September 8, 2016
The advancement of the wireless infrastructure industry results from a combination of better decision-making by jurisdictions, wireless carriers applying more thought to their network improvements and making their capital expenditures go farther, new entrants coming into the business and doing things more inexpensively, fiber-optic cable network providers doing their jobs better and, in some cases, using wireless connections as alternatives to fiber, Gary Jabara, CEO of wireless infrastructure provider Mobilitie, said in his keynote address at the Tower & Small Cell Summit in Las Vegas on Sept. 7.
Jabara said that despite what some perceive as a slowdown in small cell deployment by the wireless carriers, there is a lot of velocity for small cells. “There are more small cells being permitted and built right now than all the macros that were built last year,” he said. “Those volumes are accelerating rapidly.” He said the amount of thought and engineering going into small cells accounts for the pace.
Answering the question of where to put wireless infrastructure has been a key to Mobilitie’s strategy in using rights of way for placement. “We’re a public utility in all 50 states,” Jabara said, referring to Mobilitie’s status as a competitive local exchange carrier. “We believe that’s critical. There are 300 million utility poles and another couple of hundred million light poles. That’s the infrastructure of the future.”
At the same time, Jabara doesn’t discount the importance of towers. “They’re even more important because they go deeper into the radio access network (RAN),” he said. “With 5G, there will be all sorts of complexities with the tower infrastructure integrating with the newer infrastructure.”
Jabara said there are three types of infrastructure in the United States. One is the traditional tower company infrastructure and DAS networks built on private property. The second is utility infrastructure built by public utilities, such as electric and telephone companies as investor-owned, regulated utilities. The third is municipally owned infrastructure.
When it comes to attaching wireless communications equipment to investor-owned utility infrastructure, Jabara said Mobilitie has a massive advantage over anyone else because of its CLEC status. “Those are tariffed infrastructures,” he said. “The utilities can’t charge me $1,500 to $2,000 a month [a not uncommon tower space rental fee]. They can only charge the tariff rate they charge a telco or cable company that attaches to their structure. And they can’t not allow me to attach. It’s the law. So we have a tremendous advantage from an attachment perspective on the massive amount of investor-owned utility infrastructure.”
When it comes to municipally owned infrastructure, Jabara said some cities are great to work with, and the result is sufficient wireless coverage that leads them to be classified as connected cities. He put New York, Los Angeles and Indianapolis into this category.
“Then you have disconnected cities,” Jabara said. “You have San Antonio and other cities in Texas that are becoming disconnected cities because they’re trying to charge ridiculous fees.” It’s the resistance in these cities that Jabara said probably would lead to the FCC making a policy that would provide relief from such fees. He said he anticipates that the FCC will act in some way during the next 12 to 24 months to m.andate nonprejudicial fees for wireless infrastructure construction and placement.
Jabara said there’s a massive precedent for such action by the federal government. “There’s been a hundred years of phone companies and gas companies and electric companies attaching to municipal infrastructure,” he said. “That’s why the rights of way were built to begin with — to provide essential services to everybody. Imagine if cities had behaved 50 or 100 years ago toward the phone, gas or water companies the way some do toward wireless, then there would be large massive parts of towns without toilets or plain old telephone service.”
As for the shape of things to come in 10 to 20 years, Jabara said the internet of things and 5G bring substantial reason to be concerned about security. “With a million connections per square kilometer, think of all the back doors,” he said. “People will hack your life from your refrigerator. The convergence with the architecture of DAS, and micronetwork elements and small cells, everything will be connected.”
Some years in the future, after the deployment of small cells, networks might once again find using DAS has advantages as a possible measure to counter the security risk. ““With DAS, you have more of a cumulous cloud type of architecture with a fractured network core to eliminate the security risk of a consolidated network core.”