May 14, 2015 — Small cell development is forging its way onward in the downtown areas of major cities, which are densely populated and marked by gentrification and beautification movements.
Site acquisition for small cells in this area brings multifaceted problems that require utilities, municipalities, carriers and integrators to work together, according to Alex Daly, managing director, technical services, Network Building & Consulting (NB+C), who spoke at the UtiliSite Workshop “Joint Use and Wireless Collocation – What is It and Why Should Your Utility Care?” in Atlanta last week.
NB+C has brought together all the stakeholders — the municipality, the utility and a carrier — in meetings to discuss pole attachments.
“Previously, a meeting discussing joint use [with all the stakeholders] was unheard of; everyone in that room agreed that [joint use] is where we need to get to, but obviously we have a road ahead of us,” Daly said. “The more high level executives that buy in, the better. That is where the education needs to occur.”
NB+C is working on a number of small cells in a number of markets. During its site walks, it became obvious to Daly that to reach the numbers of small cells being projected by the analysts, a carrier would need to access hundreds of existing infrastructure sites. There are only two entities with that type of real estate downtown – the Department of Transportation and the utilities.
“Significant percentage of the completed small cells will reside on utility poles,” Daly said “It is a challenge to work with utilities because the people they have in place are stretched very thin; they don’t have decision making capability and the process has not been laid out for them.”
In order to expedite the pole-attachment process with the utility, NB+C is looking to sign pole attachment agreements that are standardized. Jurisdiction approval is also a major stumbling block. To improve time to market, Daly said it is important to work locally to speed up the zoning process.
“Literally two years ago we could not deploy without applying for a special exemption, because there was nothing in place in the zoning process to address small cells,” Daly said. “We are laying the groundwork. It will be much easier in the future, but we are already realizing that adjustments made in land use zoning are speeding up the process on that side.”