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Just wrapped up the 2012 Canadian Telecom Summit, really glad I was able to go. Being able to access the student pricing was great, so getting one of the Orion Network-sponsored scholarships from Mark Goldberg was much appreciated!

OpenText’s Tom Jenkins reminded me of Cornelia Woll’s book, when he made the argument that industry needed to work with government but to also to lead them in policy formation. So like Woll, but opposite. The other big picture presentation that was quite engaging, delivered by Malcolm Frank of Cognizant, discussed implications of the Future of Work. Of course, the Regulatory Blockbuster panel lived up to its reputation and while the Wireless Spectrum: Paying for Air panel wasn’t as strong, I found some of the comments by Dean Brenner, VP Government Affairs for Qualcomm, to be illuminating regarding some technical issues.

One of the most interesting comments/trends for me was made by President and CEO of the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association, Bernard Lord, when he noted that Canada had 13,000 towers to cover our 34m population versus, I think, 52,000 for the UK. While this number was presented as an achievement of the Canadian telecom’s market, for me this is a contentious claim. Robin Bienenstock, analyst at Bernstein, noted as a comparison that AT&T has 6,000 towers in California versus the approximately 33,000 base stations for Telefonica in Spain with similar populations and topography.

This is important when investigating claims of spectrum crunch, especially those by US carriers. As you can see from this CTIA document [PDF], just prior and post financial crunch, cellular companies were building 20-30,000 towers a year. Because of the challenges in access to funding — and other considerations — we see, “around 15,000 cell sites being constructed from the end of 2008 to the middle of 2011.” With the launch of the iPhone 3G in July 2008 and the Android smartphone platform really taking off in early 2010, there was a huge surge in data consumption. Respecting that more BTSs increase both capex and opex and it takes time to respond to demand, carriers’ network build outs appear to be a significant factor in causing the “crunch”.

The other, lesser, trend that I was interested in was the challenge of increasing signaling loads. This is an issue that I don’t think is generally a discrete issue for the general public when hearing about the data explosion/spectrum crunch. Not a matter of throughput demand but potentially 00s of apps on a person’s smartphone/tablet constantly — in general, automatically in the background — checking and delivering updates. If usage of location-based services reaches a critical mass, the demands on networks could further explode. That said, I noticed a couple days after the summit that Cisco announced a new core gateway, specifically engineered to provide, “an elastic core that dynamically adapts to handle different levels of signaling and throughput as required.”

In addition to showing me that my foundational knowledge of the telecom industry — both internationally and Canada’s — is increasing, I was also able to meet a number of Industry Canada officials, which was fantastic. Helped with some ideas on where can I continue rounding out my skills to enhance my value as an analyst. The summit also gave me some further avenues to explore as to how issues of “capacity” might relate to my thesis.