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PTC’22: Interview with Former FCC Chairman Ajit PaiFormer Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai joined PTC Advisory Council member Patricia Paoletta at PTC’22: Reunite. Rethink. Renew. to share his insight into digital infrastructure investment trends, now that he is a partner at Searchlight Capital, a global investment firm with over USD 10 billion of assets under management, including in satellite, cable, wireless, and fiber.

Ajit shared that there is increasing interest in Open Radio Access Network (O-RAN) technology for wireless networks, with the cadence of deals increasing globally. Due to virtualizing network functions through software upgrades, as opposed to hardware installations, O-RAN allows wireless telecommunications providers to use different companies than a provider’s original vendor for different components of the access network as providers update their networks for the next wireless technology.

Semiconductors are also attracting interest, including programmable chips for both 5G and Wi-Fi 6, particularly to support private enterprise networks. Ajit noted that the 1200 MHz the FCC made available in 2020 in the 6 GHz band for the next generations of Wi-Fi created an innovation sandbox for developers, for both the 160 MHz channels designed for Wi-Fi 6 and the 320 MHz channels designed for Wi-Fi 7. These next generations of gigabit Wi-Fi will be transformative for consumers and enterprises.

Searchlight Capital has also invested in fintech and blockchain, including for applications that crowdsource spectrum, place its availability on a distributed ledger, which then creates a wireless network. When asked about his legacy, Ajit, the son of Indian immigrants who settled in a rural U.S. town, recalled his pleasure at recently returning to his elementary school and visiting the classroom of his former teacher, still teaching, and knowing that thanks to efforts of the FCC, each of those rural students would have the same chance at success as any child in a large city, through work done to close the digital divide. As he noted, broadband levels the playing field, affirming the mission of PTC to improve the lives of the peoples of the Pacific Rim.

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