As the hype of 5G is becoming a faded memory, the reality of getting it out there is bumping up against some walls. I have discussed some of this in previous dialogs – CBRS, mmWave, legal challenges and the like. As progress advances for stitching together the many platforms, elements, and technologies, challenges are bubbling up in a number of vectors, one being small cells.
There has always been some question as to what the small cell landscape will, eventually look like. Much has been said, and written, that, just because we have the ability to roll out tens, or even hundreds of thousands of small cells, it does not mean we will roll out those cells without some hiccups. Especially since many of those will end up on private property and on street furniture.
It has been an ongoing issue, and recently, with the reintroduction of the STREAMLINE Small Cell Deployment Act, that has brought regulating the linear deployment of small cells in with standard regulations to the forefront.
A couple of members of Congress reintroduced that act, to stymie the recent pushback of the FCC’s initial rework of the part of the Communications Act that addresses this (and some other 5G issues) by some states.
We all know how important small cells are going to be in the 5G ecosystem. However, it seems that not everyone on the same page. The tech sector gets it. However, other segments seem to have some reservations about how to regulate the proliferation of small cells.
Once again, the question of transceiver density and the effects of RF everywhere is raising concerns. Whether this is an issue, or not, is a discussion for another day. However, perception is reality and there is some pushback to do a deeper dive into the proliferation of small cells. This is an issue that permeates all sectors, public and private, across the nation.
Some states are refusing to adopt the FCC’s recent small cell order, part of which removes some barriers from, and accelerates the rollout of, broadband services, including small cells for 5G. It, basically, says that the Feds have some control over what the states can do to impede the deployment of small cells.
In a nutshell, the new language stipulates how the provisions of Section 253 and 332(c) (7) of the Communications Act effectively tells states that they cannot “actively inhibit” the deployment of such services. The actual verbiage is much more defined, but what it was intended to do was prohibit states from enacting their own set of rules, regulations, or legislation so there is not a cobbled together gaggle of different rules that vary, widely, from state to state. The FCC wants a narrower lane of deployment procedures to both streamline and unify broadband deployments (of which small cells are a large part).
The states (about half) that have decided to push back have not adopted the order. A couple even decided to challenge the order, questioning the FCC’s rule in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. This is when Congress came to the rescue with the reintroduction. The bill that would codify many parts of the FCC’s rule to prevent states from going rogue by update the Communications Act, bringing the rules for small cell deployment under federal control. The proposed bill, essentially, mirrors the FCC’s rule.
Is all of this a good plan? I think so for a couple of reasons. First, there is an argument for linearity across the deployment ecosystem, of a global radio net, when it comes to the rules and regulations. The FCC, and some members of Congress, make a good point when they say that having a patchwork of rules and regs, which vary from state to state, will only impair timely and efficient rollout of services. The judicial process and appeals could take several years to resolve. Therefore, any legislation, in this case, that can circumvent the judicial process and bound states to national rules and regs, is a good idea.
Next, a patchwork of small cell deployments will hinder 5G evolution. It may not have a huge impact on some 5G segments – lower-band cellular networks for example, which are less dependent on small cells. However, segments such as edge networks, some infrastructures, open campuses, smart cities, transportation, and the like that will be small cell-heavy, will be impacted. They will, likely, wait for the courts to rule (or adopt the FCC order).
Last, 5G will blend a plethora of disparate technologies. It will be difficult enough to bring all of this together in a heterogeneous network that will work seamlessly under a 5G umbrella. Making the deployment process unilateral, nationwide, as practical as possible, will help to keep the 5G momentum up and remove one nagging challenge.