Small Cells Seek Acceptance

Carl Weinschenk
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We know this about 5G: It will operate at higher frequencies than LTE and the amount of data that will be transmitted will grow over time.

From the technical perspective, small cell technology is the answer. A potentially huge obstacle is emerging, however. What will the process look like and which carriers will gain permission to deploy these devices in public spaces?

Municipalities can demand different things of those wanting to deploy small cells. This, if cascaded over thousands of municipalities per carrier, could result in a huge headache for carriers launching 5G services.


Yesterday, The Herald News in Massachusetts said that Fall River’s City Council Committee on Public Works and Transportation voted last week to table a request for permission to install 14 poles. Mobilite, which is working with Sprint, had asked for permission twice before.

The reasons for the move, according to the story, were questions about potential health risks, “impacts on the city” and questions on the contract with the vendor. The motion was referred to appropriate offices for study of these questions, including the Board of Health, the story said.

Aesthetics can also be an issue. WirelessWeek last week reported that T-Mobile was on the losing end of an appeals court decision in a case testing whether San Francisco can control where small cell equipment is located based upon how it looks. The company had challenged a 2011 ordinance passed by the city enabling them to control placement in public rights of way based on that criteria. T-Mobile, Crown Castel and ExteNet filed suit, lost and appealed. The companies lost the appeal as well.

The good news for carriers is that the municipalities can’t be obstinate, unreasonable or too demanding. Martha DeGrasse at RCR Wireless points out that municipalities get paydays from approvals: They get both franchise fees and money from monthly leases. Moreover, elected officials don’t want to be the reason that cellular service in their municipality is not as good as it is elsewhere.

Thus, they generally are eager to play ball. However, even if parties are willing, the process seems to be cumbersome. DeGrasse wrote that “[l]essons learned in one city may not speed the process in the next, since each jurisdiction has different agencies and processes.”

It seems likely that almost all municipalities would be able to amiably work out arrangements with carriers. After all, the cellular carriers want access and the municipalities want money. Both want happy people, whether they are called the subscriber base or the electorate.

What may be tricky, however, is creating cookie cutter master agreements enabling the process to be worked through with little disruption. It’s possible: Municipalities and the early cable operators did it and an industry that changed the nation was born. It will be interesting to see how the process unfolds.

Carl Weinschenk covers telecom for IT Business Edge. He writes about wireless technology, disaster recovery/business continuity, cellular services, the Internet of Things, machine-to-machine communications and other emerging technologies and platforms. He also covers net neutrality and related regulatory issues. Weinschenk has written about the phone companies, cable operators and related companies for decades and is senior editor of Broadband Technology Report. He can be reached at cweinsch@optonline.net and via twitter at @DailyMusicBrk.



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