Shared Infrastructure

Building more inclusive wireless networks: An interview with Brenna Berman

This summer, Dense Air welcomed Brenna Berman, a globally recognized expert on cities, technology, and urban innovation, as our Executive Vice President of Strategic Partnerships. In this role, Brenna brings her public and private sector leadership experience to bear in identifying opportunities for Dense Air to partner with cities and harness our innovative technology to strengthen connectivity for all residents.

We recently sat down with Brenna to discuss her new role, why equitable wireless access is so important, how Dense Air partners with cities to advance digital equity, and more.

Welcome to Dense Air, Brenna! A major reason why you decided to join the company was the opportunity to focus on expanding access to wireless broadband. Can you explain what this means and why it’s important?

In today’s interconnected world, access to broadband is critical to enabling individuals to work, study, engage with their community, and more. Unfortunately, due to the traditional way that infrastructure has been structured and built, many communities across the country lack equitable access to broadband, including uneven wireless coverage. Without reliable connectivity to digital services, this digital divide exacerbates existing inequalities.

While we can all agree that closing the digital divide is important, the real challenge lies in making it happen. Expanding networks requires significant investments in physical infrastructure, such as fiber optic cables and cellular towers. Geographical remoteness and inadequate funding make it logistically difficult and economically unviable for private providers to extend services to areas that are already underserved, such as rural and low-income communities. And when providers do expand their networks, they pay a high price to build duplicative infrastructure that disrupts city life.

This sounds like a daunting challenge. How can we address it?

It’s time — in fact, it’s long overdue — for us to fundamentally rethink this system to make digital equity achievable. Through new technologies, strategic funding models, and innovative public-private partnerships, we can support communities in reaching this important goal.

Achieving broadband equity will require a concerted effort from governments, private sector entities, and communities to overcome infrastructure challenges while ensuring affordability. It will not be a quick and easy process, but it will help to bring us closer to having an inclusive and equitable society.

What role does Dense Air play in this effort to advance broadband equity?

Dense Air is uniquely positioned to help communities tackle this critically important challenge because we take a holistic new approach to enabling carriers to expand their wireless networks. Our solution focuses on four main pillars:

  1. We deploy and operate innovative shared network infrastructure, which introduces, for the first time, the unique ability for multiple wireless network operators and private users to utilize the network simultaneously. This decreases the cost of building and managing the wireless networks over time.
  2. We leverage existing physical infrastructure, such as light poles, utility poles, and roofs, to reduce the cost of building the network, to deploy faster, and to reduce disruption to the community.
  3. We use data-driven coverage gap analysis to help us understand where a community lacks coverage today and to build a roadmap for the future. Our denseWare analytics tool evaluates coverage at the call level to help us and communities determine where best to make investments.
  4. We think holistically with our investments, which allows us and our partners to build a balanced business case across entire cities, not just the wealthiest neighborhoods.

How does Dense Air work with cities and other key stakeholders?

Combining technology innovation with strategic funding models is an excellent start to solving cities’ network challenges, but it isn’t enough. I know from years of experience as the Chief Information Officer of Chicago that cities can only achieve their innovation goals with strong partnerships based on aligned incentives.  That’s why, at Dense Air, we are focused on creating highly collaborative partnerships with cities as we help them solve intractable challenges. Through these partnerships, we contribute our technology and ingenuity to create new business opportunities. In turn, the cities and communities share infrastructure assets and help us streamline processes to drive down the overall cost and time of network deployment. As a result, communities receive reliable and affordable broadband access, in a shorter timeframe and with less disruption.  

Digital equity has been a rallying cry for cities for many years, but today, we have the ideal conditions to achieve the networks of the future that residents deserve. Dense Air is focused on delivering that future, and we look forward to partnering with the cities that share our vision.

Shared broadband infrastructure to empower Worthing

Worthing, a popular seaside town on England’s south coast, is a tale of two towns. During public holidays, and particularly throughout the summer months, the town transforms into a thriving tourist hub brimming with visitors – but as school term resumes and crowds thin out, the focus turns back to the residents and the local economy.

This seasonal rollercoaster strains Worthing’s mobile network infrastructure, leaving residents, visitors, and enterprises struggling to connect during times of peak demand – a tale becoming ever-more familiar in many towns and urban centers.

Acutely aware of the role connectivity plays in today’s society, the UK Department of Science Innovation and Technology (DSIT) today announced the winners of their Open Networks Ecosystem competition – an important initiative to bring together the public and private sectors to solve connectivity and infrastructure challenges.

One of the winners of this competition is the Beach Energy-efficient Accessed Cluster for High-demand (BEACH) Project , an innovative shared 4G/5G shared small cell solution for Worthing. Dense Air is leading this project and working with West Sussex County Council; technology providers Radisys UK, VMware, and Sitenna; and the University of Glasgow; in collaboration with two of the UK’s largest mobile network operators (MNOs).

Whether you’re in a busy city centre or a rural village, a fast and reliable mobile connection is vital to staying in touch, accessing services and doing business. In order to secure that, we need to embrace a diverse and secure range of technology that will underpin the network. The projects we’re backing today with £88 million in Government research and development investment will use innovative Open RAN solutions to make our mobile networks more adaptable and resilient, with future-proofed technology to support bringing lightning-fast connections across the country for many years to come.

Sir John Whittingdale MP, Minister for Data and Digital Infrastructure

Optimized for efficiency, the BEACH Project’s low-impact small cells flex capacity based on real-time demand data. Scaled down in the off-season, BEACH ramps up seamlessly when the crowds return. This intelligent load balancing means there is no more wasted energy – a key step toward West Sussex County’s goal of carbon neutrality by 2030.

Crucially, the BEACH Project also helps close the digital divide between the residents of Worthing and those of urban areas who enjoy stronger, more reliable mobile service. By sharing network infrastructure costs across multiple carriers and efficiently utilizing the existing gigabit fiber footprint, this project provides Worthing with the wireless mobile connectivity needed for the town to thrive and grow in the 21st century. As demand grows, the BEACH Project’s nimble shared architecture can scale to deliver the same high bandwidth that denser metro areas enjoy.

The BEACH Project embodies Dense Air’s vision of harnessing innovation to make connectivity more reliable, accessible, and inclusive. Part of Sidewalk Infrastructure Partners’ CoFi platform, Dense Air combines open RAN infrastructure with shared spectrum, enabling multiple MNOs to share secure infrastructure. This model helps MNOs augment and improve their proprietary networks, lowers their operating costs, and increases 5G deployment speed.

This project also highlights Dense Air’s innovative and flexible approach to creating public-private partnerships that strengthen communities and improve urban life. Close collaboration with the West Sussex County Council and the Worthing Borough Council, along with a series of private sector partners, was instrumental in developing the scalable BEACH network and will be key to its smooth implementation. Locals and visitors will seamlessly experience improvements in their mobile service, while a new mobile app will provide the Council and DSIT with relevant data on network performance to inform future shared network rollouts across the country.

Worthing now serves as a model of how governments, communities, companies, and carriers can join forces to bridge the digital divide with inclusive solutions like shared wireless network infrastructure that expands the reach of 5G. The potential is enormous. But none of it is possible without visionary thinking — and most importantly, visionary partnerships between the public and private sectors. Worthing shows what’s possible when all parties work together to find innovative infrastructure solutions to communities’ pressing connectivity challenges.

A full list of successful projects and more about Beach can be found here.