Ericsson's top brass in the US -- as well as some token FCC officials and lawmakers -- were on hand in Lewisville, Texas, yesterday for the grand opening of the infrastructure vendor's largest training center in the US.
Training for what? 5G, of course.
"The availability of Tower crews is the limiting factor for US 5G rollout!" wrote Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC)'s Paul Challoner on LinkedIn. "The training Center will bring more crews into the Ericsson family to accelerate rollout!" [Ed. note: Yes, he's excited about this!]
Ericsson explained that its new Lewisville Center of Excellence is an "enhanced training facility that provides best-in-class field services training and support for Ericsson employees and partners." The training covers topics ranging from radio base station installation, to tower and rooftop installation, to microwave alignment. That means it will help to teach tower climbers and other technicians charged with installing Ericsson equipment for AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T), Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) and other Ericsson carrier customer the right way to install that equipment.
The center is roughly 26,000 square feet and is scheduled to officially open for business sometime in the next two months. When it's fully staffed (it will count seven full-time employees) it will be able to handle 276 trainees per day over the course of two separate shifts.
Joining Niklas Heuveldop, president of Ericsson's North American business, and Kevin Zvokel, Ericsson's North American chief of networks, at the facility's grand opening were Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Commissioner Brendan Carr and Republican Rep. Michael Burgess of Texas.
Ericsson is the largest wireless network equipment vendor in the United States, according to research firm Dell'Oro Group , ahead of both Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK) and Samsung. And Ericsson has worked to widen its lead in the market with investments specific to 5G in the country. For example, last year the company announced it would soon begin manufacturing some 5G equipment in a plant in St. Petersburg, Fla., via a partnership with Jabil Circuit Inc. (NYSE: JBL).
And those efforts appear to be paying off. Just a few weeks ago, Ericsson's CEO hailed the company's first year of organic sales growth, partly due to its customers in North America embarking on rollouts of 5G networks. (See Ericsson Hails First Annual Sales Growth Since 2013 as 5G Comes Calling.)
Addressing a possible 5G stumbling block
Thus, Ericsson's new training center is a further attempt by the company to goose the market for 5G. And as Ericsson's Challoner explained, one potential hiccup to a quick and broad 5G rollout is actually finding technicians capable of installing all the new equipment that will power 5G networks.
It's an issue that others have acknowledged. For example, the director of the National Association of Tower Erectors recently estimated that there are only around 30,000 technicians in the tower industry in the US, a figure that hasn't changed much over the years and a trend that could hinder the rollout of 5G.
In response, NATE, the Wireless Infrastructure Association and others have undertaken marketing efforts geared at getting more people interested in tower climbing -- a difficult and potentially dangerous profession -- as a career.
Moreover, the issue could become more pressing if the FCC releases even more spectrum for commercial use. According to a new report from Analysis Group and released by the CTIA, if the FCC makes 400MHz of mid-band spectrum available for commercial 5G networks, it would result in the creation of 1.3 million new jobs -- many of which will likely be focused on building and installing equipment to transmit signals over that spectrum.