The technology environment, the regulatory environment, the industry response and the individual response will change what it takes to deploy wireless telecommunications sites, according to Paul A. Roberts, vice president of compliance at American Tower.
At the 2017 Network Infrastructure Forum, a part of the International Wireless Communications Expo, Roberts gave a presentation titled “The Changing Landscape for Deploying Sites.” An attorney and veteran of the U.S. Air Force, Roberts also has experience as the chief information officer for the North Carolina Department of Transportation and as the launch pad manager for the space shuttle program at Kennedy Space Center.
● The Technology Environment
● The Regulatory Environment
● The Industry Response
● The Individual Response
In the technology environment, Roberts said fifth-generation (5G) wireless communications and the densification of wireless networks are pushing development toward a truly heterogeneous network. He said the wireless business is seeing increased use of small cells together with an increase in data communications speeds, more urban development, an upswing in the use of rights of way for antenna sites and massive fiber-optic cable deployment.
The first key area Roberts identified is the increases in available radio-frequency spectrum, with more technology being put to uses to build the U.S. telecommunications system. The second key area he identified is the build-out of the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) public safety broadband network. And, a third key area that he said ties in with the FirstNet network is site hardening.
“There are two elements of hardening that we have to look at, and to me, both are equally important,” Roberts said. “One is structural hardening, to make sure that we have a robust physical infrastructure that can support an entire emergency network system. The second has to do with electrical power. You can have the best structure in the world, but if you lose power, you’re dead in the water after four to eight hours, depending on how much backup power you have. If you have back-up power, you may be good. But if you don’t, you won’t.”
Unmanned aerial systems (UAS) include unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs, or drones) and ground-based remote control and monitoring equipment. Roberts said drones may not only be an advantage in tower maintenance, but also in the delivery of communications and data.
— Paul A. Roberts, vice president of compliance at American Tower
With respect to regulation, Roberts said a new requirement to mark towers with heights between 50 and 200 feet needs evaluation and assessment with an eye toward pushing for a legislative change to exempt telecommunications towers. If not, he said tower industry representatives would be working with the FCC to see how the requirement could be accommodated in a way that meets the needs of agricultural aviators. “They were having issues with aircraft striking meteorological evaluation towers that typically pop up quickly and that are really difficult to see,” Roberts said. “When the legislation was crafted, we got caught up in that net and so it applies to our wireless infrastructure industry.”
For those who deploy small cells, Roberts said they have been faced with model municipal ordinances, community engagement and jurisdiction reactions. “Remember in the early days when we talked about the NIMBY effect, not in my back yard?” he asked. “Maybe now we’re in the NIMFY effect, not in my front yard. We’ve kind of been down that road before and learned from it, so we can address small cell requirements effectively to meet the need.”
Regulations governing environmental protection, historical properties, rural areas, agricultural land and land under federal and tribal jurisdiction need attention in the continuous push for broadband data service in rural areas. “FCC Chairman Ajit Pai is very passionate about wanting broadband service in rural areas,” Roberts said. In January, Pai announced formation of a new federal advisory committee, the Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee, which will provide advice and recommendations for the commission on how to accelerate the deployment of high-speed internet access. Roberts said it would be exciting to watch the FCC bring together a group for the idea of innovation and reducing barriers to broadband deployment.
In expecting streamlining efforts at the FCC, the Federal Aviation Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency and other agencies, Roberts said many new faces would be in play. Those in the wireless infrastructure business not only would have an opportunity to watch, but also to become actively involved. “Maybe now we have an opportunity to rise up and deliver a message,” he said. “We’re strong when we’re together, so let’s keep that in mind.”
Turning to industry response, Roberts said the first measure is to follow the money. He said it seems as though everyone is investing in telecommunications. “People are coming into telecom now that we never thought would have been in our world before,” he said. “It’s a wonderful thing. They bring a lot of skills. They bring a lot of innovation for us. It’s truly a wonderful thing.”
Along with the investment and the growth that it brings come some challenges, and Roberts said one of those is the demand for a skilled workforce. He said the wireless infrastructure industry is in the early days of new development, and often in such times many things are not done the way they should be done. “But we do it because we have to do it and we have to get things up and rolling,” Roberts said. “We’re mature enough in our environment now that we’re actually self-measuring. And we’re asking, ‘Are we doing it the right way? Not just doing it, but are we doing it the right way?’ We can do it fast and we can do it quick, and we can do it three or four times because we didn’t do it right the first time. Or, we can do it right the first time.”
In Roberts’ view, doing it right requires focusing on people as the number one resource. In turn, that requires investment in the future growth and development of industry employees. “We have ultimate opportunities to do that, to be able to focus on our workforce,” Roberts said. We have partners willing to join with us and make that happen.” He said the workforce focus is accomplished through organizations such as the National Association of Tower Erectors, the Wireless Infrastructure Association, the National Wireless Safety Alliance, the Telecommunications Industry Registered Apprenticeship Program, Warriors4Wireless and the U.S. Department of Labor. Roberts said that, in the telecommunications industry, nothing is more important that accountability for employee safety and health.
Responsibility for the Future
Regarding the individual response to wireless telecommunication deployment, Roberts said each person has responsibility for his own future. “Knowledge is power,” he said. “Experience is your best teacher. So, enhance your knowledge through training and demonstrate it through personal growth. Build a pyramid in which you’re building your knowledge base vertically with your education and where you’re building your capability base horizontally through your experiences. Then, what you have is an ever-expanding triangle that makes you the best that you possibly can be and a true contributor to this industry.”
Roberts urged individuals to communicate. “When you see a better way, share it,” he said. “The best ideas that are unspoken fade to dust. And, most importantly, be careful. We’re going into a new world where we have new tasks and we have new equipment. We have new working environments that we haven’t dealt with before. Recognize hazards and avoid them.”
Don Bishop is the executive editor of AGL Magazine. He joined AGL Media Group in 2004. He was the founding editor of AGL Magazine, the AGL Bulletin email newsletter (now AGL eDigest) and AGL Small Cell Magazine.
A frequent moderator and host for AGL Conferences, Don writes and otherwise obtains editorial content published in AGL Magazine, AGL eDigest and the AGL Media Group website.