July 22, 2014– The development of microcells and picocells will depend on getting antennas closer to users, but it’s going to take a whole new type of wireless infrastructure that can coexist in the urban and suburban landscape, according David Lasier, president and CEO of Enersphere.
“Right now, what I see happening globally is carriers just putting up antennas, boxes and cables on wood poles or existing streetlights. After a while, it is going to just look terrible,” he said.
That concern is what drove him to form the company Enersphere and to develop the ePole, which he describes as safe and aesthetically pleasing. As opposed to wood, steel or concrete poles, the ePole is a composite pole with a smooth, glossy exterior, which is available in multiple colors. It has mounting hardware and accessories for street lighting, video surveillance cameras, banner poles and outdoor advertising.
“Having antennas on street corners is a completely new thing. It has to be an aesthetic component of the cityscape,” Lasier said. “We wanted to create a strong, multipurpose pole that is good looking and not obtrusive.”
The ePole comes in a kit, which includes the pole (in four pieces), a cabinet, a luminary, cabling and an antenna. The kit fills four crates, which weigh 900 pounds, about one third the weight of a wooden pole. Assembly takes one day.
Enersphere developed a lightweight pole that is nonconductive and can meet all the utility standards for safety and the mobile industry standards for wind loading. ePoles come in several heights: 40 feet, 50 feet and 70 feet. Enersphere worked with electric utilities to ensure it had the proper pole specifications for rights of ways.
The cabinets are designed to handle radios from multiple manufacturers, including three sectors of coverage and eight hours of battery backup.
“Designing a cabinet that will work with multiple manufacturers is still a challenge for us. Some RAN vendors are reticent to give a third party some of their product information,” Lasier said.
The luminary can be programmed to alert the public to public safety events, amber alerts and storm warnings. It can even flash when a city bus is approaching.
“We tried to build in some features that would be attractive to municipalities, including power outlets to plug in holiday lights,” Lasier said.
Selling a product in the nascent market of wireless street furniture is a challenge in itself. Enersphere, which is marketing to electric utilities, carriers and municipalities, has had to educate its customers, who had never purchased anything like it.
“Mobile carriers are tough to crack. We are just beginning to work on them,” Lasier said. “If you go to a mobile operator, you can’t find anyone who buys bundled kits for poles. It is not in their buying system.”
However, EnerSphere is making headway with a carrier in Switzerland and is beginning pilot projects with Telefonica and Claro in South America. Additionally, the ePole has been certified by one U.S. carrier so far, but that carrier cannot be identified right now
“The target market is microcells and picocells, radios that are 1 watt to 30 watts,” Lasier said. “The ePole can handle two carriers, which would share a dual-band antenna.” The Wi-Fi space is not to be targeted, but those nodes can be added as an accessory by any customer.
The first priority is to get electric utilities interested and getting their joint-use organizations to approve the product. Enersphere is in the final stage of the process with Duke Energy, and when it approves the ePole, any wooden pole or streetlight in the Duke footprint can be replaced with a streetlight. Success with the electric utilities opens the door to municipalities.
“The third leg is the municipalities. We are trying to see if they will classify this as a streetlight, which would exempt us from the zoning process,” Lasier said. “It looks like a streetlight. The average person is not going to know there is an antenna inside. It looks nicer than wood poles and has a cabinet that is similar to those used by the Department of Transportation.”
Enersphere plans on selling half of its e-poles and leasing space while maintaining ownership of the other half. Internationally, it’s looking to sell e-poles to its channel partners with some recurring revenue from their leases.
Enersphere may end up standing out in an industry segment designed to blend in.
J. Sharpe Smith is the editor of AGL Small Cell Link and AGL Link. He also contributes to AGL magazine.