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Opinion by Iain

Some stats about private wireless networks that may surprise you

July 25, 2022 | We have spent the last few months researching and publishing a series of reports on the CBRS private network opportunity in the U.S.  Specifically, we have published 12 reports covering a variety of vertical industries, with the last two reports being released this week.

As we have been putting the forecasts together, several statistics have come up that have resulted in some internal debate or surprise from clients.  We all have established prejudices or a mental picture of a specific industry that we believe is correct but that may be just plain wrong or outdated.  These baseline assumptions impact how we view an opportunity within an industry.

Some examples, both good and bad:

1. The U.S. manufacturing industry is smaller than you think


It is easy to think that everyone, or maybe a majority of people you know, work in manufacturing.  After all, when we think of the ‘economy’, we usually imagine trucks or cars rolling off an assembly line, and this is usually what the media shows us when they have a story about the economy.  But the U.S. manufacturing industry comprises about 11.5 billion square feet of space. This sounds big until you realize that the total commercial space in the U.S. is about 103.5 billion square feet.  So the manufacturing industry is about 10 percent of the total commercial space.  There are about 360,000 manufacturing buildings compared to 6.2 million commercial buildings.  So while manufacturing makes up 10 percent of the floor space, it is only about six percent of the total commercial buildings.

2. Just 25 ports handle 96.5% of the container traffic


We keep hearing about the blockages at the nation’s ports and how this is impacting logistics and the supply chain.  A lot of goods and materials go through more than 300 ports in the U.S. but the top 25 container ports handled a total of 39.8 million TEU (twenty-foot equivalent units), accounting for 96.5 percent of the loaded TEU handled by all U.S. container ports. The container ports with the highest TEU volumes were, unsurprisingly, coastal container ports, such as the ports of Los Angeles, Long Beach, and New York and New Jersey.

3. There are about 20,000 airports


While there are fewer sea ports than you may expect, there are a lot of airports in the U.S.  Officially, there are 5,000 public-use airports and 14,400 private-use airports – that is private to you and me.  While the majority of airports are small and private, the opportunity to provide private networks in the U.S. public passenger airports, to supplement the DAS and Wi-Fi networks that are already there, is significant.  Anyone who has traveled by air this summer knows how crowded the airports are and how slow the wireless networks have become!

4. There are only 14 operating off-shore oil and gas rigs


This one really surprised me and required some checking, but it is true: there are just 14 operating oil rigs in the U.S.  I expected more, given the size of the oceans, etc., but really could not tell you how many more.  The proper definition (used by the government) is a ‘U.S. offshore crude oil and natural gas rotary rig in operation’. Back in 2015, there were 35 in operation, but that number has gradually fallen over the last seven years.  The good news is that there are far more onshore oil and gas rigs (more than 30 times more), but these have been declining in number as well.

5. There are 2 million U.S. farming operations covering 900 million acres


While there are just over two million farming operations in the U.S., only the smallest and largest (by acreage) are growing in number.  In other words, the biggest farms are getting bigger.  In aggregate, the total number of farming operations (and the total acreage being farmed) is declining. In total, there are just under 900 million acres being farmed in the U.S. (according to Wikipedia, the U.S. land area is about 2.26 billion acres), which is about 40 percent of the total land area.  The largest acreage is taken by beef cattle ranching, oil seed and grain, and ‘other’, which includes hay and sugarcane.

6. There are nearly 14,000 Independent School Districts in the U.S.


The good news is that there is a large number of ISDs in the U.S. – about 13,800 compared to 22,000 counties.  And there are about 55 million students in those ISDs.  But the top 200 ISDs comprise most of the students and spending: there are a few very large school districts and a lot of very small ones.  For example, New York City schools have just under one million students and the Los Angeles Unified School district has about 650,000 students.  Of the top 1,000 ISDs, 185 are in California, 113 are in Texas and 40 are in Georgia.  Given the focus on closing the digital divide and safer schools, there is a lot of opportunity for private wireless networks, edge compute and AI in the education industry at present.


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