterly or monthly—construction and engineering firms are especially challenged to maintain staff with the right skillsets and experience needed at any given time. While some skills are transferable across project types, often an engagement requires project-specific expertise that can be hard to source on a fluid basis.
For architecture and engineering firms that provide CAD and other services to telecom clients, outsourcing the drafting function is one effective strategy for maintaining the capacity to capitalize on growing demand. Whether they supplement their staff with experienced drafters during peak periods—or develop fully dedicated offshore teams that make it affordable to build out their staff long term—leading firms are finding this approach creates a strong competitive advantage.
When it comes to building out their CAD teams effectively and affordably, leading architecture and engineering firms across the US choose Cadsourcing as their partner. Cadsourcing’s large team of highly skilled, experienced drafters in the Philippines handles high work volumes on tight deadlines with unrivaled quality—enabling architecture and engineering firms to scale up, take on more telecom work, and complete it profitably.
If your firm needs an effective staffing strategy to capitalize on the huge growth potential in the telecom industry today, contact Cadsourcing to learn about our two flexible service models: project-based staffing and staff leasing.
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