Google, Samsung, META, Cisco— big names that are all part of the Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA), which is a global organization that connects people with the latest Wi-Fi initiatives.
On this episode of Connected Nation, we talk one-on-one with leader of the WBA to get an industry perspective on everything from connecting rural America to understanding the potential impact of a new Wi-Fi standard—not just in the US but around the world.
website - https://wballiance.com/
Jessica Denson, Host (00:07):
This is Connected Nation, an award-winning podcast focused on all things broadband from closing the digital divide to improving your internet speeds. We talk technology topics that impact all of us, our families, and our neighborhoods.
Google, Samsung, Cisco, big names that are all part of the Wireless Broadband Alliance, a global organization that connects people with the latest wifi initiatives.
Today, we talk one-on-one with the leader of that organization to get an industry perspective on everything from connecting rural America to understanding the potential impact of a new wifi standard, not just in the US but around the world. I'm Jessica Denson, and this is Connected Nation.
I'm Jessica Denson, and today my guest is Tiago Rodrigues, the Chief Executive of the Wireless Broadband Alliance, also known as W B A. Welcome Tiago.
Tiago Rodrigues, CEO, Wireless Broadband Alliance (01:02):
Yeah, thank you, uh, Jessica. Uh, it's a pleasure to be with you here on the Connected Nation Podcast. Uh, it's wonderful to be, to have this opportunity to share more about, uh, the w b and, uh, comment about the wifi, uh, initiatives that we have.
Jessica Denson, Host (01:21):
Yeah. I'm excited to get, uh, down to business, so to speak, and to learn more about all of that. First off, where are you dialing in from today? Where are you located?
Tiago Rodrigues, CEO, Wireless Broadband Alliance (01:30):
Yeah, I'm on the other side of the Ocean <laugh>. Uh, I'm based in Lisbon, Portugal. Uh, but I can tell you I travel a lot to us. I know India, Asia, Africa, south America. I'm a little Potter
Jessica Denson, Host (01:44):
<laugh>. I want, I want to get on, uh, to get on that, uh, ticket <laugh>. Um, let's, let's dive into a little bit of your background before we get into what W B A does. Uh, I know it's, you've been, you were 15 years of the Portugal Telecom Group before you were with aba, W B A. So just kind of give our audience a background of your, why you have such, so much knowledge in this industry, where you come from, that type of thing.
Tiago Rodrigues, CEO, Wireless Broadband Alliance (02:10):
Yeah, just, uh, not sharing a lot, but just to give a quick, uh, intro. So I spent, like you said, 15 years in, in Portugal Telecom, uh, group, uh, that is, uh, a major career here in Europe. Uh, at that time, they had operations in not only Portugal, in Brazil, Africa, uh, and even in Asia. Um, I took different roles, I think for this podcast. The most relevant one was that I took ownership of the, the public wifi business into the Portugal tele com group, and I got exposed to many industry bodies, including the Wireless Broadband Alliance. So I was a member in this association. Uh, I contributed with the, my expertise, uh, to this, uh, alliance. Uh, and at the moment of time, I was invited to become part of the staff, uh, and back in 2011, I become part of the staff. And five years ago, they, they elect me as, as c e o of the organization.
Jessica Denson, Host (03:15):
And, uh, give people a little bit of understanding. I know CEO means a lot of different things depending on where you are and which organization it is. Uh, tell us a little bit about what your role entails at Wireless Broadband Alliance and what the mission of the organization is.
Tiago Rodrigues, CEO, Wireless Broadband Alliance (03:29):
Yeah, so the role, just very quickly, I need to, uh, manage all the different operations of, of the organization. This includes, of course, things like marketing, all the technical programs, uh, all the relationship with the members, uh, the relationship with the board companies.
Uh, that's where I spend the majority of my time. And as you can imagine, I'm as well the voice of the association, uh, I participate in in podcasts like this one. But, uh, like I shared before, I travel a lot. I attend multiple meetings, events all around the world in terms of goals of the alliance. So, uh, first of all is a non-profit, uh, association, uh, that there's this, this goal to improve wifi, if, if I want to say it in, in a very, uh, simple way is we want to make wifi better. That's our goal. And to do that, we need to bring multiple companies together.
Some of them, in fact, they are competitors outside the, the Alliance, but sometimes they need to join forces to move, uh, some technology or some services forward. And, and that's where many times we have, I know companies like at and t and t-Mobile, us at the same table trying to solve the same problem together. Uh, but once they get out of the door of WBA, they're the biggest competitors and they need, I don't know, they do whatever marketing and commercial, uh, uh, elements to, to, to fight for the same customers.
Uh, but that's, at the end of the day, our mission, bringing these big telcos, big it companies together. Uh, let's agree on a common set of features that are critical to advance either a technology like wifi or a specific service that runs over the wifi networks, uh, because we all have the common, uh, uh, interest, uh, to make these technologies better, easier, uh, for everyone. Um,
Jessica Denson, Host (05:45):
How, how do you wrangle such big names? <laugh>, uh, connect to nature? We believe definitely partnerships are important and completely recognize and understand why that's critical. But you, I'd imagine there's some big Eagles egos in the room sometimes. Yes.
Tiago Rodrigues, CEO, Wireless Broadband Alliance (05:59):
<laugh>, yes. Sometimes this is very challenging. I used to say to my team that we need to be the United Nations sometimes. So <laugh>, uh, uh, we don't point the figure the finger to anyone, but we try to identify, uh, points of, of common interest areas where we can agree on common, uh, from common different opinions, and we agree on a specific element. Uh, and we, we go from there. And like you said, sometimes we are talking to representatives of, uh, big companies, uh, probably the the biggest companies in the world,
Jessica Denson, Host (06:37):
<laugh>, <laugh>. Uh, what are, can you give us an example of something that, um, has gone very well, um, with when you, when you've come together in that way?
Tiago Rodrigues, CEO, Wireless Broadband Alliance (06:48):
Yeah, so for example, things that have been working really well, uh, over the many years in W P I is, for example, uh, how to bring more security to wifi, especially when we go into, uh, public locations like coffee shops and restaurant to hotels. So how to guarantee that we as consumers, we'll feel comfortable to connect with wifi. And we don't have that concern, oh, am I secure? Can I do on banking? Or can I open this type of website? So that, for example, uh, very, uh, a very big effort that I think all the members of w b and even if they are competitors outside wba, they want to achieve, they want to make wifi secure.
Jessica Denson, Host (07:37):
Yeah, it's, I think security is, uh, one of the big issues no matter what technology we move towards, um, when it comes to anything with online access and the internet. Uh, another big name I do wanna bring up though is that, uh, you work with meta, which is the company that's behind Facebook and Instagram.
So a huge, huge, massive impact on the world, not just the us around the globe. Um, my understanding is at, um, WBA is working with the organization to find solutions to improve rural connectivity. And specifically I, is that correct? And and what are you doing to kind of, um, address That
Tiago Rodrigues, CEO, Wireless Broadband Alliance (08:16):
Is correct. And in fact, matter is a big champion for rural connectivity, uh, not only in the US but even around the world. They have have extensive programs on that. Uh, one of the work items that we worked over the last two years is we wrote, uh, uh, best practices document for rural, uh, wifi. Uh, and we have been advocating, uh, those guidelines that are on those documents with different organizations, like, like the World Bank that is providing funding to different governments and to different companies.
So we try to feed them with information that they can utilize when they somehow allocate funding to a government or to a company. They can use part of those guidelines, uh, as a reference, uh, to make sure that they are implementing the best technologies, that they are funding the state of the art technologies, uh, and make sure that, uh, that rural connectivity funding, somehow it's well applicable, uh, and whatever is implemented on the terrain, on on the ground is, is make sense and somehow is aligned with the, with the latest on the technology. And, and Matt has been a big champion o of that.
Jessica Denson, Host (09:38):
Are you seeing some similarities, whether it's, you know, a, a farm in the US and someplace, uh, a village in Africa? Are there some similarities or is it very just unique to each place?
Tiago Rodrigues, CEO, Wireless Broadband Alliance (09:51):
It's, it's a yes and no. Jessica. It's funny to that you ask that because easy s is very similar from the angle that, okay, there is a village or a small town or even a group of houses that they don't have connectivity. Uh, and then there is a technology problem out to get the technology there. So, uh, either we can, I don't know, invest in fiber or a seller technology or use, uh, fixed wireless technologies or even satellite solutions. Uh, so from a technology point of view, the problem is very similar, but there is another angle that is very different, that is normally in developing countries, those locations, those towns, those villages, or even those houses, normally they have a, an income problem.
Uh, and, and that's where many times the government is critical to play a role there. Those persons that are on those remote villages, they don't have income, they don't have the expertise, they don't have devices, they don't have access to any type of service. Uh, and that is very different from what may happen in us where maybe there is a, a small town in a rural area of us that even people may have laptops, they may use it, I don't know, in school or whenever they go to a different place, uh, but in their, those houses don't have it because they are very remote. Uh, so that is the two side, uh, that I, uh, experience from, from different, uh, different countries. And, and especially I see those differences and at the same time some similarities.
Jessica Denson, Host (11:45):
Yeah. And here in the US we've had, we, we've had a lot of funding because of the pandemic, the awareness of how important it is to be connected. And I believe the N T I A recently asked for input on digital equity programs, which seek to do exactly what you're saying, help bridge that divide in some of these rural areas. Uh, let's move on to 5g. <laugh>. We always hear about 5g. There's tons of advertising about 5g. Can you explain, um, and without getting too technical, or at least in some layman's terms, how 5G fits into the wifi world and how that could be used together or apart, or, uh, what should we really understand about that when it comes to wifi and the 5G terminology? <laugh>?
Tiago Rodrigues, CEO, Wireless Broadband Alliance (12:29):
Yeah, Jessica, I always like to put it from the angle of the consumer. All of us, we are consumers, and looking to my personal experience every day, I use seller services and I use wifi every single day. Um, I don't want to say 100% of today, but probably 99% of days of my life, I use both technology. So we start from a point that we consumers and the consumers, we want both. And taking that in consideration is, is very important that the mobile carriers and the fixed broadband residential providers, uh, they understand that we consumers, we want, uh, both of them, and we want that. We have the best 5g and we have the best wifi.
We have been working with many of our members, and this includes companies like Comcast, at and t, uh, here in Europe, like car and or, or telephonic spine, uh, to make sure that they can take the best out of the both technologies. Uh, and we have several programs including one that is called Open roaming, that somehow enables a seamless experience between seller and wifi. So, uh, and for the consumers, it should be very transparent, uh, that as a consumer, whenever makes sense, I should be in 5g, but if wifi can provide me a better experience, in fact, I should be in wifi. Uh, and we have a lot of work in the alliance to guarantee that we have debt conversions.
Jessica Denson, Host (14:20):
Um, so you're saying that we should, you gotta look at both sides that you wanna, you want, you don't want, there's no one answer. We have to have all the different technologies working together.
Tiago Rodrigues, CEO, Wireless Broadband Alliance (14:31):
Jessica Denson, Host (14:33):
Tiago Rodrigues, CEO, Wireless Broadband Alliance (14:33):
<laugh>, and, and I can give you, I can share some examples. So
Jessica Denson, Host (14:37):
Uhhuh, <affirmative>, yeah, that would be great.
Tiago Rodrigues, CEO, Wireless Broadband Alliance (14:38):
For example, in, in a, in a highway, let's be realistic. In a highway is a typical case where I need cell technology. No one is going to put wifi in a highway. But then when I go to 20 store type of building, uh, yeah, it's much more affordable and it's much more easier just to do indoor coverage with wifi. Uh, so each technology has its own, um, advantages and disadvantages. And what we climb from the alliance is let's use the most appropriate technology to, to a specific situation. Uh, and that is the way to give the best connectivity possible to, to all of us as consumers.
Jessica Denson, Host (15:24):
Uh, I understand. That makes sense. Um, so I did mention earlier that there are, there's a lot of money out there right now that's for expanding broadband access, high speed internet access across the us I is wifi part of that discussion at the federal and state level right now? And if so, what role do you see? Is it also a mix? Like what we're talking about
Tiago Rodrigues, CEO, Wireless Broadband Alliance (15:44):
Is, is a big, big part of the, the funding and the different programs that, uh, the US government has been putting out there? Uh, not only from fcc, but N T I A and all the, the funds available for each state broadband program. Uh, wifi is a big part of that. Um, of course other technologies are as well, 5G and, and seller deployments and, and even, uh, fiber, it's, it's, it's all part of that, those programs. Uh, but in particular, uh, I always like to mention that as the last mile to connect the, the citizens there are, at the end of the day, only two technologies. It's either I connect with wifi or I connect with seller. That's what, what my smartphone does, and that's what my laptop does. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, I need to connect with wifi or I need to connect with seller. There is no other technology. So all those programs are, are very positive. Uh, and definitely wifi is a big part of that. I would love to see more, but, uh, it's doing well.
Jessica Denson, Host (16:57):
<laugh>, <laugh> Well, what do you think that people, many people get wrong, even in the broadband profession about wireless technology. What do you think people misunderstand sometimes when, in regards to it?
Tiago Rodrigues, CEO, Wireless Broadband Alliance (17:10):
Yeah, special with, uh, with wifi, sometimes, uh, people get confused about, uh, how can I take more benefit from, from, from the wifi? Uh, and, and personally, I think we need to work on, on free area. So provide all that back haul either fiber or satellite or any type of, uh, uh, broadband connectivity technology, uh, to put one wifi antenna at the end, uh, to give connectivity. So we need that back haul. Uh, then I think it's very important, including us.
I, I recall that we did some studies like before the pandemic, we did some, some studies that there was, there is still a huge part of the US population that don't have the right IT skills to take advantage of the internet. So that's another big part of it, is to make sure that people know how to use it, know how to take benefit of that, uh, for the different use cases. And then the final pillar in my, in my view is the affordability. So, uh, that's where the government is very critical, not only to provide that satellite or fiber to a specific town, but even to help, uh, so underserved communities that don't have the income to pay the, the normal prices of broadband, they can get to subsidize broadband and, and take benefits of that. So technology, IT skills and as well the income.
Jessica Denson, Host (18:58):
Yeah, it's, it's really, um, we talk about that a lot at Connect to Nation as well, that there's not just one bucket there, there's several things that we have to look at to help people get this. Um, I'd like to talk a little bit about a relatively new wifi standard called, uh, six gigahertz Spectrum.
Um, I, as I was preparing for this, I read about it in a couple of places and, um, I realized I didn't have a lot of knowledge yet about it. So I'd love for you to explain to our audience what that is. Um, what makes it great. Um, I know that, um, it's really something that you're trying to get out there internationally, so maybe talk a little bit about that as well. But first explain to us what six, uh, it, it's, it's spelled out six G H Z, but it's, it's six gigahertz, correct. <laugh>. And I'm saying that correctly. Uh, it's, so if you could just explain that technology to us and what the benefits of it are.
Tiago Rodrigues, CEO, Wireless Broadband Alliance (19:54):
Yes. I will try to explain the, the simplest way possible.
Jessica Denson, Host (20:00):
So in layman's terms, right, <laugh>? Exactly.
Tiago Rodrigues, CEO, Wireless Broadband Alliance (20:02):
So all these wireless technologies, wifi seller, they use the radio spectrum. So something, the waves in the air, okay. We use it. And in each country there is a limitation on, on that spectrum, looking into wifi. So wifi, when was invented, they were using the 2.4 gigs. So let's imagine when wa iwa just with one line,
Jessica Denson, Host (20:29):
Tiago Rodrigues, CEO, Wireless Broadband Alliance (20:30):
So as we have more devices and more people using wifi, that line started to become a big traffic jam.
Jessica Denson, Host (20:38):
Tiago Rodrigues, CEO, Wireless Broadband Alliance (20:39):
<laugh>. So then after a few years, so wifi was invented back in 2002, two, 2003, that's when started to become available to consumers. So it was only that 2.4. After a few years, he expanded to the five Giger. So let's imagine we create two additional lines on the highway. So instead of one, now we have free, uh, so we have more capacity. So can we, we can put more devices, we can put more people connecting to the internet. And what is happening today is those free lines are starting to become all jammed as well.
So <laugh>, there are so many people using that, we need more spectrum. So we need more lines on the iy. And six gig yards is a gigantic step, uh, to wifi, because if I do a comparison, a very simplistic comparison, like if I have free lines now, uh, the six figures is going to, uh, more than double what I have today.
So I will pass from free lines to six. Uh, so it will give a lot more capacity to wifi. I want to say that US government specific d fcc, they were pioneers, uh, on the expansion of, of the six gigs. So they saw very, very well the division that we need to improve wifi, because wifi is a key technology to deliver access to the internet, to everyone. And they back in 2020, they allocated 2020 to 2019, uh, I'm not sure now, but they open up, uh, and they start the ruling of opening the six gigs to, to wifi.
Uh, other countries across the world have given the entire six gigs spectrum to wifi countries like Canada, Brazil, Colombia, and others. But there are some countries that they don't want to, if they have doubts, if they should give it the entire six giger span or if they should only give away part of it. So instead of doing free additional lines, maybe they just want to give two lines extra. Uh, and that's the question that is happening right now in the world that different countries are, uh, considering how much extra lines they will give to, to wifi. So for me, that's, uh, the best simplistic way that I can share what is the six gig span.
Jessica Denson, Host (23:19):
That actually made a lot of sense. That's so good job. Um, so what is the benefit for CAN for countries like Canada or Brazil? Are they seeing immediate benefits because they're opening up the spectrum, or is it gonna be something we're gonna see in three years, five years or, or further down the road?
Tiago Rodrigues, CEO, Wireless Broadband Alliance (23:36):
Yeah, so the spectrum in fact is already available in those countries. So today I can buy one equipment, either a smartphone or a laptop or a wifi antenna to my house that works on the six yards. So that is already available. Uh, I will talk a little bit, uh, after about, there is some limitations, uh, but this is available today. Uh, the big vision for me of those countries that took a step forward, and they were the pioneers, they realized that wifi is the most universal technology to connect to the internet. And, and let's be, let's be honest, between all of us, every single device that we use have wifi. Either our smartphone can have 5g, can have 4g, can have 3g, but that's wifi
Jessica Denson, Host (24:28):
Tiago Rodrigues, CEO, Wireless Broadband Alliance (24:29):
That's true. Yeah. My laptop has wifi, uh, yeah. Many other things that, uh, on my TV as wifi <laugh>
Jessica Denson, Host (24:36):
Yes. Find does too.
Tiago Rodrigues, CEO, Wireless Broadband Alliance (24:38):
<laugh>, yeah. Is, is a very universal technology. And I believe that is one of the reasons some of those countries, they, they got the message very well. They understood, okay, I want that my country, it's on the forefront of the, the broadband. Wifi is a key element for that. Uh, and they move it, uh, forward. And, and, and we have been pushing that. Other countries do it as well. The ones that have not done it yet, uh, they do it as well, because I was just going to say one thing, one of the big benefits of wifi today, uh, is I can buy anywhere in the world a smartphone. I can buy it, I don't know, in, in us, in Brazil, in Portugal or in South Africa. And I moved to another country, I moved to the other side of the world and is going to work.
Jessica Denson, Host (25:34):
Yeah. I think that, oh, that is a a at a point. That actually, uh, hit me hard just a moment ago when you said that, because I did some work in a, in a past, uh, with a past company that I used to work with, that I covered some disaster assistance in Haiti. And the one thing everyone had was a cell phone. Everyone to the person <laugh> to the, to a child, there was a cell phone, even though we couldn't get out in any other way after a disaster. So that, that's interesting that you say that, cuz um, I've, I've been witness to that. Um, what role, uh, two questions. You kind of answered it a little bit just now about the future. Uh, but what do you see the future holds past 2023 and what role would you like W W B A to have in creating positive change in connecting more people in businesses?
Tiago Rodrigues, CEO, Wireless Broadband Alliance (26:26):
Yes. So, uh, yeah, this is a personal view. In fact, <laugh>
Jessica Denson, Host (26:31):
Tiago Rodrigues, CEO, Wireless Broadband Alliance (26:31):
It's like, like I talk about those lanes, uh, on the highway for the broadband. My view of the future is those lanes are continued to have more and more cars. So we as consumers, we are going to do more streaming. We have more advanced applications. We want metaverse, we want augmented reality, we want virtual reality, we want immersive gaming. We want all those applications that somehow they are going to put those iwas super packed with, with users. Uh, and that's where, uh, from my view, W P A should focus on how to make sure that wireless technology, including wifi seller and others can work together to help to deliver that demand of data that is going to continue to increase. Uh, and I believe there is no way that we'll stop, uh, the data demand or data tsunamis people like to say. I think we'll continue and I think we'll be even more aggressive on, on the future.
This pandemic, for example, it chose how we can, our students can work from home and, and go to classes and, and, uh, I have examples of people that have these capacities or they have some health issues and imagine to be able to attend a class. And somehow we have an immersive experience, uh, from your home because you have, uh, this capa this capacity and suddenly you are almost feeling like you are with your colleagues and you are inside the, uh, your school room. Uh, and that technology can bring it. And for that we need the broadband. That's just one example I can talk about. I know telemedicine and, and, and other examples that they need more and more broadband is, is, is not, uh, is not going to stop
Jessica Denson, Host (28:36):
<laugh>. Yeah, I would agree with that. Especially in areas where hospitals are closed down or if you need a specialist and you're in a rural area. Uh, I, I could go on and on and with that as well. Yeah, I do think the pandemic has changed the conversation. A lot of people understand it, why this is important, whereas opposed before they'd be, well, it's, it's a luxury to have that access. Now I think a lot of people understand that it's not a luxury, it's part of being in the modern world and for us for people to access things they need. So, uh, what would you like others to understand or take away about your organization?
Tiago Rodrigues, CEO, Wireless Broadband Alliance (29:11):
Yeah, maybe just two small things. So first one is we are a friendly group. <laugh>, uh, even that, uh, uh, we have big names and big companies. Uh, I always try to make it very friendly that we work with common goals and we companies can collaborate. So if you are out there, if you are from technology side or you have interest on technology, uh, please consider to join the alliance, join the group, uh, be part of, uh, this discuss
Jessica Denson, Host (29:45):
Discussion. How, how would somebody do that? How would they join?
Tiago Rodrigues, CEO, Wireless Broadband Alliance (29:48):
Yeah, they can go to our website. So wb alliance.com, uh, read information. They'll send us an email. Uh, as you can imagine, we are, uh, uh, an association. So we are based on contributions from the members. So it started as low as $2,000 per year. So not much. And, and you can become part of the group and, and bring your contributions to the discussion so that, that is from one side. From the other side, yeah, we'll continue to fight, uh, and try to drive broadband connectivity. Of course, wifi is close to our art, uh, but we want broadband everywhere and we want to improve the broadband, uh, experience to everyone.
Jessica Denson, Host (30:38):
Well, I think that's a great place to leave it today. I could talk to you forever. You're really easy to talk to. Tiago, I really appreciate you joining us today.
Tiago Rodrigues, CEO, Wireless Broadband Alliance (30:48):
Yeah, it is a pleasure, uh, Jessica and, uh, yeah, super happy to be part of this podcast and, uh, yeah, see you next time.
Jessica Denson, Host (30:57):
Yeah, see you next time. Again. My guest today has been Tiago Rodrigues, the Chief Executive of the Wireless Broadband Alliance, also known as wba a I'm Jessica Enson. Thanks for listening to Connected Nation. If you like our show and wanna know more about us, head to connected nation.org or look for the latest episodes on iTunes, iHeartRadio, Google Podcast, Pandora, or Spotify.