Apple Valley, Calif., Considers Small-Cell Devices for 5G Networks

The advent of small cell has directed carrier interest to places closer to the public.

by Matthew Cabe, Daily Press, Victorville, Calif. / March 29, 2017

(TNS) -- APPLE VALLEY — As wireless carriers progress toward the 5th Generation (5G) of mobile networks, cities are looking to cash in on the carriers' need to move away from large cell towers.

The industry shift is geared toward small-cell sites, base stations that densify network capacity in designated spaces to augment the towers' wider coverage areas.

Towers are traditionally erected in rural areas or on rooftops; however, according to 5 Bars LLC National Vice President of Communities Greg Steininger, the advent of small cell has directed carrier interest to cities' rights-of-way — i.e. places closer to the public.

As a result, potential revenue generation exists for cities that offer rights-of-way as small-cell sites, and Apple Valley could be the next in a growing list of municipalities to do just that. Steininger laid out the services 5 Bars could offer should the town move to harbor small-cell sites.

"(We'd) be looking at Apple Valley's assets," Steininger said. "You've got city buildings, you've got light posts. You've got parks in areas, bus stops. And the carriers are looking at all those assets and areas within the right-of-way to place small cells and densify the area."

By Steininger's estimation, upward of 1 million small-cell sites will exist in the U.S. within the next three to five years. They've been introduced in places like Sacramento and St. Louis, he said, and 5 Bars is involved in talks with Irvine and Redlands, as well.

"Many of (these communities) have come to us because the carriers are coming to them with large quantities of small-cell sites to be approved," Steininger said, "and each one of them (the proposals) is about an inch thick."

So 5 Bars involves itself in the master planning of small-cell sites to advocate for municipalities and market the aforementioned assets to carriers like Sprint and Verizon.

Part of a master plan, according to Steininger, includes the aesthetics of small-cell sites. Small cells are similar in size to "a large shoebox," and examples provided showed what sites without plans — read: sites where carriers go in and "do what they want" — look like.

Think of light poles covered in large shoe boxes — what Steininger called "frankenpoles" — which tend to be eyesores that draw the ire of residents. To avoid that, Steininger said 5 Bars works with cities to ensure rights-of-way remain conducive to the overall aesthetics of cities.

And because 5G is a "must-have" for carriers, there's room for negotiation.

"The carriers, in order to go to 5G, have to move toward this densification model," Steininger said. "So ... we developed a plan that creates a wireless model that we build with the city at no cost to the city ... and we advocate on behalf of the city with the carriers to create acceleration in the process."

The number of needed sites depends on subscribers per square foot, according to Steininger's colleague Joe Sutton, who said it's difficult to predict that need.

"As the applications evolve, and they become more data intensive, the usage goes up and more sites need to go in," Sutton said. "Some studies have shown that the typical ratio is one small cell per 1,000 people, and it may increase 5G to one per 500."

At the town's current population, then, a minimum of 70 small-cell sites — a number Steininger referenced as an example — would be necessary.

With regard to small cells, Steininger advises "future-proofing the city" to create "smart-city innovation, Internet of things and just moving technology forward" for carriers, residents and businesses.

"Keeping and staying ahead of the game ... seems to be a pertinent thing to do," Town Manager Frank Robinson said. However, doing so likely will require a great deal of staff work and research.

The town's Municipal Code does address wireless telecommunications, towers and antennas; however, revisions would be needed should the Council bite on small-cell sites.

"It is not addressed in the current Development code," town spokeswoman Kathie Martin confirmed last week, "and is something we would evaluate if the town decided to move forward with the services of 5 Bars."

Meanwhile, the Federal Communications Commission recently became involved in the 5G future, which could arrive as early as 2020. Last November, Mobilitie LLC, a wireless-solutions company, petitioned the FCC to set guidelines to expedite site acquisition for wireless infrastructure.

The petition came after the FCC's Wireless Telecommunications Bureau released an agreement last August to remove "regulatory burdens for infrastructure deployments," according to WTB Chief Jon Wilkins.

""The agreement will deliver an immediate and meaningful impact on 5G because ... high-speed 5G services requires high-speed infrastructure deployment," Wilkins said in a statement.

Additionally, Sen. Ben Hueso, D-San Diego, introduced SB 649 in February, which would permit the deployment of said infrastructure statewide sans local "discretionary review," according to the bill's language.

An Energy, Utilities and Communications Committee hearing on SB 649 is set for April 4, the California Legislature's website shows. As such, Steininger implied that time is of the essence.

"If a state enacts some type of legislation," Steininger said, "that can override the rights or the ability of cities to use or leverage their assets ... If you're in a contract with a company like 5 Bars, and that legislation is enacted, there's a grandfather clause ... and you would not be beholden to that legislation."

The Council has yet to enter into such a contract, but Martin confirmed the town has received applications for small-cell sites from carriers.

©2017 Daily Press, Victorville, Calif. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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