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Call for speakers: #STAC2023

As frequent readers will know, I have been a supporter of the annual STAC Conference, the annual gathering of the Structure, Tower and Antenna Council, bringing together the people who physically construct Canada’s telecommunications networks.

The 2023 conference is taking place in Niagara Falls, Tuesday, March 28, and Wednesday, March 29.

While the event is still nearly 8 months away, the organizers are already starting to pull together the event program. To that end, there is an open call for speaker proposals, with a deadline of October 10 – just 2 months from now.

Session content should not be promotional in nature and should remain unbiased with respect to any mention of manufacturers and products.

The following criteria will be used by STAC 2023 conference planners and the STAC Steering Committee when reviewing speaker proposals:

  • Relevance to the conference program themes and objectives
  • Innovation and fresh insights
  • Knowledge and expertise of the speaker
  • Research-based content where appropriate or relevant
  • Learning outcomes/audience engagement
  • Previous speaking experience
  • Diversity of speaker background, experiences, perspectives, and ideas

I have reviewed a number of sessions from the past 2 years; you can get an idea of the kinds of sessions by searching with a keyword “STAC”.

Submit your speaking proposal by October 10. And mark the dates in your calendar: STAC2023 | March 28 -29 | Niagara Falls.

#STAC2022: State of wireless

Robert Ghiz, President and CEO of the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association (CWTA) was the closing keynote speaker for STAC2022, the annual conference of Canada’s Structure, Tower and Antenna Council, held online again this year.

Rob’s talks are usually packed with statistics and topical information about the wireless industry and its impact on Canadians and Canada’s economy, and today’s address did not disappoint.

He also spoke about the success of the Structure, Towers and Antenna Council as a relatively new organization, growing from 10 organizations at its inception in 2016 to more than 130 now. “What started as a small group of about 40 people is now a community of over 700 like-minded individuals who have a shared committed to tower safety.”

He discussed the transformative impact of 5G, and the role played by those specialized workers actually implementing these technology changes.

Why spend so much on 5G?

5G is not just an upgrade to 4G. It is whole new telecommunications system that will transform the way that Canadians conduct business, receive critical services like healthcare, and interact with one another. 5G will be the foundation for the digital economy and will be a key enabler for Canada’s economic recovery.

As the demand for mobile data increases, we need to adopt technologies that allow wireless networks to operate more efficiency. Equally important, our wireless networks must support other industries’ desire to use wireless technologies to make their operations and products more environmentally friendly.

As always, Rob provided an overview of the Canadian wireless industry, its positioning in the world, the importance of wireless infrastructure, and he looked at the current political situation in Ottawa.

In his talk, he spoke of the drive, commitment and passion of Canada’s telecommunications industry workers. I encourage you to watch it in its entirety.

Indeed, speaking of passion, it is worth mentioning that Rob is arguably the most passionate promoter of Prince Edward Island as an idyllic tourist destination as you start to venture out of your COVID-induced isolation. Since Rob only made a passing reference to some “colleagues from PEI” in the context of an answer to a question, I was left wondering if someone changed the colour of the gables on Anne’s house.

Hoping someone will visit the Island and send along a photo to reassure me.

#STAC2022: A Reflection on diversity, inclusivity, and belonging

Last month, I wrote “Creating A Better Reflection”, talking about the importance of having a diverse set of people working on problems, to ensure we ask the right questions, or solve the right problems, and to help us come up with the best answers.

As the annual meeting of STAC, Canada’s Structure, Tower and Antenna Council, STAC2022 continued, I had an opportunity to listen to noon panel today, “Not Just Another Checkbox: A Reflection on Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) in the Workplace”. Mandy Walsh, National Account Manager at Gap Wireless, hosted Amy Derickx, an Employment, Labour & Equalities lawyer at Gowling WLG, reflecting on the meaning of diversity, the importance of inclusivity and creating a sense of belonging, and the impact on businesses.

“Equity, Diversity and Inclusion are complex concepts that are not set in stone. Our understanding of EDI will continue to evolve as we listen to those who do the work of EDI and to those who encounter barriers in our workplaces.”

As we understand “Equity” in terms of treating employees fairly, we need to consider that this does not mean treating employees the same. When thinking about equity, it is important to think about removing systemic biases that may result in unfair treatments, despite all being treated the same.

If “Diversity” is an action, then what actions can be taken? While some view diversity as a result of EDI processes; others see diversity as a first step.

Where inclusivity is social and cultural, how is this reflected in formal and informal organizational structures and policies? When “Belonging” is a feeling, does the organization have a culture of welcoming voices that have traditionally been dismissed? How can every employee play a role in ensuring these feelings emanate throughout the company? How do these elements combine to contribute to the business’ bottom-line in a positive way?

The speakers explored how many corporate policies, processes and structures were implemented in a different era, and require a complete overhaul to adapt to the kind of diversity and inclusion that reflect today’s workforces in Canada. “Structural change takes time to achieve and is usually met with resistance.”

The legal requirements for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion should be considered a ‘floor’; satisfying workplace legislation, whether provincial or federal, is a necessary, but insufficient condition for creating a truly inclusive environment. There are roles for employees and employers to play in creating the kind of diverse and inclusive workforce where everyone has a sense of belonging.

Emphasizing the drive for increased diversity, there is a session at the event on Wednesday entitled “50 Shades of Beige: Communicate with the Cross-Cultural Advantage”, with speaker Tina Varughese.

Embracing Equity, Diversity and Inclusion in our workforce isn’t just the right thing; it’s the smart way to run a business.

#STAC2022: The people who actually build our networks

I clearly remember a conversation I had with my Bell Labs office mate thirty-five years ago, as we were driving on the Garden State Parkway to a meeting. It was a beautiful spring day and looking out at people installing fibre optic lines along the road, Sam commented that he wished he had a job like theirs, able to enjoy working outside on a day like that one. I replied that they were probably looking at us, thinking those guys are lucky, getting paid to just sit in a car.

There is a certain degree of instant gratification when you work in construction. At the end of a shift, you can see what you accomplished. That is a huge advantage over the kinds of jobs that I have always had. Long range planning, network development, software and feature requirements definition, policy and regulatory strategies: all of them important, but with milestones measured in months, if not years (if at all).

That probably explains why I enjoy cooking. No matter how complex the recipe, there is a defined start and a finish (usually hours later), and almost always a most gratifying project conclusion.

All of which is a long introduction to what I really wanted to talk about – the importance of outside plant infrastructure and the people who are building our networks.

As various jurisdictions across the continent try to accelerate expansion of networks to unserved areas, and mobile carriers race to expand 5G networks in urban, rural and private networks, the past couple of years have demonstrated the dedication and essentiality of those telecommunications professionals so clearly. Normally working in all kinds of challenging weather conditions, coupled with additional COVID protocols, for the next few days, many of these people building Canadian networks will pause to connect over the broadband facilities they built themselves.

Today, Canada’s premier tower industry event gets underway at noon (Eastern). STAC2022, the annual Conference and Exhibition of Canada’s Structure, Tower and Antenna Council, is taking place virtually from March 28 to 30, 2022.

This event is dedicated to safety and best practices in the communication tower industry, bringing together the industry professionals who build Canada’s communications networks. Attendees include representatives from wireless carriers, broadcasters, oil and gas companies, utility providers, tower engineers, contractors, manufacturers, safety trainers and safety equipment suppliers from across the communications and tower industries.

Over the next 3 days, sessions will include: a look at safety standards, examining tower failures and near misses, reflecting on equity, diversity and inclusion in the workplace, examining rope safety, and a report on efforts to recruit more people into the field.

I’m especially looking forward to tomorrow morning’s session with singer, songwriter and mental health advocate, Steven Page.

If there is a special kind of job satisfaction from building networks, STAC2022 provides an opportunity to have a better appreciation for the physically challenging work.

At the end of the day, such events enable inside and outside network professionals to learn from each other, vicariously sharing in each others’ successes and learning from failures.

I’ll share some highlights from the sessions in upcoming blog posts and on Twitter (hashtag #STAC2022).

#STAC2021: State of the wireless industry

Robert Ghiz, President and CEO of the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association (CWTA) was the featured keynote speaker for the penultimate session of STAC2021, the annual conference of Canada’s Structure, Tower and Antenna Council, held online this year, after having to cancel last year’s event due to COVID-19.

In my years hosting The Canadian Telecom Summit, I have had the pleasure of welcoming Robert a number of times. His talks are typically packed with statistics and topical information about the wireless industry and its impact on Canadians and Canada’s economy. And he is arguably the most prominent public figure pushing Prince Edward Island as the tourist destination of choice when we get past these pandemic times.

Today, he shared important perspectives on Canada’s wireless and telecommunications industry as a key part of nation building, saying “Our industry today is what the railway was 150 years ago.” STAC members and the telecommunications industry have met the challenges of the pandemic head-on. “Canada’s wireless industry has been recognized as a national success story throughout this pandemic.”

CWTA members ensured that “even with intensified network traffic and altered usage patterns, that Canadians can continue to rely on the high-quality networks to which they have become accustomed.”

He told STAC that “Canada’s telecom network operators continue to invest billions each year in expanding Canada’s digital infrastructure while ensuring that Canada maintains its global leadership in quality of service by deploying next-generation technologies such as 5G.”

These investments have also outpaced our global peers. In the G7, Canada ranks first for investment by spending $255 per capita on telecoms, compared to $156 for the average OECD country and re-investing 23 cents for every dollar of revenue, compared to the average of 15 cents in OECD countries.

A report by Accenture estimates that $26 billion will need to be invested by facilities-based carriers between 2020 and 2026 in order to deploy the network infrastructure for 5G. Accenture found that Canada’s facilities-based wireless carriers have invested over $72.3 billion in building Canada’s wireless networks since 1987.

With its focus on facilities-based competition, yesterday’s CRTC decision [decision, backgrounder, news release] appears to endorse the federal government’s statement last summer that “Canada’s future depends on connectivity.”

In a statement following the release of the CRTC’s decision, Minister Champagne wrote:

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Canada’s telecommunications service providers and their front line workers have been doing their part and providing essential services to keep Canadians connected. Now more than ever, Canadians are relying on telecommunications services for work, school, finances and health care – making access to high-quality and affordable services essential.

Returning to the address by Robert Ghiz to STAC 2021, he closed by emphasizing the importance of investment in telecommunications services. “COVID-19 has highlighted the need to invest in providing digital access to all Canadians.”

Canada’s future depends on connectivity.

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