Everyone interested in digital infrastructure knows that when Congress finally passed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act last Friday, it included $65 billion to improve the country’s broadband infrastructure and increase Americans’ access to high-speed Internet. It might not be as clear that many of the other line items in the bill will also provide opportunity for significant digital infrastructure investment. This article breaks apart the spending in the bill as we understand it at present and highlights the opportunities for DI investment. Obviously, having the potential to get the funding and actually receiving the investment are two very different things!
The bill has set aside $110 billion for roads, bridges and other major transportation programs. While the roads and bridges are being constructed, fiber and conduit could be laid, environmental sensors could be installed in the bridges, radios and small cells could be deployed, and edge data centers could be built to process the increased volume of data. In short, this could be the basis of smart road and smart city infrastructure. The cost of deploying this as the bridge/road is being updated would be far lower than installing after the fact.
Public transit will be modernized with $39 billion. Part of that sum will be used to repair more than 24,000 buses and 5,000 rail cars, which could obviously be upgraded with Wi-Fi and cellular broadband. Thousands of miles of train tracks will also be modernized, which means more fiber, the possible installation of small cells along the tracks to provide coverage for neighboring communities, more sensors, and edge data centers.
$66 billion is earmarked for high-speed rail, improvements to safety, Amtrak grants, and the modernization of the route between Washington, D.C. and Boston. It is not a stretch to assume that improved Wi-Fi and cellular broadband will be part of the train improvements, while fiber and sensors could be installed with the new tracks, along with small cells and edge compute infrastructure. The exact opportunity here will depend on the degree of improvements to the physical track infrastructure compared to improvements in operations, staffing etc.
The nation’s electricity grid will be upgraded with $65 billion and will include thousands of miles of new transmission lines and funds for smart-grid technology. In addition, all of the nation’s lead pipes will be replaced and service lines will be upgraded to provide clean drinking water at a cost of $55 billion. Both the electric grid and the water infrastructure could be retrofitted with sensors, remote switching and AI, which would work in conjunction to provide power optimization/water efficiency, usage behavior analysis, fault diagnosis/leak detection, water quality analysis and preemptive maintenance. Again, the size of the opportunity depends on the amount of new electricity/water infrastructure, but it would appear this could be a sizeable opportunity for digital infrastructure.
The bill also includes $7.5 billion for a network of electric-vehicle chargers along highway corridors to support electric cars and buses. Each charging station will need to be connected by fiber and will need power and broadband, including a small cell to provide a good signal for the passengers patiently waiting for their car to charge, as well as to monitor and control the station. Edge compute could be used to provide the necessary processing for billing and other applications, including entertainment. In essence, an EV charging station looks a lot like a small cell installation but without the pole! In addition to funds for the charging stations, $5 billion is slated for zero-emission buses (including thousands of electric school buses) and $2.5 billion for ferries, which will both more than likely be upgraded with Wi-Fi and cellular broadband.
More than $25 billion is included in the infrastructure bill to modernize America’s airports, which have already implemented in-building wireless (IBW) systems and the applications they support. With the funds, the airports will have more – more 5G and CBRS to support improved customer mobile experiences, airline private networks, smart applications for the automation of food and beverage, smart parking, enhanced security, etc. AI and edge compute, powered by data from sensors and cameras, will also be part of the airports, which are basically just small smart cities. Assume that the $17 billion for ports, which are also mini smart cities, will include similar infrastructure and applications.
$11 billion has been set aside for road safety, including transportation safety programs to help states and local governments reduce crashes and fatalities in their communities, especially among cyclists and pedestrians. In other words, $11 billion for V2X infrastructure and applications. The “everything” in V2X includes the cellular network, traffic signal equipment, vehicles and pedestrians with their mobile devices. V2X and 5G can provide automatic braking, accident avoidance, road condition monitoring and warning, intersection collision avoidance, approaching emergency vehicle warning and pedestrian awareness, which are the intended goals of the bill. Note that according to iGR’s analysis, $11 billion is not sufficient to build the necessary V2X infrastructure across the U.S., but it could be a ‘down payment’ on significant infrastructure to kick start the industry.
In summary, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act includes many opportunities for digital infrastructure investment, in addition to the $65 billion slotted to improve broadband infrastructure. The funding included in this bill will have a positive impact on an array of digital infrastructure providers, from fiber installers to small cell vendors. Digital infrastructure will be used to improve all of America’s infrastructure.