First class inducted into WIA’s Wireless Hall of Fame

WASHINGTON, D.C.–As Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai recounted some of his travels around the country to get a firsthand sense of local telecommunications infrastructure, he was also painting a picture of the scope of the tower industry itself: seeing small cells deployed in Mobile, Alabama; learning how aerial fiber is strung in Florida and Vermont; visiting a devastated cell site in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria; and climbing a 131-foot tower in rural Colorado.

Pai was addressing audience at last night’s Wireless Infrastructure Association Wireless Hall of Fame awards dinner. The industry took an evening to honor some of its pioneers, inducting five people into the inaugural Hall of Fame class whose influence in a relatively young industry looms as large as some of the towers their companies have constructed.

The event raised more than $500,000 for the Wireless Infrastructure Association’sTelecommunications Education Center and Telecom Industry Registered Apprentice Program, Jonathan Adelstein, president and CEO of WIA, told the crowd.

Pai was one of two FCC members to speak; Commissioner Michael O’Rielly introduced inductee José R. Mas, CEO of MasTec.

T-Mobile US CEO John Legere, wearing his signature magenta sneakers, introduced a familiar inducteee — his own CTO, Neville Ray, whom Legere congratulated as the “world’s best CTO”; Ray himself spoke not only about his history in the industry, going back to his days of building GSM networks in the Middle East, but also about the 5G future, saying that he has “one more ‘G’ in me” as T-Mobile US looks toward both a merger with Sprint and the deployment of 5G networks.

The other inductees of the inaugural class had their own few moments to reminisce, with Steven E. Bernstein, founder and former CEO of SBA Communications and Steven B. Dodge, founder and former CEO of American Tower, each recalling the days of inexpensive spectrum licenses, brick-sized handheld devices, the early uncertainty over whether mobile technology would be widely used or a niche business, of discovering the opportunities in a new industry that grew rapidly, and the shifts over time from towers as strategic assets owned by carriers to towers and real estate being owned by tower companies.

Inductee John P. Kelly, former CEO of Crown Castle, reminded the industry that despite the success of the mobile industry, it has not been universally loved for its infrastructure over the years — but that collectively, the tower industry has taken what works over the years and continues to move forward. Mas of MasTec spoke of his own personal history as a first-generation American, whose father came to the U.S. and eventually started a construction business that dug trenches for a telephone company and evolved into a company that last year reported $7 billion in revenue.

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