A bill streamlining small cell deployment signed into law in Ohio appears to be the tip of the iceberg as more and more states consider similar measures. For example, Illinois, Washington State and Florida are looking to come to the aid of DAS and small cell deployments by limiting local control of the right of way. It is not everywhere, however. A bill introduced in Connecticut seeks to establish a state-wide plan for siting small cell in public rights-of-way with participation by municipalities.
We asked Van Bloys, senior government affairs counsel, Wireless Infrastructure Association, to put the state legislation limiting local control over small cell siting in the ROW into perspective.
What is driving carrier efforts in state legislatures?
Bloys: “Wireless providers are improving network capacity in the near term with small cells and DAS and looking at how 5G may be deployed in the future. With smart small cell placement today and key investments in fiber, 5G deployment could be as simple as an antenna swap out. Removing impediments to this deployment today is a key priority for wireless providers at all levels of government.”
The Mobile Now Act introduced in Congress and the FCC’s recent small cell proceeding both look to streamline small cell deployments in the public rights of way. Why pass state laws too?
Bloys: “State legislatures are one way providers are seeing short-term success—it can be faster than getting a bill through Congress or a proceeding at the FCC.”
Will we see other states get involved?
Bloys: “It’s likely we will see more bills that help accomplish the goals of speeding deployment. For instance, the Virginia legislature has passed Senate Bill 1282, which facilitates the collocation of small facilities on existing structures.”
How do these state efforts mirror or differ from FCC efforts to streamline wireless deployments in the right of way?
Bloys: “Efforts in the states and at the FCC are addressing the same underlying deployment challenges—both efforts seek to remove regulatory barriers, alleviate delay and rationalize fees.”
In the end, would the FCC’s ruling usurp state law? How would these two efforts mesh together? What is the impact of federal legislation and state law on municipal code?
Bloys: “The record has not yet been developed at the FCC, so we won’t know for some time how these laws and regulations will interact. However, the FCC has indicated that it may invoke Section 253, which authorizes the FCC to preempt state or local requirements that “prohibit or have the effect of prohibiting” a provider from delivering service. In other words, if state and federal rules are inconsistent, the FCC’s rules would likely prevail. Yes, generally, state laws place limits on municipalities.”
November 1, 2016 —
Speaking at the HetNet Expo on Oct. 25 in Houston, Wireless Industry Association (WIA) President Jonathan Adelstein said that wireless communications affects every aspect of daily life, and people depend on innovations and communications made possible by companies that contribute to the functioning of heterogeneous networks (hetnets).
“The wireless industry is not only about what we build, it also is about what we enable,” Adelstein said. “We go to regulators and tell them about the wonderful things we make possible, such as education and health care, and support for the economy. Small cells and distributed antenna system (DAS) networks are recognized more than ever as indispensible parts of the wireless carriers’ arsenal.”
WIA owns the HetNet Forum, which operates the expo, advocates for public policy decisions and promotes the adoption of interoperable technologies and uniform methodologies. In the world of wireless communications, hetnet refers to networking of a variety of types of infrastructure and technologies to help deliver the coverage and capacity mobile network operators need for delivering voice and data communications.
Adelstein cited growth in data demand and research that indicates half of American households no longer have wireline telephone service and instead rely entirely on cellphones in saying that wireless communication is the future. He said people rely on it for 911 emergency response access and for the work they do every day.
Smart city ventures, in-building wireless in hospitals and public safety mandates and mid-tier market opportunities are among projects that those in the wireless communications business pursue, Adelstein said.
“Investments are taking place on both the carrier and vendor side, which led us to launch a business matchmaking program,” he said. “The program includes procurement officials from Crown Castle, ExteNet Systems, InSite Wireless and American Tower meeting one on one with attendees to learn about specific plans and products that each company provides, to establish professional relationships that could lead to some good business deals.”
Adelstein said the two biggest regulatory problems members tell him they face are rights of way concerns and affordable fronthaul and backhaul solutions. “With proper education, regulators can be helpful,” he said. “We understand the challenges you face better than anyone.” He said WIA’s role is to ensure that government encourages wireless infrastructure investment and doesn’t place roadblocks.
“We’re working with state governments more than ever before to improve the regulatory environment,” Adelstein said. “We’ve hired lobbyists in states across the country. We’re working with them to break down the barriers to responsible wireless network deployment. We’re trying to do it in a balanced way, not just quickly and cheaply at the expense of our relationships with local communities. You can slap up a big tower in a right of way without asking for anyone’s permission, but you might be the last one who gets to do that as the door gets slammed behind you. We are trying to be as respectful as we can with local communities and address their concerns. At the same time, we push back when they go beyond reason. They don’t need to treat each one of the DAS and small cell devices as though it were a macro tower.”
Adelstein said streamlined regulation of utility pole attachments would facilitate deployment of the tens of thousands of small cells the way wireless carriers would like. He said pole attachment rules are critical to the use of fiber and small cells that supplement macrosites and that enable 5G wireless communications networks.
To put up so many cell sites so quickly requires a trained workforce, Adelstein said. To that end, he said WIA has partnerships with the U.S. Department of Labor and with private partners on workforce development and training. He said the goal is to improve safety and quality, and on the second point he said carriers are not seeing systems deployed to the level of quality that they expect. “We want to help you to have the workforce you need to be able to do that,” he said. “We want to address the skills gap so people who are used to pulling cable don’t think all they need to do is slap an antenna on the end of it and they’re done.” Adelstein said it takes a long time to develop educational programs and funding that lead to placing technicians in the field.
September 15, 2016 — The Smart Cities Council and the Wireless Infrastructure Association (WIA) will partner to promote and develop programming for the upcoming Smart Cities Week on Sept. 27-29 in Washington, DC, and HetNet Expo on Oct. 25-26 in Houston, Texas.
Smart Cities Week is an interactive conference and expo that showcases cutting-edge technologies, real-world solutions and proven strategies government leaders need to build more livable, workable, sustainable cities.
HetNet Expo is WIA’s annual conference dedicated to exploring how a strong wireless infrastructure supports the way people work, live and play in a connected and mobile society.
Both upcoming events will feature a number of panels and keynote speeches focused on the intersection of smart city initiatives and wireless network technologies.
Jason Nelson, executive director for partner engagement at Smart Cities Council, said his organization’s primary goal is to promote smart and sustainable cities through advocacy and action.
DALLAS — May 27, 2016 — One of the newest additions to maintaining wireless infrastructure has been the utilization of drone technology, which was on full view on the show floor at this year’s Wireless Infrastructure Show. This is one of the more exciting vectors for the use of drones. They are being deployed in a variety of applications to examine the wireless structure infrastructure. Drones now make it possible to examine all types if wireless installations, both in and out of building.
The amount and diversity of data that a drone can provide is orders of magnitude higher than what has been possible with manual inspection – and at greatly reduced cost to site owners. The data collected by drones is truly a tool that will change the inspection landscape.
Companies, such as Talon Aerolytics, have developed remarkable solutions that can capture extremely high-resolution 3D images and video that can spot anomalies, wildlife, environmental effects and many other problems, issues, or anomalies that have the potential to compromise the site and the environment around it. This data can be geo-referenced with date, location and time stamps to precisely pinpoint the occurrences. One of the most valuable assets of drone technology is that the data that drones can capture and store can have a remarkable effect on the capex and opex, as well as to reduce the risk to life and limb of the otherwise physical inspections that are part of site analysis and maintenance.
Expect to see drones become a common sight around a variety of communications infrastructures.
DALLAS — May 25, 2016 — One of the sessions at the Wireless Infrastructure Show dealt with emerging technologies and their implications for wireless infrastructure. Ron Mudry, president of Tower Cloud, led the session. He described how backhaul is evolving to meet the needs of emerging technologies, saying there is adequate backhaul in most markets and even in rural areas.
“What we’ve seen lately is Verizon moving from lit service to dark fiber,” Mudry said. “Many dark fiber builds are going on around the country. It’s a big initiative that is putting a lot of infrastructure in the ground. The previous fiber build is nearly 20 years old, dating to the dot-com era.”
Mudry said wireless carriers have been densifying their networks because of capacity constraints. “They’ve added a lot of macro towers,” he said. “That’s provided a lot of the growth for backhaul providers and others in the industry. Now we’re seeing that shift a little to bringing capacity with small cells and mini-macros and centralized radio access network (C-RAN) technology.”
Dr. Rikin Thakker, a research assistant professor at the University of Maryland, said that cellular network operators have enough RF spectrum to serve their networks, for now. He said that operators say they need more spectrum because of a forecast rise in data demand. But research indicates other substitutes for spectrum.
“Macrosites are not going away, even though we are talking about the Internet of Things, 5G cellular technology and small cells,” Thakker said. “Macrosites will play an important role, and that could be a good substitute. Increases in efficiency with technology decrease the burden on spectrum. Wi-Fi offloading has kept the demand on licensed spectrum lower. Just increasing macrosites by 5 percent could lower the need for licensed spectrum by 98 megahertz.”
Aaron Blazer, a senior partner at Atlantic ACM said the network operators’ end-user revenue comes under pressure as competition increases. The result trickles down into infrastructure. “Operators pay attention to operating expense and the ability to deploy capital on infrastructure,” he said. “When spectrum is tapped, you look for the most efficient way to boost the network. Deploying more macrosites is a business model that carriers understand. The economics of backhaul and macrosites are well understood.”
Blazer said that when macrosites aren’t enough, non-macro densification emerges in the form of small cells and outdoor distributed antenna system (DAS) networks. He said another alternative is C-RAN technology, where operators use remote radio heads with a centralized baseband unit to make more efficient use of spectrum. He explained that a heavy fiber component changes the cost structure, especially a dark fiber component, and sometimes fiber is not available.
“After that, we see operators looking to Wi-Fi and other offloading strategies to support the network,” Blazer said. “But Wi-Fi comes third because it is not always seen as a carrier-grade technology.”
Rich Grimes, the chief operating officer of the DAS and Small Cell Group at InSite Wireless, said the carrier market for in-building DAS is finite. According to Grimes, from a carrier perspective, venue revenue-sharing is questionable. He said there is higher scrutiny for lower-capacity venues, and more cost-effective solutions will be used.
“In the forecast for DAS, capital spending for this year is pegged at about $4.8 billion and rising about 28 percent per year to more than $16 billion in 2020,” Grimes said. “A focus we’re all seeing is on reduced cost for in-building wireless systems. Also, fiber will become increasingly available to commercial buildings, and third parties in the enterprise will take a greater role in deploying DAS with the carriers’ focus being more on the capex for the LTE-Advanced roll out and small cell preparation for 5G.”
Kishore Raja, director of strategic programs at Boingo Wireless, categorized emerging technologies in three domains.
“Number one is the process of natural evolution within the licensed spectrum,” he said. “You have macro towers, and you have DAS, which augments existing towers. You have small cells, which augment by adding capacity and coverage. Number two is emerging technologies on unlicensed spectrum, such as seamless Wi-Fi access to networks. Number three is emerging technologies in the area that bridges licensed and unlicensed spectrum, such as LTE-U[unlicensed], LAA [License Assisted Access], LWA [LTE – Wi-Fi Link Aggregation] and muLTEfire. MuLTEfire provides LTE-like performance with Wi-Fi-like simplicity.”
Robert Long, director of sales at Crown Castle International, said that regardless of the path it takes, the need for more infrastructure will continue. “By 2018, 4G data use is expected to increase by a factor of 10,” he said. “Cell phone data use will increase by a multiple of six. Add the Internet of Things, smart cities and autonomous vehicles. Providing a solution that’s sharable, whether it’s fiber, towers or small cells, if it’s sharable, it’s much more economical for the service providers.”