Category Archives: Small Cells

Tower Titans Debate Macro Sites Versus Small Cells

May 24, 2017 — 

By Don Bishop —

Executive Editor, AGL Magazine —

When it comes to macro towers versus small cells, for large tower company leaders who spoke about it during the Wireless Infrastructure Show, there is no “versus.” For Steven Marshall of American Tower, for example, small cells deployed in urban areas outside of buildings are complementary to the macro overlay. Speaking in the session, “View from the Top,” the executive vice president of American Tower and president of its U.S. Tower Division, said outdoor small cells add capacity in dense urban areas where there is a lot of demand for data coverage. He said American Tower has not entered into the small cell market in any way, for lack of the right business model for the company.

Jay Brown, president and CEO of Crown Castle International, said his company has built more than 20,000 small cells, which he sees as complementary to the company’s macro towers. Most of those small cells are in the top 10 U.S. markets. Brown said more small cells are on the way, with Crown having another 20,000 under contract, mostly for construction in the top 20 U.S. markets.

“We’re finding those systems being built in relatively close proximity to existing macro sites,” Brown said. “We don’t perceive it at all as a threat to the macro sites because the macro sites continue to be the most cost-effective, efficient way for the carriers to deploy the network. So, if we were to take a near-term view or a really long-term view, our view is that macro sites are going to continue to be the most cost-efficient way for the carriers to deploy network infrastructure.”

Brown said that given the amount of data that consumers are using, it isn’t possible to place enough macro sites to reuse the spectrum in ways that fully meet that demand. “So, we describe it as an overlay-underlay strategy. Think about it as small cells being the lamp in the room and macro sites being the large overhead light. Large overhead lights do exactly what towers do: They provide broad coverage and cover large geographies. You also need lamps in a room to accentuate a room and improve coverage over a small area. That’s what they’re using small cells for. We see it as very complementary.”

In places where macro sites will meet the data demand and small cells are not needed, Brown said he didn’t believe small cells will be developed. This includes large portions of the country, where, in the long term, the networks will be run almost entirely by macro sites. He said he expects wireless carriers to use a combination of macro sites and small cells in dense urban areas.

Moreover, Brown said tower companies have long contractual terms on the macro sites. When a carrier signs on to a new tower, he noted, it commits to 10 to 15 years. “We’re seeing them commit to those 10 to 15 years and at the same time we’re working with them in the same neighborhood on small cells,” he said. “They don’t view them as anything other than complementary in order to accomplish their network goal. We believe that’s the way the network is going to continue to develop.”

Jeffrey Stoops, president and CEO of SBA Communications, said his company’s investor base has been keenly interested in the question of small cells versus macro sites since the dawn of small cells. He said that in all the years since the issue has ripened, he is unaware of a single macro site that has been taken down and replaced by small cells.

“You use macros to provide your basic coverage, and then you go back in where necessary and add small cells for capacity,” Stoops said “That’s how our customers think about it. That’s how engineers think about it. I feel more convinced than ever that it is a very complementary architecture and not competitive.”

Alexander L. Gellman, CEO and cofounder of Vertical Bridge, offered an alternative view, suggesting at least a slight amount of competition. He said small cells compete with macro sites on the margins. “I think about it as geography,” he said. ”There is certain geography where small cells make the most sense in terms of cost per megabit and density delivered. There are areas where small cells never will make sense, which is the vast majority of the land mass of the United States. But I believe the carriers will seek the lowest cost per megabit delivered, and ultimately, on the margin, there will be some competition between when do they deploy small cells or when do they deploy macros. The size of that geography will be a function of the relative cost of the two types of sites. I don’t believe you will see small cells replace macro sites. It won’t go that far, at least not for a long time. That’s never happened, anywhere.”

David Weisman, president and CEO of InSite Wireless Group, said the small cell application is complementary to macro sites. He said the competition probably is for the capital allocation dollar, exactly what the carriers are going to spend in a year. “The pie of allocation is but so large, and the carriers now are going to allocate X for macro, Y for DAS and Z for small cells,” he said.

Gellman said he has seen geography where one carrier will have a distributed antenna system, and another carrier will ask for a tower to be built in the same location. “That tells me ultimately there is some layer where there’s a choice, or that the carriers believe there’s a choice,” he said.

Industry Veteran Grimes Launches Enterprise DAS Company

AGL eDigest

May 23, 2017 —

Former inSite Wireless Group COO Rich Grimes and Chad Aaron have formed Strategic Venue Partners (SVP), a company focused on enterprise in-building DAS, focusing on major and mid-sized enterprises and real estate assets, in addition to public-private projects and locations that align with wireless carrier coverage priorities.

Vertical markets that will targeted include medical facilities, sports/entertainment, hospitality, universities, Class A office space, high-rises, mixed-use developments and retail space.

SVP will provide customized licensed cellular and unlicensed systems across multiple venues, as well as consulting services, engineering, design, construction, implementation and ongoing management and ownership.

Tiger Infrastructure Partners, a mid-market private equity firm that invests in infrastructure platforms, is funding the venture.  In addition to securing a substantial financial commitment from Tiger which will be deployed in wireless infrastructure for the benefit of SVP’s customers, the company has also formed several strategic alliances with some of the most highly-regarded companies in the business.  These alliances will help provide technology solutions, long-term customer support to clients and opportunities to expand the SVP platform of solutions.



MulteFire: A New Way to Wireless

May 22, 2017 — 

By Don Bishop —

Executive Editor, AGL Magazine

The MulteFire LTE-based technology enables the full range of LTE services, including voice over LTE, high-speed mobile broadband (data), user mobility and internet of things (IoT) optimizations. It promises LTE-like performance with the simplicity of Wi-Fi-like deployments.

MulteFire technology creates new wireless networks by operating Long Term Evolution (LTE) high-speed wireless data technology as a standalone system in unlicensed or shared spectrum. The MulteFire Alliance, a membership organization that defines and promotes MulteFire technology for small cells operating solely in unlicensed spectrum, completed the MulteFire Release 1.0 specification in January. The Alliance is an open, international organization dedicated to support the common interests of its members, developers and users in the application of LTE and next-generation mobile cellular technology in configurations that use only unlicensed radio spectrum.

With MulteFire deployment, private and public vertical venues, vendors in the internet of things (IoT) vertical market, businesses and property owners can create, install and operate their own private or neutral-host MulteFire network in the same way that they do with Wi-Fi. MulteFire technology incorporates high-quality LTE services and functionality supporting voice and data IP services locally, independently as a private network or interworking with existing mobile networks to provide secure, seamless service as a neutral host — or both.

Today, in-building neutral host wireless solutions are common in the context of Wi-Fi and distributed antenna system (DAS) deployments and are occasionally employed in macro-cell environments. However, the neutral-host option — a common deployment serving subscribers from multiple operators — has rarely been adopted in the deployment of licensed-band small cells. MulteFire technology has the potential to unlock the adoption of small cells and enable neutral-host deployments on a much larger scale.

New Business Opportunities

MulteFire technology creates new business opportunities that allow new markets with specialized needs to benefit from the LTE technology and ecosystem. These vertical markets include large enterprises, sports and entertainment businesses, health care services, identity management vendors, public venues (malls, airports), hospitality businesses, transportation services, machine-to-machine (M2M) applications, IoT applications, seaport management, gas detection, manufacturing, logistics providers and the public sector (first responders, smart grids, military bases and barracks, universities, hospitals and education authorities). Each of these vertical markets can create customized applications and quality of experience (QoE) for its users.

The standalone LTE system is suitable for any radio-frequency spectrum band that requires over-the-air contention for fair sharing, such as the global unlicensed spectrum band at 5 GHz or shared spectrum at 3.5 GHz in the upcoming Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) band in the United States. MulteFire’s 4G LTE technology is tightly aligned with 3GPP standards and builds on elements of the 3GPP Release 131 and 3GPP 142 specifications for licensed assisted access (LAA) and enhanced licensed assisted access (eLAA), augmenting standard LTE to operate in global unlicensed spectrum. Enhancements, such as listen-before-talk (LBT), have been designed to efficiently coexist with other spectrum users, such as Wi-Fi or LAA.

The LTE-based technology enables the full range of LTE services including VoLTE (voice), high-speed mobile broadband (data), user mobility and IoT optimizations. It promises LTE-like performance with the simplicity of Wi-Fi-like deployments. As with mobile networks, MulteFire technology enables full mobility as a user walks around a building; the technology enables seamless handover between small cells as required. MulteFire technology will also interwork with external mobile networks to provide service continuity when users leave the area where MulteFire service is available.

Sophisticated Features

The standalone LTE network deployment can operate anywhere, without additional regulatory approval, costly spectrum or specialist expertise. It uses many of the sophisticated features designed into LTE to deliver high performance, seamless mobility and resilience, even in highly congested environments. As with Wi-Fi, multiple MulteFire networks can co-exist, overlap, or be friendly neighbors in the same physical space.

MulteFire technology could form a useful multi-operator solution for building owners at a lower cost than today’s DAS by acting as a neutral host or single-operator enterprise solution.

MulteFire technology unleashes enormous potential for the wide adoption of small cells, especially indoors. Additionally, it could form a useful multi-operator solution for building owners at a lower cost than today’s DAS by acting as a neutral host or single-operator enterprise solution.

The following are the MulteFire technology’s key performance advantages, thanks to the use of LTE technology:

Its end-to-end architecture extends from general design to support for various deployment modes. Its radio air interface, including frame structure and uplink transmission scheme make use of eLAA robust anchor carrier design, LBT design, and key procedures such as random access procedure, mobility, radio resource management (RRM) measurement and paging.

The better radio coverage that MulteFire technology provides retains LTE’s deep coverage characteristics in an unlicensed band, targets control channels to operate at cell-edge SINR of −6 dB and adds a 5 dB to 6 dB link budget advantage over carrier-grade Wi-Fi.

Its enhanced capacity in denser deployments offers significant gains (~2X) over the 802.11ac baseline, and it makes use of LTE link efficiency and media access control (MAC).

Service Continuity

The seamless mobility the MulteFire technology delivers brings carrier-grade LTE mobility to unlicensed and shared spectrum, supports backward and forward handover (as Rel. 12), and provides seamless and robust mobility between MulteFire nodes themselves for all use cases and when moving between a MulteFire radio access network (RAN) and a macro network, depending on deployment model. It provides service continuity to wide-area networks (WANs) when moving to and from a neutral-host deployment.

MulteFire technology has increased robustness because forward handover enables recovery when radio link failures occur. It also has enhanced radio link failure triggers, and it uses LTE mature self-organizing network (SON) techniques.

Owning and operating a MulteFire network that uses unlicensed spectrum has many benefits, whether it is deployed as a standalone network or interworks with existing mobile networks. The use of the LTE-based technology provides secure, seamless service and the MulteFire deployment can act as a neutral host that offers voice over LTE (VoLTE), high-speed mobile broadband and LBT, all with LTE-like performance. Additionally, MulteFire technology’s Wi-Fi-like simplicity makes it a powerful tool for any organization that does not require hiring expert implementers.

MulteFire systems can operate anywhere, even in congested Wi-Fi and LTE environments where they can co-exist and overlap. A MulteFire system seamlessly hands over between small cells as necessary to provide users with better mobility and to ensure that they stay connected to their information. When a user leaves the MulteFire network area, the MulteFire equipment interworks with external mobile networks to provide service continuity.

Solid Foundation

Moreover, there are a number of specialized customers that require high reliability, safety and mass connections with ubiquitous coverage. MulteFire technology will build a solid foundation for future smart connection in vertical scenarios, including broadband and IoT. The first specification release, Release 1.0 is a testament to the merits of deploying cellular technologies in unlicensed and shared spectrum.

MulteFire Release 1.1 is expected to be released in late 2017. It will have new features for optimized IoT and further enhancements for coverage, spectrum efficiency, mobility, and shared spectrum. Looking ahead, MulteFire technology will continue to be enhanced with new features that introduced in phases and target enriched scenarios, services and additional spectrums.

With permission, this article uses extensive passages from the MulteFire Release 1.0 Technical Paper from the MulteFire Alliance. For more details and to request a copy of the MulteFire Release 1.0 Technical Paper, visit


Placing Small Cells on Wooden Electric Distribution Poles

May 16, 2017 —

By Don Bishop

Executive Editor, AGL Magazine

Making the best use possible of space on its wooden poles, Seattle City Light helps wireless carriers place small cells in Seattle. With the use of street lights to support small cells increasing, the utility has a process for replacing existing street lights with hybrid street lights that include antennas and cabinets for small cells.


A small cell with two antennas above the communications space and an equipment cabinet below the communications space.

For Seattle City Light, a small cell has one or two small antennas located above the communications space on a utility pole. It has a cabinet placed below the communications space. A small cell is connected with a mobile communications network core with fiber-optic cable. That’s the description given by Doug Haberman, the utility’s wireless collocation program manager, as he spoke about small cells on wooden poles.

On some electrical transmission poles, small cell antennas are placed in the middle, below the high-voltage lines, with the cabinet positioned below the communications space. Sometimes multiple lines of fiber-optic cable share space on the poles.

Seattle City Light also has small cells on distribution poles in residential neighborhoods.

Haberman said that in 2014, the utility had about 40 small cells on its infrastructure. At the end of 2016, the utility had 700 small cells either in operation or in various stages of construction.

Possible Wood Rot

Haberman said that another problem with pole extensions has to do with rot. “It’s hard to tell from the ground whether the pole is rotten,” he said. “Many times, a pole will rot at the top, first. So, sometimes it’s just easier to change the pole out, and then you might as well go with a pole-top antenna installation.”

Not a big fan himself of using shrouds to conceal small cell antennas, Haberman said many jurisdictions are eager for shrouds. “I hate shrouds,” he said. “It’s a lot easier to access the antennas. I’ve been arguing, let’s try to get away from the shrouds, when we can. Shrouds have the benefit that they cover all the wires that don’t show up in the photosims, for some reason.”

Seattle City Light has small cells on distribution poles in residential neighborhoods. The antenna is below high-voltage lines.

In a move that Haberman said is rare for a utility, Seattle City Light allows placement of antennas in the supply space where an electrical transformer might otherwise be placed. He said if the space is available, the utility will use it for a small cell, if it works for the wireless carrier. But he said the utility doesn’t hesitate to take back space granted in the supply space if the space becomes needed for a transformer. The wireless node goes away, and then it’s a matter of finding another place for it on the utility’s infrastructure, if possible.

Equipment boxes and antennas can be installed by different companies. Haberman said the utility generally installs antennas placed above or between high-voltage lines because qualified line people must do the work. He said the cabinets can be installed at a different time by a communications company, and they can be installed while they’re installing the fiber. “We’re working on one now where we’re doing the antennas. They’re going to go back in and do cabinets. And then, whenever they can get the fiber done, we’ll hang fiber.”

Power Disconnect Switches

Seattle City Light requires small cells to have power disconnect switches. Haberman explained that the utility has to be able to turn the small cell off immediately in case of an electrical emergency or a car-pole collision, for example. He said it isn’t possible to take the time to call a network operations center and wait for the small cell to be powered down.

Pole extensions, such as this one, didn’t prove to be as useful as expected. More often, poles are changed out for taller poles to fit small cells.

Also, depending on the jurisdiction, Haberman said the electrical inspector will want to see an external disconnect switch. “I see a lot of poles and street lights that don’t have that,” he said. “I could not get away with that in my jurisdiction. It’s a national code.”

Because the utility requires everything to be in one cabinet, the installer placed a shroud around both units. Haberman said he gave credit to the wireless carrier for using a disconnect switch below the shroud that’s half the usual size for a switch. “They were able to work with the jurisdiction and the electrical inspector to come up with a smaller disconnect switch,” he said. “Everything is smaller. Everything is a little bit less intrusive.”


If each of the 700 small cells on Seattle City Light infrastructure had its own lease, Haberman said that would mean writing 700 service-level agreements (SLAs). He said pole-attachment agreements come closer to representing what’s involved with small cell placements, but common utility pole attachment agreements normally don’t mention wireless communications and radio-frequency energy. As a result, the utility uses leases that are somewhat of a hybrid of SLAs and pole-attachment agreements.

Haberman recommended that small cell leases should define the start date for that antenna and should not tie the date to construction. A utility’s real estate department is unlikely to know when the site was built, so he said tying the lease start date to construction would result in inaccurate payments.

Small Cell Future

Seattle City Light’s first hybrid street light includes an antenna and cabinet for a small cell.

The next big thing, Haberman said, is the use of street lights for small cell placements. Haberman said installing street lights for small cells presents a difficulty, because the utility has 40 styles of street lights in Seattle. Also, the utility won’t allow wireless carriers to use the street light power circuit to provide electricity for their small cells. “Our street light circuit never was designed for customer use,” he said. “The wire size isn’t big enough. So power has to come in from some transformer somewhere.”

In the downtown area, Haberman said any street light to be used for small cell placement has to be a replacement. He said street light replacements take time because of the digging required. Also, the small cell owner or installer has to obtain a right of way permit. Based on national code, power to the site has to be separated from the communications connection, and Haberman said that means each pole has to be specially designed. Additionally, fiber-optic cable has to be extended to the site underground.

“So, street lights are challenging, but we’re working on it,” Haberman said. “It’s the future. I get it. But it’s not fast; it’s not quick.”

Seattle City light began locating wireless antennas on high-voltage transmission towers in 1998. Since then, it has expanded into the use of its wood-pole distribution system. The utility accommodates a wide variety of installations from small cell deployments to more traditional site builds on high-voltage and communications towers.

Doug Haberman spoke at this year’s AGL Local Summit in Seattle. For information about AGL Local Summits, visit







Backlash! Carmel City Council Says ‘Not So Fast’ to Small Cells

AGL eDigest

May 16, 2017 —

By J. Sharpe Smith

Senior Editor, AGL’s eDigest

Even though the Indiana legislature has jumped on the bandwagon to facilitate small cells in the right-of-way, city officials in Carmel, Indiana, took advantage of a loophole in the law and exempted the town from Senate Enrolled Act 213, according to the Current in Carmel. Local action against the bill is spreading throughout the state.

The bill makes the deployment of a small cell and associated supporting structure in the public right-of-way a permitted use and exempt from local zoning review if the height of the supporting structure does not exceed 50 feet or the height of any nearby utility pole by 10 feet.

Carmel’s mayor, Jim Brainard, said the measure would have taken away local control of the streets locally elected officials. He also feared that housing values would go down and it would be harder to recruit new businesses to a town with unsightly small cells.

The City of Carmet requires all future utilities infrastructure to be installed underground, unless otherwise approved by the city. So any proposed small cell deployment must be receive a waiver. Fort Wayne, Indiana, took a similar action. The Shelbyville (Indiana) Board of Works also took action to control the placement of small cells in the right-of-way.

“Municipalities in Boone County, Indiana, and all over Indiana are racing to keep local governments in control of where small cell phone towers are situated,” according Elizabeth Pearl, The Lebanon Reporter.

In April, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed a resolution opposing small cell legislation that hasn’t even pass the California legislature, according to In Minnesota, where a small cell bill has yet to pass, the Crosslake City Council has stated it should have authority over small cell deployment in the rights of way.