Cities need to act decisively to ensure that their citizens are not left behind by the next generation of wireless technology, according to wireless carriers and infrastructure providers who spoke on the topic at the October 2016 HetNet Expo in Houston. Executives from AT&T, ExteNet Systems and Lightower Fiber Networks were joined by Edward Smith, who works at the Federal Communications Commission advising Chairman Tom Wheeler on wireless issues.
The panelists made it clear that the industry hopes Washington will take action to facilitate the deployment of small cells. Smith said the FCC will not take zoning authority away from local jurisdictions, but that Wheeler does want to find a way to streamline the process.
“These are local issues, but they are local issues with national implications,” said Smith. “This will become a very significant economic differentiator between one community and the next.”
Anthony Lehv, an attorney with ExteNet Systems, discussed current legislative initiatives at the state and local levels. He said that Cincinnati and Kansas have both recently passed legislation that should be favorable to wireless deployments. But some jurisdictions are going in the opposite direction. South Dakota, he said, is placing a moratorium on wireless builds in the rights of way while it studies the current situation and evaluates options.
“I think it would be great to the extent that there could be some sort of federal work in this area, either on a preemptive basis or laying out a model ordinance at the municipal level or state legislation,” Lehv said. “I think there are a lot of ways the federal government could approach this that would be helpful.”
AT&T’s Paula Doublin, assistant VP for antenna solutions, said that in addition to a more streamlined deployment process, the industry needs lower attachment rates. She added that equipment uniformity would also be helpful, meaning that a standard small cell form factor that could be accepted by many municipalities would be much easier than building custom concealment solutions.
Doublin also shared pictures of some of AT&T’s existing urban small cell deployments, as well as photo simulations of planned deployments. She said that over the years wireless carriers have learned to be more mindful of aesthetics and concealment, and that she does not want to deploy anything she wouldn’t like to see in her own neighborhood.
Developing small cell solutions that are not visually intrusive is paramount for the wireless industry, because next-generation networks operating in higher frequencies are expected to require large numbers of cells in close proximity to one another. The idea that a cell site should be located “somewhere else” could leave neighborhoods without access to “5G” networks.
“If it’s not across the street from you, you don’t have it,” said Smith. He added that the FCC wants to educate Americans about the tangible benefits that are expected to come with 5G networks.
That education starts with city leaders. Attorney Natasha Ernst of Lightower Fiber Networks said her company spends a lot of time trying to explain to cities the value of 5G, and the critical role small cells will play in these networks. She said there are some cities that understand what’s at stake.
“A lot of cities get it,” she said. “A lot of cities are sophisticated. Then you have others that are sophisticated but are actively hostile. Then you have a lot in between. … You show them pictures and ask them to pick what they like. But sometimes they don’t know what to do.” Ernst said that many city officials are afraid of making the wrong choice, so they do nothing. “Nobody wants to be responsible for making the decision to move forward,” she said.
Talking to cities about pole attachments can open up a can of worms, Ernst said, because once city leaders start looking at multiple pictures of their utility poles, some decide that poles themselves are unattractive and that infrastructure should be moved underground.
Frustrations like these are bringing carriers, vendors and neutral host providers to Washington to ask the FCC for help. Smith said the agency hears the industry and understands what’s at stake, but has to balance the needs of multiple stakeholders.
“I’ve had a lot of ex parte meetings where people come in and say ‘OK FCC fix it,’” said Smith. “If only it were that simple. This has significant implications not just for the companies but also for the people who stand to benefit from the services that you are proposing to bring.”
Source: RCR Wireless