California, long known for strict policies for permitting wireless infrastructure, is not a likely locale for a truce in the small cell zoning war. But using a new line of shrouds and mounts from Comptek Technologies, an Aero Wireless Group company, Verizon has made inroads in expediting the permitting and deployments in this state.
Comptek’s “5G Air” tri-sector shroud and modular shrouds are designed to be lightweight and low maintenance and they are compliant with GR-487 requirements. The mounts are made to need minimal installation time, mount to existing structures and withstand wind speeds of 170 mph. Comptek refers to them at “DeploymentReady.”
But, perhaps the most interesting aspect of the design is the relationships with the carriers and municipalities that inform the Comptek’s small cells. Verizon has done the legwork taking Comptek’s small cell designs to the city that is critical to getting them approved by the municipality. The small cells are also designed to to be “zoning ready.”
“Our primary customer is Verizon and they did a good job of building solid relationships with the municipalities and giving them a lot of options,” said Jim Lockwood, CEO of Aero Wireless Group.
Comptek is included in the municipal relationship in order to develop the small cell design, so that long before applying for a zoning permit, it can be preapproved aesthetically.
“It is a unique relationship they have built with the municipalities,” Lockwood said. “We receive solid feedback on what they would accept and what they would not accept. The permitting process took maybe 30 days but the small cell design process took easily four months.”
Comptek is prepared to provide answers to design problems. It has a whole department of industrial designers and art majors, which collaborate with the real estate people, the wireless operators and the municipalities and develop solutions through photo simulations and thermal molding.
The upstream attention to design and other concerns is critical to developing a final product that the city accepts, according to Lockwood. As a result, his company has deployments across Southern California. The markets that it has been approved in include Los Angeles, Anaheim, San Diego, Long Beach, Sant Monica and Riverside.
“In the case of Santa Monica, we were not allowed to use fans to cool the radios, so there was a lot of design by our engineers to make sure that thermal management could be obtained without putting fans inside the shrouds,” Lockwood said.
To meet the aesthetics and concealment requirements, Comptek will go to the effort of thermal forming and coming up with the shapes that fit that community. Sometimes this means emulating existing light poles. In the case of the City of Anaheim, the council did not want to take down its concrete poles and put up steel poles.
“Something very unique that we did is to match and blend the radios and concealment shrouds to imitate the concrete lighting poles,” Lockwood said. “We worked months on that with different suppliers and performed a lot of testing.”
The result was a faux concrete finish for the poles, which was also used in Riverside and Long Beach because, in those cases, it was the carriers that preferred to replace the concrete poles with an engineered small cell.
Comptek has replaced several hundred poles and counting in different Southern California communities that that look just like the concrete poles. Some have small diameter poles with external shrouded concealed antennas that match, while in others, such as in the City of Los Angeles, fully concealed poles are required. Those poles are larger in diameter to contain all the equipment internally.
But there are multiple historic districts in Los Angeles, and Comptek is current developing a prototype for consideration by 21 district that will be stood up at the end of the month for everyone to check out.
“We have such a good relationship afforded to us by the wireless operator that we can talk directly to the city,” Lockwood said. “We do some prototyping so they can touch and feel and understand what it looks like. It causes a delay of eight to ten weeks, but it’s worth the investment of time to build the relationship. We know we will get more asks in the future.”
Comptek begins the process with computer aided design. It has team of 15 engineers performing CAD, and three full-time industrial designers.
“It became apparent earlier on that it was important to have solutions that are attractive,” Lockwood said. “So we made the decision to obtain and train really good industrial designers that can work with solid designs, architectural design work.”
Another connection to municipalities for the Aero Wireless Group is a consulting firm called Aero Smart Communities, which was created in 2016 to help the cities and utilities navigate the new frontier of small cell deployments and IoT. It’s work is centered on helping cities expedite their permits reviews.
Aero Smart Communities’ first client was the City of Austin, Texas, and it has expanded to work for Memphis, Tennessee; and most recently Greenwood Village, Colorado.
“We are often just educating the cities on what the 4G/5G buildout is going to look like and the benefits, but we will also bring in the carriers to speak directly to the cities to get the city councils up to speed on the next generation buildout,” Lockwood said. Those agreements are pretty far upstream, helping municipalities and carriers know each other’s objectives, but it has given our team a new perspective on what’s important to our customers and the cities.”
Setting Small Cell Standards
Three years ago, Comptek began helping the unified city and county of Denver government put together its small cell standards, because government representatives were concerned that there would be an influx of standalone poles used for small cells that would add to the existing vertical infrastructure such as streetlights. The result was a family of solutions that became known as the CityPole, but it is now known as the Denver Pole.
“Verizon was having a hard time getting its pole approved. We were able to get our pole approved quickly with Verizon and the City of Denver,” Lockwood said. “Now 95 percent of the small cells in Denver are CityPoles. Light pole/small cells were designed for Xcel Energy to drop and swap in place of their existing light poles.”
Aero Smart Communities has also been chosen to develop several standards for the City of Portland, Oregon. “We will develop a solution that meets Portland’s needs. With a standard solution, we can accommodate all the carriers and have consensus from all of them,” Lockwood said. “The wireless operators and carriers really like the guidelines. We don’t see pushback from the carriers because it gives them a set roadmap where the city is not changing its mind on a regular basis on what it likes. The guidelines are general enough that each carrier can do its own thing.”
Separate from the CityPole, Comptek developed a single standard light pole for Xcel Energy to maintain consistency in the Denver metro area in small cells that could support any carrier.
“We worked with Xcel, AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint and Verizon on a small cell that would blend with the other light poles in the metro area as well as with the CityPole,” said Lockwood. “By the time the Xcel poles were being approved in 2019 — 5G, Citizens Broadband Radio Service [CBRS], Licensed Assisted Access [LAA] were coming on so the new poles had to be designed with room for additional radios, with a larger base cabinet of 20 inches. It could carry more equipment. We have to support the direction carriers needed to go.”