Our nation’s critical infrastructure is the backbone of our society. In a time when digital transformation is happening at an unprecedented rate, the need for reliable connectivity infrastructure has never been more important.
From the telecom networks we rely on for communication, to transportation systems that help us move goods around the world, and energy grids that provide electricity to homes and businesses, these all represent vital pieces of infrastructure that are fundamental for strong economies, essential services, and prosperous societies.
Let’s take an in-depth look at critical infrastructure, what it is, and why it matters. We’ll also explore the benefits of advancing cellular and wireless infrastructure for telecom operators and how enhancing these technological ecosystems can help us stay ahead in an ever-changing world.
What is Critical Infrastructure?
Critical Infrastructure refers to the systems, networks, and assets that are essential to the nation’s security, economic stability, and the continued protection of public health and safety. Without critical infrastructure systems such as power grids and telecommunication networks, our world would come to a standstill, quite literally!
Critical infrastructure encompasses much of what most Americans take for granted, including wireless connectivity and the constant availability of power sources. These resources require reliable infrastructure to operate properly.
Projects of this magnitude, which are all site-based and largely repeatable, are integral to the daily lives of every single citizen—think of gas lines, cellular towers, and fiber.
Why Is Critical Infrastructure Important?
Critical infrastructure is the foundation of economic success, setting both the landscape and potential for development. It’s essential to provide an effective backdrop for businesses and private and public sectors to thrive.
With a growing demand to expand critical infrastructure, project management has become a greater priority than ever before. The ability to expertly manage these projects mitigates risk, conserves resources, shortens timelines, and improves profitability.
The 5 Steps of an Infrastructure Project
- Scoping – For a successful project, laying the necessary groundwork during the scoping and study phase is key. During this time, you should define your project’s boundaries, create an accurate cost projection, and identify any possible challenges or opportunities that may arise along the way.
This is all made easier by implementing cutting-edge software solutions that are tailor-made for infrastructure projects. These digital tools allow everyone, from engineers and project managers to executives and investors, to gain access to all relevant data relating to a project in one centralized platform.
- Needs Assessment – With the help of experienced professionals and project management software, conducting a needs assessment will ensure that critical infrastructure projects are carried out successfully.
- Site Selection – After the needs assessment is complete, the site selection phase can take place. Site selection is the process of analyzing different options and carefully weighing their pros and cons to ensure none of your key design elements become compromised by any potential limitations. After all, that careful assessment has already been done through needs analysis!
- Project Development & Execution – If you’re erecting cell towers, for instance, this would be the step in the process where you’d break ground. If you’ve done the research, then any road bumps in the development phase should be easy enough to navigate.
However, unexpected events can easily cause delays. This is why it’s important that you have good risk management strategies ready before starting work on a major infrastructure project.
- Completion – After careful planning and follow-through, your infrastructure project is complete. With a skilled team and the right software guiding you through every step, the completion phase consists mostly of tidying up any contractual obligations or financial transactions that may have been overlooked during construction and deployment.
What is Wireless Infrastructure for Telecommunications?
Wireless infrastructure, otherwise known as Critical Telecom Infrastructure (CTI), gives us access to an ever-increasing variety of sophisticated technology, security measures, software, and devices that enable wireless communications on a larger scale.
CTI is now integral to daily life, business, and government functions. In order to keep the lines of communication open, we need to keep towers, small cells, and distributed antenna systems (DAS) up and running.
From joining virtual meetings to telehealth visits, cellular infrastructure impacts every facet of our lives. It has transformed the way we interact with both each other and the internet. Cell towers are the backbone of this technology. Ensuring that they are able to communicate with each other is another key element of functional telecommunications infrastructure.
So how do cell towers communicate with each other?
Cell towers are connected to data centers and communicate with each other by using either underground cables or sophisticated antennas that rely on microwaves or radio waves, depending on the area in which they are located.
In urban areas, underground cables connect towers with their corresponding data center allowing for the transmission and reception of essential information. However, connecting each tower using this method becomes more logistically difficult when situated in rural locations. That’s where antennas utilizing microwaves come into play.
Types of Critical Wireless Infrastructure
Examples of critical wireless infrastructure are wireless local-area networks (WLANs) for local coverage, wireless sensor networks (WSNs) for monitoring data, and terrestrial microwave transmission systems (TMTS) that send transmissions over long distances.
WLANs: Wireless local-area networks are devices or groupings of computers that make up a network of radio transmissions. WLANs can be configured in two different ways:
Infrastructure – Utilizing modern infrastructure WLAN technology, it’s easy to connect multiple devices together for seamless communication. Connecting a wireless router— which can also double as an internet connection source—with endpoints such as computers, mobile tablets, and printers, enables users to quickly set up a network anywhere.
Ad hoc – With an ad hoc WLAN, computers and mobile devices can connect without the use of a base station. This convenient setup utilizes Wi-Fi direct technology to quickly establish basic peer-to-peer communication between two or more endpoints with built-in radio transmission.
WSNs: Wireless sensor networks are intricate web-like systems that monitor and record sensory information from their surroundings. Through wireless connectivity, the dispersed sensors collect data on natural conditions such as temperature, sound levels, or air quality. This allows researchers to uncover valuable insights into environmental phenomena without being physically present in the same location.
TMTS: Terrestrial microwave systems employ high-powered directional antennas to send powerful signals in the lower gigahertz range. To extend their coverage, relay towers are used for redirecting and concentrating those same focused transmissions, allowing them an unobstructed path of communication within their line of sight.
Network densification is a strategy for improving cellular coverage, which involves adding more cell sites to a particular area. These can range from macro antennas to indoor wireless solutions and small cells – all of these playing their role in boosting network capacity for better performance.
It’s been established that expanding wireless infrastructure is now more important than ever before. This means that not only do we need to maintain and protect the infrastructure we already have, but we need to build more. The number of cell sites in the U.S. will rise to more than 1.1 million in 2026, up from around 419,000 at the end of 2021, according to the CTIA.
Ericsson’s annual mobility report projects total global mobile traffic to reach around 90 exabytes per month by the end of 2022 and grow by a factor of 4 to exceed 325 exabytes per month in 2028. Additionally, Ericsson’s report projects video traffic to account for 80% of all mobile data traffic, rising over 10% from 2022.
This phenomenal growth is directly linked to the increasing number of people using personal devices as well as Internet of Things (IoT) connections, which are expected to expand from 14 billion devices in 2022 all the way up to nearly 30 billion by 2030. With such huge advances being made every day, this offers us exciting opportunities for further innovation across our digital landscape.
Network densification requires a higher number of smaller cells, which means more projects and sites. To keep track of each project and the steps and milestones within them, telecom project managers will need to enlist a modern critical infrastructure project management solution.
Maintaining Towers and Critical Cellular Infrastructure
Another element of CTI is the wireless infrastructure providers. Not all wireless-based businesses provide services directly to consumers. There is also a group of specialized experts that create the foundation for these services to operate.
Wireless infrastructure providers are now considered essential workers. They are the construction crews that build and install outward structures, equipment, or facilities, such as transmission devices for wireless technology.
As the remote workforce skyrockets, organizations are realizing that they need to upgrade their internet gateways and networks if they want to keep up with demand. Traditional GigE networks won’t cut it anymore—10Gig and beyond is now necessary for primary backhauls.
This increase in connectivity is driving a need for more reliability in another critical infrastructure sector: utilities.
The telecom industry, which is driving ubiquitous connectivity, is also driving a need for constant and reliable power sources to enable users to power on connected devices. We rely on cloud services, which run on physical servers that rely on the grid. The internet and the networks that enable access to it, run on our electric grid.
The need for constant and uninterrupted power
Energy consumption is increasing for the first time in over a decade after a long period of relative decline. Electric vehicles, smartphones, computers, and similar devices are everywhere, and these devices don’t just need available power to work, they need constant and uninterrupted power.
To ensure grid reliability, utility companies across the U.S. need to ensure that their physical assets are in working order around the clock.
To do this, they have to have a top-notch outage management system (OMS) and meet demand by ensuring the electric grid is managed by an efficient, safe workforce. They also need to manage projects, whether circuit repair or pole replacement, to ensure asset work quality and, ultimately, decrease outage occurrence and duration.
Now, more than ever, delivering infrastructure projects requires a more modern and efficient approach.
What is the role of critical infrastructure project management?
With so many critical infrastructure project types across sectors like utilities and telecommunications, it’s imperative that infrastructure providers, such as network operators and power companies, manage their projects in a way that minimizes risk, expedites completion, and, ultimately, saves resources.
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