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.
August 25, 2016 —
For a couple of years now I have been advocating that the macro cell tower industry is set to decline. I have even been ridiculed by some with a heavy investment in this space. But I am not the only one, and others who feel likewise are analysts and research players – until now. This is the first time I have seen it from a carrier. And this carrier is one of the top players in the biz – AT&T.
Tom Keathley SVP of AT&T’s wireless network architecture and design now seems to think so, as well. He has indicated that AT&T has formed an internal task force to develop alternatives to the traditional cell tower space-rental business model. Keathley said tower companies’ current business practices “may not be sustainable.”
And he isn’t the only one from that segment. T-Mobile’s SVP of technology, Dave Mayo, recently offered similar oratory at the Wireless Infrastructure Association conference. He said that the infrastructure segment is ripe for disruption as the industry moves toward 5G. Mayo said that the current model “is too complicated, it’s not sustainable.” Mayo indicates that there needs to be “industrialization” of the infrastructure market.
One of the big issues is that the costs are simply becoming too high. The current model is built on costs per megabyte, but the future is going to be cost per gigabyte, and current tower models cannot scale to that. Complaints about tower rental fees and contracts have risen so much in recent months that tower company executives are constantly addressing investor queries about the issue.
But that is the most visible issue. A bigger issue is that the future is going to be made up of a number of alternative networks. And with 5G, and the Internet of Anything, new frequencies up in the mmwave spectrum cannot be supported by macrocells. And, not just networks, technologies as well. A while back Qualcomm had said it has a chip that will fit into mobile devices and has all the capabilities of a cell tower, effectively making any such device a portable cell tower. Now, of course, mobile devices will never have the power, flexibility, and capacity of a tower, but these new networks may not need that if there are enough devices on the networks and the power needs are low enough.
Consider that future networks — 5G, IoX, HetNets, etc — will move much of the communications to higher frequencies – from 5 GHz to as high as 120 GHz, as of now. And, it is likely that, a bit further in the evolution, even higher frequencies will be used. And, then there is the edge, where as much as 70 percent of all communications will be, according to some experts. None of this can be handled by the current cell tower model.
How this will all shake out is still a bit uncertain, and the tower business model isn’t going anywhere soon. But there are cracks showing up. We will just have to wait to see what chunks fall off.
April 26, 2016 — T-Mobile’s Allan Tantillo proposed and Vertical Bridge’s Mike Belski agreed that the current system of tower rent escalators and other amendment-related price increases will need to change in the future, during a panel at the Inaugural Wireless West Conference (WWC), held last week, in Anaheim.
WWC was presented by five state wireless associations, representing California, Arizona, Nevada, Colorado and the Northwest. AGL Media Group assisted with programming and the moderating of the panels at the two-day conference.
During the panel, “The New Economics of Wireless Infrastructure,” which was moderated by Pat Troxell-Tant, Solution Seven, industry experts agreed that the state of the wireless infrastructure industry is healthy, but it will have to adjust to the carriers’ dramatically changing economics.
The cost of spectrum is one of the factors that have changed the economics of wireless infrastructure, according Clayton Funk, managing director, MVP Capital. The AWS-3 auction brought a whopping $45 billion in bids in 2015, and this year the 600 MHz Broadcast Incentive Auction is estimated to bring either $25 billion to $30 billion, according to JP Morgan, or $60 billion to $80 billion, according to Kagan Media Appraisals.
“Because it has gotten so expensive to buy spectrum, the carriers have to become more creative in making their spectrum use more efficient, such as network densification and MIMO,” Funk said.
Other factors in carrier economics are infrastructure build out costs, which globally between 3G and 4G were $700 billion, and falling revenue growth.
“The model of spending significant capex dollars and not getting the same return on their investment doesn’t work,” Funk said. “Whatever 5G becomes, carriers will need to make it more profitable.”
As new technologies roll out, carriers will look for ways to use spectrum more efficiently, according to Tantillo, but carriers’ cost cutting will also extend to current macrocell infrastructure as their economic model shifts. As the carriers attempt to drive down the costs, especially in tower rent, tower companies will need to reevaluate their prices if they want the carriers’ business, he said.
“It is incumbent upon those tower operators that are seeing their business threatened to adapt to new ways to do business and to find more efficient ways to serve us,” he said. “We want to go on to those old macrosites, but maybe their model needs to change. Maybe that can’t come and say, ‘Every time you add a TMA [tower mounted amplifier] on a tower it is a $150 a month increase in your rent.’”
Tantillo believes that competition among the tower companies will drive down the prices for rent and escalators, as well as amendments.
“Who wants to keep my lease? Can I put it out to auction?” he asked. “There are some very aggressive tower companies out there that are looking to be fantastic partners with us.”
Tantillo wasn’t talking chump change, either. He spoke of offers to cut leases from $3,000 to $1,500 a month and to lower escalators from 3.5 percent to 2 percent.
“They are saying, ‘give us your list of sites, and we will make it worth your while,’” he said. “We will work with you today so that when the lease expires, we will be ready for you to go on to our site and we will lower the cost curve for you.”
Mike Belski, senior vice president of leasing and marketing, Vertical Bridge, acknowledged that some leases had become unsustainable after escalating for an extended period of time, and he pledged to work with the carriers to develop a new business model.
“So the challenge for us is the paradigm shift. We have to think about leasing differently. We never thought we would add so much equipment to these towers. Vertical Bridge wants to be a part of the solution and not part of the problem,” he said.
Carriers will aggressively take advantage of opportunities to lower their tower costs and tower companies will feel direct pressure, Tantillo said.
“The challenge to the major tower companies that have most of the tower portfolios is, do you want to lose $3,000 and possibly future business or give me a deal that makes me want to stay there,” he said. “Tower companies are going to be faced with some pressure to bring their cost structures in line.”
T-Mobile’s Allan Tantillo raised eyebrows and rankled some industry insiders last year when he pronounced DAS was dead.
The senior director, national site development, gave more details of the carrier’s vision of the future of DAS during his keynote last week’s Network Infrastructure Forum at IWCE 2016. In sum, the economic model of DAS must evolve to fit into the push into enterprises and smaller entertainment venues, according to Tantillo.
“We are looking to change and revolutionize the economic model of DAS,” Tantillo said. “Our venue and special events team is working actively to change the model in new venues and new types of arenas.”
T-Mobile calls its new initiative “Bring Your Own RF,” and it leans heavily on the enterprise to supply the in-building infrastructure, while the carrier merely brings the RF source. “We have had tremendous success getting some very large developers across the country to understand they need to provide the infrastructure for use, so we can just bring our RF base stations to connect to their systems. It changes the economic model,” Tantillo said.
In some places, like casinos, the DAS model will evolve more slowly and will be remain dominated by the current business model, according to Tantillo. But T-Mobile’s new economic model is starting to gain footing in other enterprises, he asserted.
“This economic model frees us up to grow more rapidly, because it helps alleviate the capital burden, so that millions and millions of dollars can be shifted to landlords to help bear the burden of the infrastructure that they need, just like they pay for plumbing and electricity and Ethernet in their offices,” he said.
One member of the audience, Farzin Yazdani, CEO, Fast DAS, an RF Engineering and integration company, was impressed with Tantillo’s presentation and the carrier’s approach to enterprises.
“T-Mobile has a lot of the middle-prise [mid-sized enterprise] figured out,” Yazdani said. “They understand that the venues will drive the funding of the infrastructure, but they still need to provide them with a signal source.”
However, Yazdani disagreed with Tantillo on the relative health of DAS, saying he didn’t see it dying anytime soon.
“There is no more elegant way to penetrate signals into a building than with a neutral host system that combines everything and shoots it out to one antenna,” he said.
Other carriers have not figured out how to penetrate the mid-sized enterprises without the expense, which has slowed down the DAS market, according to Yazdani. Even with enterprise funding, Yazdani still sees a play for third party involvement.
“In a hybrid-funding model, the enterprise provides the lion’s share of the funding, and if there is an RoI model for a collocation of services or a capex/opex split with the carriers, we will provide the gap funding to build a compliant DAS,” he said. “If the carrier gives us a small cell and pays for the backhaul, we can build a neutral-host DAS and put it into the point of interface. The other carriers will follow suit [and collocate], if T-Mobile builds out a certain venue or office building.”
Speaking of small cells, Tantillo admitted that his company is behind the other carriers in small cell deployment in “some regards,” but he questioned whether the competition was actually deploying small cells, or just smaller macros.
“While we are not in the open with our strategy, we are actively working on our small cell strategy,” Tantillo said. “We are working with lots of different companies that are helping us. When you see us finally get through our trials and put together our methodology we will make as much of a splash as we rapidly deploy small cells in the marketplace.”
March 24, 2016 — The wireless industry needs to change small cell deployment tactics and adopt a collaborative approach with zoning authorities or it will ruin its relationships with local municipalities, Allan Tantillo, senior director, national site development, T-Mobile, said in his keynote address at IWCE’s Network Infrastructure Form, Wednesday, in Las Vegas.
“What is important is that we really need to focus on the education and outreach to those that are impacted by our deployments, particularly in the small cell world,” Tantillo said.
Tantillo liken the current small cell deployment environment to the macrocell deployments of the late 1990s when the FCC issued spectrum for multiple carriers. The first two carriers aggressively filed applications with local jurisdictions without local support their cell site deployments, which cause political problems for later cell site proposals from other carriers.
“As a result, the other carriers were faced with moratoriums, and hostile municipalities and neighborhood associations. It made it much more difficult for the rest of us to overcome,” he said. “We are headed toward a similar thing in the small cell world. We have a couple who are charging ahead with their mini-macros. They are really not true small cells. They are using that gap and they are going to create a problem.”
T-Mobile has been able to accomplish its goals by taking a collaborative approach to working with broadcasters in the 700 MHz spectrum. It also is working closely with municipalities and utilities, sharing its wireless deployment plans. T-Mobile has developed a website, www.howmobileworks.com, and a small cell video to help the industry educate the municipalities, small cells, macrocell deployment issues and situations where temporary cell sites are required for special events.
“Our educational outreach and development materials and training help set the standard for what we are trying to do – to help others understand our strategy,” Tantillo said. “What we have found in the site development world is when people are educated they are much more likely work together with us to find reasonable solutions that work for both parties.”