A battle between dozens of city governments and some of the world’s largest wireless carriers over the future of 5G infrastructure appears to have ended with a decisive victory for the telecom companies.
This week, a federal appeals court in San Francisco upheld a 2018 decision made by the Federal Communications Commission that prohibited local governments from imposing excessive regulations on wireless carriers seeking to deploy 5G. The decision capped local fees for the installation of “small cell” towers, hoping to spur the rollout of the next-generation wireless networks.
Dozens of cities and municipalities sued the FCC over the ruling in 2018 — most prominently Portland, Ore., though cities as far flung as San Francisco, Las Vegas, Chicago, and Kirkland, Texas, added their names to the complaint against the federal agency.
Though 5G promises accelerated Internet speeds and other innovations, many communities have bristled at the rollout of 5G because of the quantity of “small cell” signal transmitters that would need to be attached to public telephone poles throughout each community.
Unlike traditional networks, 5G relies on short-range wireless transmission systems, requiring the installation of myriad “small cell” towers. Indeed, the FCC has projected that for 5G to truly blossom it will require the installation of some 800,000 small cells throughout the U.S. in the coming years.
According to a June 26, 202 article in Inside Towers
UPDATE Several local governments from California and Oregon are challenging the FCC’s 5G upgrade order. The FCC approved the plan 3-2 earlier this month to streamline infrastructure modifications for existing towers. The vote was combative. Democratic Commissioners Jessica Rosenworcel and Geoffrey Starks criticized the Commission for not giving localities more time to comment, considering local government budgets are stretched by the pandemic and protests. Indeed, the National League of Cities and the National Association of Counties, asked the agency to delay the vote.
The Republican majority said the order will speed work such as antenna swaps for 5G, Inside Towers reported. Co-location “is less intensive and requires less regulatory review than new tower construction,” FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr said. Before the vote, Carr acknowledged to Inside Towers not every locality supported the change, but said overall, “We think it’s a right-balanced approach.”
Now, some of the California and Oregon localities have told the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals the FCC’s actions “unlawfully preempt local and state government authority” without responding to local government input, according to Politico.
The FCC seeks comment on a petition for expedited declaratory ruling filed by NCTA — The Internet & Television Association (NCTA) on splitting pole attachment costs between utilities and telecom attachers in areas with no broadband service. NCTA’s request concerns upgrade and replacement expenses.
NCTA asked the Commission to clarify that: (1) in areas with no access to broadband service, pole owners must share in the cost of pole replacements consistent with the Communications Act, FCC rules, and precedent; (2) pole attachment complaints arising in unserved areas should be prioritized through placement on the accelerated-docket; and (3) FCC rules authorize the agency to order any pole owner to complete a pole replacement within a specified period of time or designate an authorized contractor to do so.
Comments to WC Docket No. 17-84 are due by August 19, and reply comments by September 3.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) approved a long-awaited infrastructure Order that clarifies key siting rules for wireless infrastructure deployment, including 5G. The “5G Upgrade Order” includes a declaratory ruling that took effect immediately and a proposal for further comment that would allow site owners to expand compounds without zoning delays. The FCC action will promote collocation, eliminate roadblocks to siting on existing infrastructure, and accelerate wireless network upgrades.
“This is the culmination of a multi-year effort by WIA working with the FCC to smooth the path for upgrading the nation’s wireless infrastructure through collocation. The 5G Upgrade Order comes at an ideal time as 5G deployments are accelerating. By improving the process for collocation, the FCC makes deploying 5G more efficient for communities across America. The FCC also teed up further action to expand compounds by 30 feet around existing towers, where upgrades are needed for public safety, generators, and mobile edge computing for 5G services,” said WIA President and CEO Jonathan Adelstein. “WIA is grateful for Commissioner Carr’s consistent leadership on these reforms and the strong support from Chairman Pai and Commissioner O’Rielly. We also thank the FCC staff for their diligent attention to WIA’s petitions. Today truly marks a victory for wireless consumers who are relying more than ever on connectivity.”
What is the 5G Upgrade Order and How Does It Help Infrastructure Providers?
The 5G Upgrade Order has been the culmination of eight years of work led by WIA, the FCC, and Congress to update rules governing macro and other wireless infrastructure deployments. This is a big step to pave the way for 5G deployment when Americans rely on connectivity more than ever. The 5G Upgrade Order:
Sets a clear demarcation as to when the 60-day shot clock for local approval begins
Clarifies which new equipment qualifies for streamlined approval
Ensures local governments cannot misuse conditions of approval, like concealment and aesthetic conditions, to limit the ability to quickly upgrade infrastructure
Clarifies what concealment elements are and that local governments cannot require new concealment elements for the modification that were not part of the facility that was approved previously
To “defeat concealment” the proposed modification must cause a reasonable person to view the structure’s intended stealth design as no longer effective after the modification; for example, the local government cannot say that placing coax cable on the outside of the facility defeats concealment
Provides more flexibility for providers in upgrading equipment like smaller remote radio units to keep up with advances in technology
An environmental assessment is not needed when the FCC and applicants have entered into a memorandum of agreement to mitigate effects of a proposed undertaking on historic properties
It also asks for public comment on a rule change that permits 30 feet for compound expansions, which would facilitate deployment of advanced equipment like edge data centers and generators.
“Today’s action will expedite equipment upgrades to deploy these next-generation networks, which are critical to expanding economic opportunities and supporting public health and safety in American communities,” the FCC said in an official statement.
FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr has been leading the Commission’s efforts in working toward 5G upgrades. He announced at WIA’s Connect (X): All Access that the FCC would vote on this important Order. In a press release following the event, the Commissioner said, “America’s tower crews and telecom techs are building the strongest 5G network in the world. Their efforts already are creating new jobs and opportunities in towns across the country. By streamlining tower upgrades, we will encourage even more investment in our communities and new service to connect families.” He continued saying, “Rural America will benefit from new competition for their broadband dollars. First responders will benefit from dedicated networks and expanded capacity. And all Americans will benefit from world-leading wireless service as existing towers are upgraded to 5G.”
IHS Markit’s RootMetrics today released what are the first big, public, comprehensive and independent tests of 5G networks in the US by a major wireless network testing company. The results reinforce the fact that it’s still early days for 5G in the US, and that 5G coverage and performance is uneven — to put it mildly.
RootMetrics — which is not owned by Informa, Light Reading’s parent company — tested 5G networks from all the major wireless networks operators in Atlanta, Chicago and Dallas. The study used multiple devices (the LG V50 ThinQ 5G and the Samsung Galaxy S10 5G), covered hundreds of miles of urban and suburban territory in each city (including some indoor locations), and featured results from Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint across 3G, 4G and 5G, where available. The testing company also compared its US testing results with similar tests it has conducted in other countries that also offer 5G, such as South Korea.
So what are the findings? Well, 5G is fast. At least, when it’s coming from Verizon:
US Max 5G speeds vs. South Korea Max 5G Speeds
Verizon leads the pack, but South Korea leads the space. (Image source: RootMetrics)
However, the firm noted that the US lags dramatically behind South Korea when it comes to actually finding a 5G signal.
“US 5G deployments are in their infancy compared to those in South Korea,” the firm noted, adding that the “availability” of 5G — meaning, the amount of territory covered by the service — is minimal in the US when compared with South Korea. “In South Korea, the 5G availability rates for each operator ranged from 42.2% to 45.6%. In the US, Sprint was the only carrier with a 5G availability rate above 24.9% in any of the three cities we tested, and Sprint’s 5G rates were at least that high in all three markets, topping out at 51.4% in Atlanta. AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile, however, each had 5G availability rates below 7.2%.”
For example, the firm noted it was only able to connect to AT&T’s 5G network in Dallas 2.6% of the time. For T-Mobile that figure was just 1.3%.
To anyone following the rollout of 5G in the US, this should come as no surprise. South Korean operators are mostly using the 3.5GHz band for 5G, which is often described as “Goldilocks” spectrum and offers a good balance between carrying lots of data and covering lots of geography. In the US, however, Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile are all using millimeter-wave (mmWave) spectrum, which can carry a lot of data but cannot cover large geographic areas. That’s just due to the physics of radio waves in those spectrum bands.
Sprint’s high “availability rate” for 5G, according to RootMetrics’ figures, is due to the fact that the operator is using 2.5GHz spectrum for 5G, which offers performance and coverage characteristics similar to 3.5GHz.
Finally, it’s worth noting that RootMetrics carried out its testing between July and August, and it’s likely that US operators’ 5G coverage and performance have improved since then. Indeed, Verizon executives have touted threefold improvements in 5G speed and coverage in some markets since the operator launched services in April.
Other data points
But those are just a few of the takeaways from RootMetrics’ report. Among other noteworthy findings:
“Our testing in Atlanta, Chicago, and Dallas indicates that initial 5G deployments are primarily focused on improving download speeds, rather than upload speeds or data reliability. It’s worth noting that we observed a similar prioritization of download speeds during testing in South Korea as well,” RootMetrics wrote.
The firm said AT&T’s 5G median download speed of 256.1 Mbit/s in Dallas (the company’s headquarters) was over 13 times faster than its non-5G mode median download speed of 19.4 Mbit/s.
The firm found that Sprint’s results in Dallas showed similar maximum download speeds — around 200 Mbit/s — available on both 5G and 4G. Moreover, the RootMetrics reported that Sprint’s 5G median download speed in Dallas was just 1.2 Mbit/s. The carrier showed faster speeds in Atlanta and Chicago, however.
T-Mobile’s fastest maximum download speed overall was actually provided on its 4G network, where it clocked 388.5 Mbit/s in Atlanta. T-Mobile’s 5G median download speed in the city was 20.9 Mbit/s.
Verizon, RootMetrics said, was the only carrier in any city to deliver speeds over 1 Gbit/s. Further, the firm said the carrier’s 5G median download speed of 146.1 Mbit/s was over four times faster than its 4G median download speed of 34.5 Mbit/s.
These results largely dovetail with recent findings from OpenSignal, which relies on results obtained from regular consumers as opposed to RootMetrics, which conducts its own tests directly. OpenSignal found that 5G services in the US are around 2.7 times faster than 4G LTE services.
What to conclude from all this? First, 5G is a new technology, while 4G is a much more mature technology, and therefore its performance will likely improve. Further, operators like Verizon and T-Mobile are going to have to engage in some serious work — or use other spectrum bands — to spread 5G signals beyond tiny slivers of major metro areas. (Already AT&T and T-Mobile have pledged to launch 5G in their lowband spectrum.)
However, given Sprint’s results, they probably won’t record the kinds of results that Verizon has managed over its mmWave spectrum. For example, T-Mobile has said that 5G in lower spectrum bands will provide 60-70Mbit/s download speeds.
Finally, operators in the US, South Korea and elsewhere are using the first version of the 5G standard, and future versions of the standard promise a range of fancy new features like ultra-low latency and network slicing.
2020 and beyond
But, according to some 5G proponents, the technology will gain steam in the months and years to come. The GSMA — the world’s largest trade organization for the wireless industry — predicted in a new report that fully 24% of connections in North America will be on 5G networks by the end of 2022, rising to 46% by 2025 — equivalent to 200 million 5G connections. [Ed. note: We’ll link to the report soon.]
And the organization said North American mobile network operators are going to spend the money to make that happen. “2019 will be the first year where 5G accounts for more than half of operators’ capex in North America, reflecting the shift from LTE to 5G deployments,” the firm wrote. “This trend will continue through 2020-2025, with 87% of operator capex in North America to be allocated to 5G by the end of the period. Between 2018 and 2025, mobile operators will invest $353 billion in capex in the US, more than in any other country.”
Finally, the GSMA reported that, during 2018, mobile technologies and services in general generated 4.2% of gross domestic product (GDP) in North America, amounting to $937 billion of economic value added. “By 2023, mobile’s contribution to the North American economy will reach almost $1.2 trillion (4.8% of GDP),” the organization wrote.
Are you a homeowner who’s recently received a notice indicating that a new small cell antenna is going to be erected on or near your property? Or a lawmaker who has received one of the industry’s new opinion papers about small cell antenna regulations? Or an FCC Commissioner who is considering small cell rule-making? Before you start citing from or buying into the pretty pictures and bright-eyed economic projections in the opinion papers below, you should know that these industry-commissioned studies do not tell the whole story:
What’s wrong with them, you ask? Plenty. Here are the top 10 things the wireless industry doesn’t tell you about small cell antennas:
#1: Despite the wireless industry’s calls for collocation using shared infrastructure, in practice, carriers apply for individual small cells instead of shared infrastructure like DAS.
Small cells are standalone individual cells that can be installed separately. They’re like miniature cell towers but without the tower. Like towers, a small cell requires both an antenna and equipment. Unlike towers though, the wireless industry likes to place the transmission equipment on the utility or other support structures. In effect, this means that the installation of small cells must either increase the visual blight of the pole or increase the diameter of the pole if the equipment is put inside.
Distributed Antenna Systems, in contrast, typically require less substantial infrastructure attached to each pole and can be more easily made to resemble street lights and signs (like the examples in #2). Common equipment can be placed within a centralized hub conveniently located underground or outside of view. Whereas small cells are single user installations, carriers can share DAS nodes. Multiple wireless service providers can share a DAS node, and multiple frequency bands (Carriers) can be facilitated on each node. This reduces the total number of sites needed and makes each site more attractive because most of the transmission equipment sits in a shared offsite DAS hub.
Given the benefits of DAS, you might wonder why the industry would prefer to build small cells instead of a constructing a DAS?There are 5 reasons – some of which are legitimately problematic for wireless carriers and some of which just require increased investment or time but aren’t beneficial to the bottom line.
Reason 1: Each wireless provider has different objectives and may not need the same locations.
Reason 2: Each wireless provider has different deployment times and requiring DAS may force one carrier to wait if others are not ready.
Reason 3: DAS systems cost more because they’re designed for the requirements of the most advanced user. So if carrier A needs feature X, even if carrier B doesn’t, then the system will include feature X.
Reason 4: DAS systems require a concentrated, coordinated effort and someone to lead it.
Reason 5: Small cells are easier to deploy. DAS applications are reviewed in total – meaning that an objection to any part of the DAS application holds up the entire request.
The result: Providers submit applications for small cells even in downtown, urban core areas where DAS makes more sense. In some cases, providers apply for permits on adjacent poles where it’s obvious that a DAS system would reduce visual clutter. Or even submit for new poles adjacent to other light/utility poles of similar height to avoid paying the rate schedules published by municipalities.
The map below shows the actual number of small cell application locations within the City of Houston by four different wireless entities. In a dense urban area like this – why not propose DAS nodes that all entities can share and decrease the number and impact of these facilities on the community?
The wireless industry needs to actually collocate rather than just talk about collocation. Furthermore, the FCC and cities themselves should mandate collocation when multi-carrier small cells are technologically feasible.
#2. The wireless industry associations want standardized federal, state, and local rules but don’t even standardize themselves.
The wireless industry demands standardization of state and local government laws related to the erection of small cells. Their opinion papers suggest that without standardization, wireless applicants will be hit with a patchwork of wireless siting regulations. So they’re putting forth a multi-pronged approach:
3. Submitting a Petition for Relief to the FCC (see Mobilitie)
4. Lobbying Heavily at the Federal Level
The wireless industry alleges — without providing any quantitative analysis — that most municipalities are applying costly, antiquated macrocell regulations to small cell applications. While many smaller municipalities do not have small cell policies in place at this time, that is because the wireless carriers aren’t building many small cells in smaller towns and villages. But many larger municipalities (and those where 90% of small cell deployment are occurring) have begun to implement small cell regulations or will do shortly.
At the same time, the wireless industry’s applicants can’t even submit consistent small cell applications to their municipalities. It’s blatantly hypocritical. For example, some cities report receiving location maps showing new small cells in the middle of ponds or on footbridges or in areas that are under another city or county’s jurisdiction. Some applicants are not even submitting site-specific applications – instead submitting the same drawing over and over. If the wireless industry believes that standardizing the permitting process is necessary, they should be willing to standardize their own small cell antenna configurations and requests as well. All applications should provide for and include the same information so that the municipality does not have to ask multiple times for the applicant to complete the basic information. Every application should include a structural analysis wet-stamped by a state licensed engineer demonstrating that the new pole or existing pole is structurally sufficient for the current loading. Plans should include where power is coming from and how power will be metered, or better yet be subject to an unmetered wireless rate or utilize wireless smart metering
The WIA and CTIA should encourage standardized applications and requirements among their member constituents. But we believe their approach should not just consist of lobbying states, the FCC, and local governments. These organizations should work towards drafting common application requirements and best practices for their constituent members. They should then discipline or reprimand those members that do not follow such practices. Most importantly, wireless industry associations should focus on assisting member entities in developing and using shared infrastructure.
#3. What the industry installs looks vastly different than what they say is possible.
Similarly, the wireless industry’s glossy pictures show an idealized implementation that is far different from reality. Their reports showcase integrated poles with small cells contained within or Distributed Antenna Systems (DAS) nodes with an off-site equipment hub. These appear slim and attractive (relatively speaking). However, when these same wireless carriers or small cell companies submit the actual drawings and applications, the installations do not look anything like those pretty glossy pictures. Or, after they install the attractive poles, they bloat the view with additional equipment, creating a visual blight.
For example, below are photos promoted in the WIA Small Cell document. (Note these pictures are DAS nodes- not Small Cells – see #4 below)
Compare those to photos of actual small cell installations. They are nothing like the photos shown in wireless industry propaganda.
The reason for this is twofold: First, the industry likes to show pretty photos of DAS nodes because they are actual possibilities, even though the wireless carriers and tower companies are increasingly abandoning them. Wireless carriers are instead building small cells which usually have more equipment on the pole than DAS’s central hub. Second, in many cases, the applicant omit to mention a part of the equipment that’s to be mounted near or on the pole either because they’re rushed or because they don’t want to answer objections. The municipality is left holding the bag – inspecting each constructed small cell in order to confirm whether the applicant exceeded what they were authorized to install. Don’t believe this actually happens? Look below to see what the industry submitted as a photo simulation versus what was eventually installed.
#4. Once a site is erected, they can go back and increase its size ad nauseam provided that the changes do not exceed federal standards.
Once a small cell or DAS node is attached to a pole, the wireless carriers have the right under Section 6409(a) of the Middle-Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act to expand their equipment. In other words, once a site is built, municipalities have little power to restrict further expansions of the pole’s small cell antenna equipment if the applicants stay within the limits of 6409(a). Moreover, wireless companies can request to expand an unlimited number of times. So even if a small cell starts off looking small and svelte – it could be expanded in size immediately without the municipality being able to stop the expansion. And this can happen over and over again.
Below is a photo showing what a small cell looks like after multiple expansions.
#5: The industry claims that wireless development will not occur without major policy changes. But in fact, wireless development has occurred and will continue to occur even without those changes.
Historically, the industry has made the same argument over and over again: that they will not be able to deploy infrastructure if wireless siting laws aren’t loosened. They suggest that most any regulation that slows down wireless deployment limits technological advancement. The industry puts out derisive blacklists of cities and counties that one or more wireless company believes make it difficult or expensive to deploy wireless infrastructure. They label these cities as technologically backward and lobby decision makers to convince them that their city will not grow with such technological restrictions. For example, see this quote from Gary Jabara of Mobilitie about municipalities or counties who aren’t receptive to Mobilitie’s proposals to erect 120′ mini-macro small cells in their city or county.
Nonetheless, even in expensive markets with incriminating reviews like the one above, small cell deployment still occurs. Wireless companies still build towers or even find private locations for rooftop cell sites. A quick examination of Verizon or AT&T’s coverage map will show very few holes in urban or suburban areas.
Furthermore, in most states (35 or more) wireless companies have access to utility poles which are subject to pole attachment rates prescribed by the federal government. These pole access rates are fairly reasonable; they are typically less than $500/year per pole. However, working with the utilities can be time-consuming, which is why the wireless industry is pushing for easier access to municipal poles. Isn’t it odd that wireless carriers claim to be utilities but aren’t actually using utility poles?
Even in markets like Baltimore, MD where the small cell rates are somewhat high compared to other US cities, Baltimore is still receiving small cell applications at a pace comparable to communities with closer-to-average rental rates. In other words, while the industry claims that higher rates impede technological advancement for a city, the reality is that wireless carriers still build small cell sites and many of them. While small cell deployment would likely happen quicker with revisions to regulation and cheaper access to municipal structures, make no doubt about it, the development would occur either way.
#6: The industry labels any request for cost reimbursement or rents by a municipality as a “money grab” all while the industry itself is generating $60 billion in profit per quarter.
We participated in a meeting between one city and members of one of the national wireless trade groups. The trade group decried the city’s rent requests for access to taxpayer-funded infrastructure as a “money grab.” Meanwhile, each of the wireless carriers has generated 20% profit margins or better in recent years – with at least one generating margins over 40%. The Big 4 wireless carriers alone are generating nearly $60 billion a year or more in EBITDA margin while the wireless industry combined generated $85 billion.
To argue that municipalities are money grabbing by charging a reasonable price for access to publicly-funded infrastructure by for-profit entities is disingenuous at best.
If one assumes the industry is constructing 20,000 new small cell antennas a year, even if each pole fee was $3,000/year, the wireless industry AS A WHOLE would only lose out on $60 million or less than .1% of their annual profit. Yes, you read that right,- less than 1/10th of 1 percent of their annual profit.
To put in perspective, Verizon and AT&T alone spent half that amount on lobbying alone in 2016. (see Open Secrets for AT&T and for Verizon)
These arguments seem even more duplicitous when you see the headlines put out by the wireless industry that extol the tremendous revenue opportunities from 5G and other advancements. For example:
The Qualcomm “survey,” says the 5G future will support up to 22 Million Jobs and $12 trillion dollars of goods and services.
Simply put, the industry has every right to attempt to negotiate with municipalities for cheaper access to taxpayer funded and maintained municipal poles. But if they insist on making it about money, we believe those same taxpayers and municipalities should be prepared to point out the hypocrisy in their claims.
#7: The wireless industry wants to pay less for their small cell permit applications yet still receive faster review timelines from understaffed cities and counties.
Historically, we estimate that most cities rarely received more than 50 applications for new wireless sites per year from 2000-2015. Even in the boom years of 2008-2010, cities may have received just 150 applications for new wireless facilities. Contrast that to today: we have confirmed that the City of Houston received over 700 applications in 2016 alone for small cell infrastructure.
On the one hand, the wireless industry politely (or not so politely) asks for a quick turnaround on small cell antenna applications (complaining to the FCC and state representatives when they don’t get it) but then on the other begrudges municipalities for charging fees to review the applications. For those of you not entrenched in the minutia of municipal red tape, these requests for the use of infrastructure or placement of equipment are rarely identical from one application to the next. Some companies are very good at drafting thorough and complete applications, but most are not. No matter what size the project is, the items to review in each application are the same. Each site still needs to be reviewed for structural, electrical, and physical safety.
Without standardization by the industry, these applications can’t be reviewed easily. This, in turn, increases the cost to the municipality for reviewing such applications. The industry wants the best of all worlds – to submit hundreds of applications simultaneously, have those applications reviewed quickly regardless of their quality, and pay as little as possible for the city to review them.
#8: The wireless industry extols the wide-ranging benefits of the Internet of Things (IOT), smart cities, and self-driving cars, but fails to mention that many of these benefits can be obtained using current LTE-based technologies.
First, let’s be clear that there are absolutely many wide-ranging benefits from 5G and small cell densification. Truly mobile IOT won’t happen without wireless industry investment. No other private or public entity can or will develop sufficient wireless infrastructure in the US to enable pervasive low latency communications. Without wireless industry investment, remote control of sensitive machinery or vehicles simply won’t occur. Self-driving autonomous cars will be possible but without the gains in safety and efficiency that would occur from a truly smart network of connected cars.
However, you can get the benefits of low bandwidth, non-essential IOT or smart city sensors and functions without small cells at all (or at least with fewer of them). The CTIA (Accenture) study above cites the benefits using smart meters and smart lighting. These include traffic management systems, public transportation location-based tracking, real-time public parking information, and gun-shot recognition. These are all benefits to be gained from IOT. However, neither Accenture nor the wireless industry makes any attempt to quantify or distinguish which smart city and IOT initiatives require wireless industry involvement and which don’t.
Furthermore, these studies don’t even remotely acknowledge which IOT benefits can happen on today’s LTE networks versus those that need more robust densification of sites to occur. The wireless industry leads you to believe that you need the innovations they want to sell you to get any of these advances of the future. That is inaccurate.
#9: While the wireless industry claims densification of small cells is needed to enable smart city and IOT functions, they don’t tell you that mobile video is the primary use of small cells both now and in the future.
Cisco, in its 2017 Global Mobile Data Traffic Forecast Update, indicated that video currently makes up 60% of mobile data traffic. Moreover, they forecast that three-quarters of the world’s mobile data traffic will be video by 2021. Ericsson’s own study states that mobile video traffic represents 55% of LTE/5G data traffic now, but is expected to grow to 95% (yes- 95%) of mobile data traffic by 2021.
Cisco states further that 50 billion IOT devices will be connected to the internet within 5 years. However, only 1.5 billion of these devices will have cellular connectivity. We have seen forecasts from other sources that IOT mobile data use will grow to 8% of total network mobile data use by 2021. In other words, IOT functionality only drives less than 10% of the bandwidth need for small cell densification.
This raises the question: how many small cells are necessary to enable Smart City and IOT initiatives versus how many are really needed to densify networks for the next generation of fixed wireless to home and mobile video? For further information on why mobile and fixed wireless video is so important to AT&T and Verizon, see this article on the wireless industries efforts to compete with the cable companies.
To be clear, we aren’t suggesting that mobile video or fixed wireless are inconsequential. Without the revenue generated from mobile and fixed wireless video, the wireless industry would not have the incentive to invest as much Capex in their wireless networks to enable some of the truly amazing IOT and smart city use cases – especially those that require low latency or secure and ultra-reliable communication.
We are, though, suggesting that any indication by the wireless industry that 5G and small cell densification is primarily about IOT and smart city functions is a half-truth at best. The reality is that small cells densification is more about paid consumer and commercial video than it is about IOT or smart cities.
#10. The industry is willing to push select information about small cells but not willing to respond to substantive questions from municipalities.
Before a recent meeting began between one city and 20+ representatives of wireless and tower companies, each side exchanged questions. The wireless industry provided 30-40 questions to the city, and the city provided a list of 15-20 questions to the industry. The city’s questions were fairly straightforward:
What do the wireless providers see in terms of other cities that require rental payments?
How many small cells does the industry contemplate installing in the city over the next 5 years?
What type of infrastructure/antennas does the wireless industry expect to need on the poles?
The city responded to all the industry’s questions with substantive detail. In return, only ONE company responded to the city’s questions. And most of those responses were cop-outs – claims that they couldn’t answer due to competitive concerns. CTIA/WIA provided a glossy presentation that discussed all of the overarching benefits of IOT and 5G, but failed, for the most part, to provide any substantive and direct answers to the questions posed by the city itself.
At the end of the day, the wireless industry wanted to poke holes in the city’s effort, but was unwilling to answer important questions that would have helped the city review and revise its own policy.
How can any city reasonably be expected to plan and prepare adequately for small cell infrastructure when the wireless industry continues to provide limited substantive information?
So Where Does this Leave Us?
Municipalities need to realize that wireless investment in small cells should be encouraged and reasonably managed and that doing so requires investment in staff and resources. They can no longer put their heads in the sand because it isn’t a question of if, but of whenand of how many small cells are coming. Reactionary policies and moratoriums almost always rushed and neither encourage thoughtful technological expansion nor protect the constituents.
Wireless carriers, tower companies, and industry associations need to provide better substantive guidance to their member constituents including model applications and construction/design criteria. They should truly encourage shared infrastructure use especially in dense areas where multiple providers want access to existing poles. These groups and companies should also be more forthright in their marketing materials and in answering legitimate questions and concerns by public entities.
We, as advisors to landowners and municipalities, will continue to help educate the public about the small cell leases and policies. Most landowners and municipalities are underrepresented and ill-informed when it comes to responding to the wireless industry’s requests and/or demands. We hope that by highlighting the top 10 things the industry doesn’t tell you about small cells, that you can better decide how to accomplish your goals. That small cell deployment will not be allowed to grow unchecked and unabated by an uninformed populace.
The wireless industry has been pushing the fiction that small cells are the size of a pizza box. Here is a quote in a Wireless Week article–
“Americans will benefit tremendously from innovations like 5G and the Internet of Things, which require more small cell facilities – often the size of a pizza box – to build a denser network,” CTIA’s assistant vice president of regulatory affairs Scott Bergmann said. “Today’s action by the FCC recognizes the minimal impact of these facilities, but there is more work to be done. We must streamline infrastructure policies at all levels of government so that wireless providers can rapidly deliver the next generation of products and services to consumers.” (emphasis added)
Furthermore, as reported by Wireless Estimator here, “In the CTIA presentation, the trade group said that networks can now be extended on (sic) common structures like street lights and utility poles and that there will be 300,000 “pizza box-sized small cells needed in [the] next 3-4 years.”
WHAT THE INDUSTRY ACTUALLY WANTS
While some small cells are the size of a pizza box- many aren’t. The industry clearly doesn’t think so either despite their public pronouncement otherwise. In the newly proposed state legislation in 20+ states, there is language that allows the wireless industry to install up to 6 cubic feet of antennas and up to 28 cubic feet of equipment on each pole. For example, see this language from the recently passed Virginia statute.
“Small cell facility” means a wireless facility that meets both of the following qualifications: (i) each antenna is located inside an enclosure of no more than six cubic feet in volume, or in the case of an antenna that has exposed elements, the antenna and all of its exposed elements could fit within an imaginary enclosure of no more than six cubic feet; and (ii) all other wireless equipment associated with the facility is cumulatively no more than 28 cubic feet in volume, or facilities comprised of such higher limits as established by the Federal Communication Commission. The following types of associated equipment are not included in the calculation of equipment volume: electric meter, concealment, telecommunications demarcation boxes, ground-based enclosures, back-up power systems, grounding equipment, power transfer switches, cut-off switches, and vertical cable runs for the connection of power and other services.”
In other words, the industry likes to present to municipalities that small cells are the size of a singular pizza box because it makes a compelling story. However, the want to give their members the right to install substantially larger equipment than would fit in a single pizza box.
SNL Kagan recently released their tower projections through 2025. While there was a decline in active sites during 2014 due to the site decommissioning of Nextel, Leap Wireless, and MetroPCS, SNL Kagan thinks the shrinkage will pass. A number of positive events and trends outweigh the temporary lull of carrier consolidation, including: (1) Consumer demand for mobile data has ramped up like the blade of a hockey stick and will continue to follow that path for several more years; Cisco estimates U.S. mobile data traffic will grow 7x from 2014 to 2019. (2) The recently concluded AWS-3 auction will generate an uptick in lease amendments and corresponding new equipment roll outs. A similar demand spike will follow the 600MHz incentive auction which is scheduled to start in 2016,” John Fletcher with SNL Kagan explained. Fletcher also noted that now FirstNet has the funding to build out the 700MHz band. They will create a new tenant for approximately 20,000 to 40,000 towers across the nation. “Looking back, the U.S. has experienced a wireless technology upgrade roughly every 10 years since Analog 1G premiered in 1984,” Fletcher wrote. “Prior to and following both 3G and 4G commercial launches, tower and site growth spiked, then plateaued. Our forecast for 5G (we think 5G could emerge in the early 2020’s) mirrors this pattern. While 5G standards have yet to be set, pundits anticipate it will be the first of the wireless technologies to boast throughput rates measured in Gbps.”Tower projections
The Supreme Court waded into Section 704 of the 1996 Telecommunications Act yesterday and released a decision concerning how and when a local government denies an application for a wireless facility.
In the case before the Court, T-Mobile sued Roswell, Georgia after it denied a tower application and sent a written denial letter after the hearing telling T-Mobile to read the transcript of the hearing if it wanted the reasons for the denial. The city then released the transcript of the meeting 26 days after the hearing.
As those astute readers know, the standard in Section 704 is that a denial “shall be in writing and supported by substantial evidence contained in a written record.” If an applicant doesn’t agree with a denial, they have to file suit within 30 days of the issuance of the denial to preserve their appeal rights.
After considering the facts and the law, the Supreme Court came to the following conclusion:
“Thus, we hold that the Act requires localities to provide reasons when they deny cell phone tower siting applications, but that the Act does not require localities to provide those reasons in written denial letters or notices themselves. A locality may satisfy its statutory obligations if it states its reasons with sufficient clarity in some other written record issued essentially contemporaneously with the denial. In this case, the City provided its reasons in writing and did so in the acceptable form of detailed minutes of the City Council meeting. The City, however, did not provide its written reasons essentially contemporaneously with its written denial. Instead, the City issued those detailed minutes 26 days after the date of the written denial and just 4 days before petitioner’s time to seek judicial review would have expired. The City therefore did not comply with its statutory obligations.”
So the takeaway from this is that IF you are going to deny an application, you should put your decision in writing, and provide the reasons for the denial, or if you are going to simply reference the hearing transcript, you need to make sure that transcript is available “essentially contemporaneously” with the denial letter. How long is that? Well, its not 26 days later. Would a week later be “essentially contemporaneous”? The Court doesn’t say.
Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Thomas dissent from the majority with, frankly, better reasoned construction of the statutory language. The majority imposes this new standard of “essentially contemporaneously” that isn’t found anywhere in Section 704. The dissenting justices argue that imposition of this new requirement, while not burdensome, could trip up smaller communities in the future, and is not necessary since it isn’t part of the statutory language.
Nevertheless, this is now the law of the land as interpreted by the Court, so you’ll need to take it into account when considering a denial of an application.
The full text of the Court’s opinion (and dissents) can be found here: