Verizon’s Heart (and 400 Small Cells) to Be Left in San Francisco

By J. Sharpe Smith —

J. Sharpe Smith


April 7, 2015 — Targeting 400 locations for a small cell build out in the heart of San Francisco, arguably the most picturesque and picky U.S. city, is no mean feat. But Verizon Wireless is taking it on.

In the past year, the carrier has worked with the City of San Francisco and its agencies to get the lease agreements in place to attach small cells to street lights and municipal poles. It’s currently in the engineering phase of the project and will soon issue public notices about the small cell sites and go through public hearing processes for 60 locations. The carrier’s target is to get a majority of the 400 small cells in the system deployed in 2015.

Municipal Relationship Critical to Rollout

Verizon signed two master lease agreements with the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission and the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency. The carrier is also a member of the Northern California Joint Pole Association, whose members — municipalities, electric utilities, telephone companies, wireless companies and DAS providers — have or desire to hold joint equity in utility poles.

“We worked closely with the planning department to get a design that was feasible for the city. We feel very good about the design fairly early in the process,” Jake Hamilton, Verizon director of networks, northern California/ Nevada, told AGL Small Cell Link in an exclusive interview.

Verizon partnered with ExteNet Systems, which did the site acquisition and permitting on 70 percent of the locations. ExteNet, known mostly for DAS, will also perform the deployment on those sites that are in its name as well as the fiber optics for the system. A local site acquisition/architectural engineering firm, Modus, deployed the small cells for Verizon Wireless.

“It was a learning process for us. We accessed some of the historical DAS providers as well as doing some of them ourselves,” Hamilton said. “Small cells are not as cheap and quick as we thought they would be. Without the underlying agreements with the city, you really can’t go anywhere. It is critical that you have good partnerships with the city and its agencies.”

Verizon Wireless is deploying 5-watt Ericsson LTE radios every two to three blocks, which will provide service anywhere from 500 feet to 1,000 feet. Coverage will include the northeast quadrant of the city, including the SOMA (South of Market Street), Financial District, North Beach and Russian Hill.

“There are restrictions from the city on how much equipment we can place on the poles, which are small in diameter, so they are sensitive to how much equipment is deployed. The 4G micro RRU from Ericsson really gives us the opportunity to go small,” Hamilton said.

Cloud RAN Employed to Backhaul Small Cells

To backhaul the small cells, Verizon Wireless will employ a cloud radio access network (RAN) architecture using dark fiber. On the pole, there will only be two radios, micro RRUs, which will be transported to a hub location via CPRI fronthaul. The brains of the system, the baseband units, will be located in the hubs.

“With CPRI [Common Public Radio Interface], you can minimize the equipment at the small cell site,” Hamilton said. “You don’t need the optical routers that are typically installed at a cell site, which has EBH [Ethernet backhaul].”

The San Francisco small cell system is the first significant small cell deployment for Verizon using the cloud radio access network (C-RAN) architecture.

“C-RAN is a fairly new concept for the industry. It paves the wave for features coming in the future that will allow interference cancellation and other signaling benefits,” Hamilton said. “I think C-RAN is the direction of the industry, especially when it comes to transport and how you can make the most of a single strand of fiber.”

The San Francisco small cell system will handle everyday communication needs as well as provide the cornerstone for Verizon’s expanded capacity to handle the flood of data-hungry visitors who will make the pilgrimage to the city for Super Bowl 50 to be hosted at Levi’s Stadium in nearby Santa Clara, California.

Click here to Subscribe to AGL Magazine