April 15, 2020

Summary: Blake Maffei, Connectivity Wireless’ Chief Strategy Officer and 20-year veteran of the wireless industry shares the inside scoop on 5G with Connected Real Estate Magazine

What is one thing you think property owners should really know about 5G?

Ultimately, I think it’s most vital that they know that 5G is here, and it is being deployed today. Carriers are deploying 5G radio nodes that feed our DRAN, CRAN, and DAS networks in systems that are currently under construction.

The term “5G”  isn’t just white noise anymore. It is a reality that will be in vogue for at least the next 10 years (until the next G-eneration evolves), and owners should be thinking about how to take advantage of its benefits as soon as possible.  Whether it be fully converged networks inside buildings (including private security systems, video surveillance, and building management systems), IOT, Wi-Fi replacement, or just an improved carrier-grade wireless experience for the building tenants, 5G has a role to play, and it can play that role now.

Our role, as I see it, is arming our customers with forward-thinking designs that will take advantage of the design footprint and the structured cabling required for the efficient utilization of the enhanced spectrum (e.g., mmWave, mid-band, low-band, C-Band, or CBRS).

What advice do you have for property owners to make the adoption of 5G as easy as possible?

It is my humble opinion that there are two keys to success for deploying 5G.

The first, is finding the right partner to help assess the owner’s objectives correctly and consequently develop a tailored solution that meets today’s requirements with scalability/adaptability for the future. While this sounds easy in theory, it is not always an easy choice. Property owners should be seeking wireless integrators with 1. Depth of tenure, field application, and success-based volume and 2. Breadth of carrier and equipment manufacturer relationships. Essentially, you want to ensure you have a highly knowledgeable partner. One that will provide the right cost-benefit analysis on the front end to ensure incremental value for the money being spent at such time that it is being spent.

The second key, equally important, is to find a partner that avoids competing on price and, instead, focuses on value and overall quality of the solution being delivered because, remember, this is a 10-year solution, it needs to be built to last. Saving a few thousand dollars now may cost millions down the road.  I have seen it happen before.  

What do you predict in the next 10 years for 5G?

I don’t have a crystal ball, but it is safe to anticipate that 5G will:

  • Follow a very similar adoption and rate of deployment pattern as 4G
  • Amass real scale over the next couple of years
  • Likely be around for the next 10+ years
  • Revolutionize the wireless industry and change the way people communicate and interact in ways that we can’t even yet begin to imagine
  • Quickly advance machine-to-machine communication as well as Artificial Intelligence

I genuinely believe that there are new technologies, patterns of human behavior, business automation processes, phenomenon, and even entire industries, that are not in existence today that will be directly born as a result of the improved ubiquitous wireless bandwidth.

We can see this as a pattern in looking at the last 10 years. In 2010, Facebook, Instagram, Tik-Tok, Uber and Lyft, the Smartphone with cameras, Google Play, application commerce in general, 2-Step Security Authentication via reliable texts, and a myriad of other “game-changers” either didn’t exist or were very early in their infancy.  All of this change and ingenuity was accelerated due to the proliferation of 4G.  Imagine what 5G will bring. It is definitely worth planning now for the next wave of wireless change. In my mind, the best is yet to come!   

How long have you been in wireless?

25 years.

First Job: I started my wireless career in 1996 as an IT coordinator for a 100-team member wireless consulting firm in Atlanta, GA.  I was a young kid, fresh out of college that everyone called to come fix their PC issues within the firm. I was asked by management to then support an Outside Plant Engineering role where I was tasked with engineering the DS1/T-1 backhaul into all of the PCS sites in the southeastern region for Sprint PCS, Powertel PCS (later integrated with Omnipoint, Aerial, and Voicestream to become T-Mobile), and BellSouth DCS (Cingular to AT&T).

After a couple of years of OSP work, I was asked to help support the startup of TTC.  We were responsible for facilitating the procurement of backhaul for the same carriers previously mentioned, and we ultimately ordered all circuits for major wireless companies as they charged to build-out their PCS networks in the late 1990s.  We handled 10,000+ circuits as well as the design of the circuits on to SONET rings (CFAs).

Sprint / Nextel In 2001, I was asked to join Nextel as in the founding Project Manager for new Custom Network Solutions group as a direct project with oversight from, then, CEO Tim Donahue.  This organization sought to build virtually private wireless networks using Nextel Motorola iDEN PTT (push-to-talk) technology for large enterprise Fortune 500, government, and Department of Defense customers.  At Nextel, I oversaw the project management organization for the south region having built custom network solutions for Walt Disney World, San Diego Naval Station 32nd Street, Texas Instruments at 11M square feet of facility and the nation’s first and largest fiber-optic DAS system, Miramar Marine Core Air Station, General Motors, Anheuser Busch, Edwards Airforce Base, Tennessee Valley Authority, and many others.   I later moved onto managing the Post-Delivery Support organization, which was a white-glove group that focused on ensuring these very important Custom Network Solution clients received the highest level of service available. 

Connectivity Wireless Solutions– Upon Sprint’s acquisition of Nextel, I left the company in 2008 with a colleague. We endeavored to create a new wireless integration company with a technology-neutral approach so that we could select the best-suited technology to meet each of our customer’s needs, as well as make sure they received the best overall value for their investment. Hence, Connectivity Wireless Solutions was born. We served wireless carriers, public/private enterprise organizations, and third-party operators. As a co-founder, I ran operations for the company as COO for the first four years as the 4G LTE revolution was unfolding, until I moved into various cross-functional strategy roles.  Today, we are focused on providing customers with enterprise wireless solutions (EnterpriseConnectTM) or neutral host funded wireless solutions (NeutralConnectTM).  However, our mission remains basically the same.  Our customers’ connectivity is our mission.  

Tell us about yourself

I was born and raised in New Jersey, went to the College of William and Mary in Virginia and moved to Atlanta just after college, which is where I built my career.  I currently reside in the Hilton Head Island area in South Carolina.  I am a big believer that extracurricular activities can soothe the soul. Particularly those that are conducted outdoors. I personally enjoy golfing, hiking, landscaping and gardening, biking, and anything beach related.  Having been a former state-ranked high school and Division 1 college wrestler where weight control was paramount, I, of course, also realize the benefits of great food and drink.  That is probably where I built my work hard/play hard mentality as well.  Life is short – balance is important.