Video is the largest technology difference spurring wireless infrastructure growth over the last several years, according to Jason Caliento, executive vice president of network strategy at Mobilitie. That is not surprising, considering that every grandparent expects a daily update on junior on his or her cell phone, and teenagers now routinely watch feature length movies on their phones. Caliento creates partnerships with cities, venues and carriers to design and build advanced wireless solutions that can handle this traffic.
Mobilitie owns, operates and has deployed billions of dollars’ worth of wireless infrastructure, making it the largest privately held owner of wireless infrastructure and one of the largest wireless service firms in the United States.
Increasing consumption of video and other high-bandwidth applications led Mobilitie to focus on finding how to participate in that the heterogeneous network of towers, small cells, in-building wireless systems and fiber-optic cable routes that connect wireless devices with the internet, Caliento said. He spoke at the AGL Local Summit in Newport Beach, California, on Jan. 24.
“As the iPhone developed and as our use of Netflix and other video-based applications continues to grow, wireless carriers faced a big problem,” Caliento said. “It is important for our business and our strategy to participate in the entire wireless infrastructure ecosystem to ensure that customer requirements are taken care of seamlessly.”
Mobilitie owns the distributed antenna system (DAS) network at Arrowhead Stadium where the Kansas City Chiefs played the Indianapolis Colts on Jan. 11 in a divisional playoff football game. “The traffic on our DAS in the last couple of minutes of the game was all upload,” Caliento said. “Fans wanted to show that they were at the game and wanted to send video highlights. That is an example of how we interact with devices and social media.”
Towers Still Have Value
Even with growth in DAS and small cells, Mobilitie continues to build telecommunications towers. Caliento said towers offer the most efficient way to deploy broadband wireless services. He said that rural areas especially rely on towers for network services, including backhaul. Some challenges include accessing adequate construction capital and making sure multiples are in line, he said, adding that good towers always will have value. “Multiple” refers to a number used to multiply a tower’s cash flow to establish the tower’s value. Higher prices for towers imply higher multiples.
DAS remains a robust business for Mobilitie, Caliento said, although it presents different challenges than it did a few years ago. He said the challenges come with fans wanting to upload and download information and with the use of virtual reality video applications. Meanwhile, the wireless carriers find that they are unable to fund all of the DAS development, Caliento said. Outside of large public venues that are fairly unique, he said, DAS development includes commercial buildings and large public spaces.
Whether landlords pay for DAS equipment and installation comes down to what Caliento called nuanced deal-making based on specific needs. “Most enterprises today have a rise of mobile work applications,” he said. “They want their people to be enabled with really good cellular reception. Many enterprises will ask for in-building wireless service as a condition of a lease. When that happens, you will see more DAS development flow from enterprise demand. How that gets paid for winds up being the question.”
A large player in the small cell business, Mobilitie has built more than 1,000 small cells in Los Angeles and several hundred in San Diego and Santa Monica, California, Caliento said. He said Mobilitie builds small cells throughout the United States, from the largest cities to the smaller cities. In developing small cells, Caliento said what has been successful for Mobilitie is collaborating with the cities and making public-private partnerships, especially in the larger cities.
Another step that leads to successful deployment is communicating with city officials about small cell height, location and design early on in the permit application process.
How much cities charge to process permit applications plays a role in how wireless carriers use their capital most efficiently. If the carriers cannot be capital-efficient, Caliento said, their businesses fall apart.
“Mobilitie’s position has always been that application fees and recurring fees for using space in the cities’ rights of way needs to be tied to what it costs the cities,” Caliento said. “When those fees are in line, that’s the right public policy.”
Caliento discussed the small cell order adopted by the FCC on Sept. 26, 2018, that addressed what fees cities may charge. He said that opinions differ on the FCC’s position. “The dollar amounts the FCC specified may be proper for some cities, but in other cities, that’s not the case,” he said. “The fees need to be higher because the city’s true costs of processing are higher.” Mobilitie, he said, pays the fees when it is clear that they are in line with the cities’ costs.
Early Communication Is Key
Caliento said Mobilitie has achieved success by ensuring early communication with city officials about permit applications and the payment of fees. “There are still places where I’m confounded by resistance, where there are cities that resist even the notion of outside investment,” he said. “But that is a smaller and smaller population each year that we do this.”
Sometimes resistance comes from a specific leader, Caliento said, or from a specific group that is vocal. Mentioning Southern California because he was speaking in Newport Beach, he said the region has communities with robust business environments, and they clamor for advanced services from wireless carriers. He said resistance is what led the carriers to push the matter with the FCC, resulting in the small cell order.
“We will see it play out in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit,” Caliento said. “But in terms of bringing this back to the business fundamentals, we’ll be committed to building small cells throughout the United States in partnership with the cities.”
The next two AGL Local Summits are scheduled for Sept. 26 in Washington, D.C., and Nov. 14 in Dallas. Visit www.aglmediagroup.com/localsummits
The FCC small cell order is working best where 25 state governments have passed complementary legislation, according to Robert Millar, associate general counsel at Crown Castle International. The legislation has given states prescriptive requirements, he said, including caps on fees for site permit applications, deadlines, timelines and how much detail to submit in an application.
“Jurisdictions are not accustomed to justifying the amounts they charge as application fees, so this is a new process for them,” Millar said. “We see inconsistent design rules for different utilities. The non-discriminatory standard applies to anyone with similarly situated infrastructure in the right of way. But we are seeing aesthetic guidelines applied to wireless operators’ facilities and to no other utilities in the right of way at the same level.”
Millar spoke during the Connectivity Expo session “Understanding the FCC’s 5G Wireless Infrastructure Orders.”
Referring to the prescriptions in the state legislation, Millar said that when the rules of the road are clear, small cells get deployed. The prescriptions have dissipated arguments about fees and timelines, he said. However, he some attempts to justify higher fees continue.
By way of example, he said Santa Barbara, California, wants to charge a $20,000 fee for a small cell node application. He said Pasadena, California, is asking for a spend-down account of $12,000 per node. He said that Baltimore lowered its annual franchise fee that from between $1,500 and $1,800 to $270, but increased its application fee from several hundred dollars to $4,600.
Besides the excessive application fees, Millar said, some jurisdictions are charging excessive amounts to pay for their use of consultants to review applications on their behalf.
“In a jurisdiction in California, we are deploying 72 nodes, 41 of which are identical strand-mount nodes with identical construction drawings,” Millar said. “The consultant fee to review each node application is $2,350, which goes directly to the consultant, despite the fact that 41 are the same and there are only two other configurations among the rest. Our point is: ‘Give us a consulting fee for three design models, because there are only three distinct designs, but please don’t charge us $2,350 to look at the same application over and over again.”
Jurisdictions with historically high fees — New York, Chicago and San Francisco, for example — have not changed their fees overnight in response to legislation, Millar said, but they are engaged in discussions with industry representatives.
When it comes to aesthetics, Millar said, it appears that some jurisdictions are developing small cell size construction restrictions without first learning about the sizes of available equipment. “Akron, Ohio, adopted a standard that was so small that we are not aware of any small cell that could fit within that form factor,” he said. “If they had engaged the industry, we could have shown them the sizes and forms that typically are deployed talked about the FCC-specified sizes and how those operate. We were able to obtain an exception to the rules from Akron, but the rules remain on the books, and it added 45 days to the negotiation of the timeline.”
Many jurisdictions are asking for separations of 100 feet to 200 feet between small cells, Millar said, but developers of autonomous vehicles indicate they will need separations as small as 50 feet.
Changes in local regulation may be required to cope with advancing technology, such as the shift from using radios low on poles that are connected by coaxial cable with antennas higher up, Millar said. Using new equipment that has radios and antennas together in the same form factor raises the question of whether it is a radio or an antenna for the purpose of applying restrictions, he said.
“The FCC regulations are presumptive, and the state legislation is prescriptive,” Millar said. “The jurisdictions are going to choose the most favourable terms, but as long as rules are in place and we can keep building, we’re in good shape. The FCC has helped with timelines and costs, and we are happy about that.”
Robert Millar, associate general counsel at Crown Castle International. Photo by Don Bishop
Rep. Peter A. DeFazio (D-OR), House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee chairman, inquired about the federal government’s research into the potential health effects of RF radiation and the FCC’s guidelines for safe human RF exposure levels, in light of 5G rollout, in a letter last week to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and the Food and Drug Administration’s acting commissioner, Norman Sharpless.
“As you know, the impending rollout of 5G technology will require the installation of hundreds of thousands of small cell sites in neighborhoods and communities around the country and these installations will emit higher-frequency radio waves than previous generations of cellular technology,” DeFazio wrote. “This means Americans will be exposed to more non-ionizing RF radiation than ever before.”
The FCC’s current RF-safety guidelines were set in 1996, DeFazio noted, and in 2012 the Government Accountability Office recommended that it should “formally reassess and, if appropriate, change its current RF energy exposure limits.” The commission has taken no action in this area.
Meanwhile, DeFazio notes the growing anxiety about RF among the public in general and in his district in particular. “States and municipalities across the country are hearing from citizens who are concerned about this technology being installed in their communities,” he wrote.
Alex Gellman, CEO and co-founder of Vertical Bridge, told AGL eDigest that there is no science-backed evidence behind the link between cell towers and health issues. The objections voiced at zoning meetings are based on emotion and misleading information downloaded from the internet, he said.
“As an industry, we should use science to counter that emotion,” Gellman said. “The facts are on our side, but that doesn’t work unless we use them. We need to use data to make our case about the safety of cell towers. The exposure from a cell tower is measured in the power output of lightbulbs. With the rising tide of conversation on this subject, we should pull out the facts.”
Allan Tantillo, vice president of new technologies at Vertical Bridge, said the deployment of large numbers of small cells has stirred up emotions surrounding the health and safety of cell towers. “We are rolling out a new technology where people are hearing about hundreds of thousands of new cell sites,” he said. “People have a hard time conceptualizing and understanding the deployment of 100,000 small cells that are 1,000 feet from them. They just hear numbers and think ‘I was kind of worried about cell towers but now they are really going flood us with even more radio waves. There’s got to be a problem.’”
The science and physics involved haven’t changed, according to Tantillo. “The small cell sites produce lower power output that previous cell tower buildouts,” he said. “The power output of a small cell on a light pole is relatively the same as what you get from many devices that you have in your home already.”
Tantillo said the wireless infrastructure industry and cellular carriers need to join together to address the health concerns. He said that when he was with T-Mobile, he was the driver behind the development of a website, www.howmobileworks.com, which educated municipalities on a number of issues relative to cell tower development. It offers conclusions based on facts about health concerns from a number of sources. Here are a few:
Gellman said individual companies should not have to go it alone in the educational process. Both the cellular companies and the infrastructure companies should align on a set of information and share that information. “The science is on our side; we just need to be good at educating,” he said.
Tantillo stressed that the industry needs to be proactive with its message and take the right tone that is conscious of people’s emotions. “We need to be prepared to provide the right set of facts to those that are making the decisions to balance out the emotional appeals,” he said. “The law doesn’t allow city officials to take health and safety into account in tower zoning hearings, but you can’t legislate emotion.”
DeFazio, however, is looking for more than just general references to scientific literature, such as the ones above. He is asking the FCC for the specific health-related studies, what gaps remain in our knowledge of the possible health effects of 5G, and the steps it has taken to educate the public about the RF radiation and safety relative to 5G technology. He seems to believe that 5G technology somehow changes the health effects of RF radiation.
“It is clear that the federal government has not been transparent enough about the current status of 5G RF radiation research and its guidelines on RF exposure limits,” he wrote. “The FCC’s and FDA’s responses to congressional inquiries on this issue have been less than satisfactory, merely reiterating general statements that 5G technology is safe without citing specific research or studies.”
Far above any band used for radio communications, alpha, beta, neutron and gamma rays and x-rays are known as ionizing radiation, which means they can damage living tissue, causing radiation burns and cancer. It is possible that the public confuses this type of radiation with radio waves from the AM band up to the millimeter-wave band, which are non-ionizing. They can only hurt you by heating up the tissue of your body. It should be noted that the FCC’s regulations set the limits to public RF exposure at 50 times below any level that is deemed to be harmful.
Taxes were not the only thing due April 15. The FCC’s Small Cell Streamlining Order, which ruled that overly stringent aesthetic requirements for small cells could be judged an unlawful prohibition of services, mandated compliant aesthetic ordinances be developed by local governments by mid-April.
Speakers and attendees at the Wireless West Conference last week in Phoenix said the aesthetic requirements produced by the cities have spanned the gamut from simple model ordinances to highly complex regulations meant to prohibit small cells.
Aesthetic codes have to reasonable, cannot be more burdensome than requirements of other infrastructure and have to be published in advance, according to the FCC. Aesthetics requirements must also be technically feasible and directed at mitigating public harm or deployments that are out-of-character with the cityscape.
The aesthetic code deadline came not long after the California State Supreme Court upheld an ordinance that established various standards of aesthetic compatibility for wireless equipment by the City and County of San Francisco in 2011.
“The California State Supreme Court ruling is not inconsistent with the FCC order,” said Bob Jystad, government relations manager, Crown Castle International, told eDigest before he moderated the panel, FCC & Me: Effects of the New FCC Order, on the second day of the show. “The FCC order goes into more detail, which is critical. What does it mean for the cities to act reasonably in terms of aesthetic review? The FCC order attempted to answer that.
Most of the jurisdictions have adopted reasonable design guidelines, working with the wireless industry, according to Jystad. “We have been pretty happy with what we have seen,” he said. “If you can identify a design that will go with our technology, we will go with it. We don’t want to be delayed or overcharged.”
Scott Longhurst, government relations manager, Crown Castle International, said the FCC order provides needed certainty for carriers and municipalities, creating a process for rapid small cell deployment. He is already seeing, at least for the short term, a thawing of the municipal/carrier relationship.
“If a carrier submits a design that meets those standards, they will get a permit. And, vice versa, for the jurisdictions. The carriers are going to build the types of facilities the cities want to see,” Longhurst said. “We see a lot of mutual agreements between the carriers and the municipalities. We are seeing the applicants be really flexible, extending time for the jurisdictions to figure out their processes.”
But, municipalities should not take advantage of that flexibility, according to Longhurst, or the wireless industry will come back enforce the FCC’s shot clock. “I am seeing a lot of patience, which preserves relationships. We are in a hand-holding stage, but if the order is upheld, we will need to see a more solid-fisted approach,” he said.
Jystad, on the other hand, said he likes how shot clocks can get a conversation started about what processes are really needed, such as whether a public hearing is needed for every single small cell using an approved design.
Mediator May Minimize Municipal/Carrier Conflict
In light of the conflict between municipalities and carriers, WSB engineering consultants saw a need in the marketplace to serve as a mediator between the parties.
Carly Kehoe, WSB senior planner, said a lot of cities merely want the carriers to provide model ordinances, while others are more contentious and write the most critical ordinance that they can. They try to get small cells denied through ordinances dense with details.
“There is disconnect. The cities are not listening,” Kehoe said. “It is a wide array that we are seeing in [aesthetic ordinances], Some of them are simple and some are complex and make compliance difficult. And a lot of cities don’t seem to care about meeting the aesthetic ordinance deadline.”
WSB uses its credibility gained from providing engineering services to jurisdictions and its contacts on the carrier side to act as a mediator.
“The industry is ready to deploy and it gets jammed. There is a clog in the pipeline at the local level,” Kehoe said. “We work with the local jurisdiction to determine the hold up and what the [September] FCC order means. Local jurisdictions don’t understand and they fear that the federal government is forcing them to do something with their land and they have lost their rights.”
One city that definitely is not in a listening mood is Austin, Texas, one of the cities that is suing the FCC over the Small Cell Streamlining order. Ironically, as the home of South By Southwest, the city brings in world-renown experts that speak on the latest and greatest technology annually, yet it does not want to work with any of the carriers to deploy small cells.
“They hate small cells, which is funny because this city wants to be on the cutting edge of technology,” Kehoe said.
Professor Theodore (Ted) Rappaport, the founder of NYU WIRELESS at the NYU Tandon School of Engineering, cast his support for a proposed FCC ham radio rule, predicting it would open exciting opportunities for growth in amateur radio and encourage youngsters to listen and thereby learn about electronics and communications, in comments filed with the FCC and members of Congress.
“The FCC has recently recognized a major problem that has existed for decades in ham radio, and in the past few days took steps to institute vital new rules that will grow the hobby by reiterating the fundamental requirement that all radio communications are open, so that the public may listen in,” he wrote.
Rappaport was referring to rulemaking proposal RM-11831 by Ron Kolarik, a radio amateur from Nebraska who singled out two key problems that have plagued the hobby for two decades, through the emergence of data communications and the Internet. In the rulemaking petition, RM-11831, Kolarik noted that many stations are improperly using effectively encrypted transmissions, essentially turning the public airwaves of ham radio into a private point-to-point email system, in violation of many FCC rules. Rappaport had earlier complained to the FCC and Congress about the danger of such obscured messages for national security.