February 26, 2015 — Small cell deployment represents a new opportunity for tower service companies, a panel of experts said at the NATE UNITE 2015 conference this week in Lake Buena Vista, Florida.
In some areas, small cells are already commonplace, such as downtown Las Vegas where they are on top of many light poles, according to the panel, which included David Lasier, Enersphere CEO; Scott Gustafson, Verizon Wireless south area network team; Sonya Roshek, COO of MYCOM; and Sharpe Smith, AGL Media Group, who was the moderator.
“Deploying smalls requires a similar skill set to macrocell deployment,” Lasier said. “As we get in to small cell deployments it will be less vertical work and more horizontal. Adapting your business models in that direction will be beneficial.”
Panelists noted that work at height is not going away, but will be supplemented with a new segment of workers to deploy on the sides of buildings or on top of poles.
“You are already qualified to do small cell deployment work. The keys to being successful including figuring out the logistics of backhaul and power, as well as the aesthetics,” said Lasier, whose company makes a light pole that doubles as a small cell.
Much of the deployment of small cells must be completed at a fast pace, relative to macrocells, and will require boom trucks and booms. The biggest change tower companies will see is the work is not at-height.
“It will transform how we do the work and the expectations of how quickly we can do the work,” Roshek said. “You can get a whole site done in eight hours, and the carriers are trying to two to four access points done in a half a day or a day. Instead of deploying a cell site every two or three miles, you will deploy several access point 100 feet away from each other, in some cases.”
Macrocells are still the backbone of Verizon Wireless’ network, and it uses small cells as another tool in its toolbox to provide coverage or capacity, where it macrocells are being challenged, according to Gustafson.
Instead of a search ring, a polygon service area is designated by Verizon Wireless, which could require three or four small cells or potentially 10 to 100 small cells. The polygon might follow a city street or cover a valley. It might fill in a dead spot caused by a tall building or supplement coverage in a high traffic area, according to Gustafson.
Once the polygon is identified by the carrier’s RF engineers, it goes to the site acquisition team, which works with the RF engineers and the equipment deployment team to identify possible sites. Once the sites are identified, it goes back to the jurisdiction for zoning approval. Then some sort of street furniture to house the small cell may be needed.
“We see a need for standardization of the combination light pole/small cell. It helps with our relationship with the utility, the city’s zoning officials. It also reduces the costs,” Lasier said.