Small Cells Don’t Fit the Macro Tower Model


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Educating local municipalities and utilities on the carrier’s need to deploy small cell and DAS infrastructure in public rights-of-way is critical. That’s because many local municipalities are passing laws to either ban the siting of small cell infrastructure outright, or charging excessive fees to generate income from the densification of carrier’s wireless networks. Panelists discussed these issues Wednesday at NATE UNITE 2018 here in Nashville at “Small Cell Deployment: Opportunities and Obstacles on the Road to a 5G Future,” moderated by Inside Towers Managing Editor Jim Fryer.

Jim Murphy, an attorney with Bradley, said many times, it can be tough to figure out who in a local government the carrier should submit their applications to for siting small cells or DAS infrastructure. If you want to attach to an existing structure, “then you need to work with them to attach to that pole.” However “many times, they say, ‘We don’t do that,’ or they want to charge exorbitant rates,” said Murphy. 

CTIA’s Jamie Hastings said the lobbying organization spends a lot of time educating local municipalities for reasonable siting practices and rates. Small cells, roughly the size of pizza boxes, are not tall towers yet, “We have a regulatory regime designed for towers.” The current regulatory uncertainty across the states could thwart investment and progress, Hastings said. The wireless industry needs better access to public Rights-of-Way (ROW). “Our members can pay their fair share, but we can’t be a revenue source,” for states and municipalities.

Thirteen states have enacted small cell regulation; eighteen states have bills in-play this year. In three states, bills are on their way to the governor’s desk. “These bills are providing regulatory certainty,” to streamline the small cell/DAS siting process, Hastings said. Each bill is different, to address local concerns, and they don’t remove all control from the local jurisdiction, she said.

Small cells and DAS provide excellent work opportunities for contractors, said Ryan Peters of Legacy Telecommunications. In the Seattle market, for example, one carrier projects having 28,000 projects in 2018 in the market. All carriers expect to significantly increase their deployments this year, he said.

“I want to encourage contractors to set the small cells/DAS bar in your market,” said Peters. The siting technology is so new, carriers are still figuring it out, citing safety, quality, efficiency and creativity as needed skills.

He cautioned it’s different than climbing one tower. “You can’t just run back to the site” for one task. Roughly eight people may be involved in a project on a given day, according to Peters, from the utility, the city (for street use) and traffic control, for example. Another difference is the massive fiber use required. “Front haul fiber is going to be huge for small cells. It’s different because you’re going to be testing miles of fiber now, not just a few feet on a tower.”

Working in a ROW has unique hazards, said Peters. “Can your crews identify the high-voltage conductors and their minimum safe clearance?” The technology is changing faster than the paperwork that allows it to be permitted, Peters added. “This technology is new to our customers so deployment will be messy. Provide solutions. Be creative.” He also urged carriers to tell contractors what’s coming down the pike so they can be prepared with the proper installation equipment and training.

by Leslie Stimson, Washington Bureau Chief, Inside Towers

February 22, 2018 

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