Aiken Technical College, in Graniteville, S.C., is accredited to offer training and certification for fifth generation wireless technology, which would need to be installed on the country’s 250,000 cell towers.
(TNS) — With the transition to the fifth generation of wireless communication, there is a growing need for certified workers in the wireless installation tower industry.
Brendan Carr, commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission, visited Aiken Technical College on Thursday, along with South Carolina Congressman Joe Wilson, to take a look at the school's tower and wireless installation program.
ATC's program was founded in 2014 and spearheaded by Dr. Gemma Frock, the school's vice president of institutional effectiveness and accreditation. It is the only college in South Carolina that offers the program and school officials said it is "unique in the nation."
"With the development of the new fifth generation of wireless communication, there are going to be a lot more jobs," Wilson said. "I already knew Aiken Technical College was an incredible institution for apprenticeships, now I find out it's the gold standard for climbing towers."
Carr, who was confirmed as commissioner in 2017, said 5G is "going to unlock all kinds of economic opportunities, and deploying cell sites is the key to 5G."
"What this means as a practical matter is this massive new infrastructure build," he said. "We've got about 250,000 cell sites in the country right now, we need to go about 10 to 100 times that many. We have the need for about 20,000 new, skilled tower climbers, so what's one way that we can fill that gap? It's programs like this at Aiken that have found the way to do it."
The ATC program lasts 12 weeks, with classes three days a week from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. It covers safety, basic rigging and fall protection, principles of electricity, fiber optics, wireless technology, cell components, antenna basics, and spectrum management.
"We think we need more of these triple T-1 certified tower climbers. That's how we're going to get this infrastructure built," Carr said. "We think the best way to do that is through community college programs like this because it opens up Pell Grants, it opens up access to funding. We need to replicate and stand up this model here at Aiken, and we're already working towards that goal with different institutions."
According to the college's website, students who complete the Basic curriculum – and those with field experience in the wireless industry – can progress toward the advanced program and earn an associates degree.
"You can come in with no skills and you can come out later and be in a high-demand job," Carr said. "They're saying essentially every person that comes through this program has a job at the end."
During their visit, Carr and Wilson met with college administrators and the tower and wireless installation program advisory committee, students and instructors, and toured the indoor tower lab. There was also a climb demonstration of one of the college's 90-foot outdoor towers which Carr took part in with program students Caleb Pearson and Michael Montgomery, ATC program instructors and the owner of a company that specializes in the construction and maintenance of communication towers and their antenna systems.
"It gives you appreciation for what these crews do," said Carr.
He said the U.S. is in a "global competition, principally with China, to be the country that's going to deploy this infrastructure first."
Carr said when he became commissioner, "the U.S. faced some challenges. China was deploying cell sites at about 12 times the pace that we were doing in the U.S."
He said the FCC took steps which has allowed companies to "deploy cell sites at six times the pace as before, so we're closing that gap with China.
"We're going to win this to 5G for the country," Carr said.
©2019 The Augusta Chronicle (Augusta, Ga.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.