The wireless communications industry is moving toward a small cell type of architecture for its base station structures, according to infrastructure manufacturing manager Trey Nemeth. In Charleston, South Carolina, where Raycap designs and manufactures poles, mounts and concealment products for small cell and macro wireless applications, Nemeth serves as the Raycap facility’s general manager. He said Raycap has seen good growth throughout the past year, which has been good news, despite the COVID-19 pandemic.
Depending on what a wireless carrier wants to achieve, Nemeth said the manufacturer is seeing a blend of millimeter-wave and non-millimeter-wave architecture, and he observed orders for millimeter-wave architecture starting to become more prevalent toward the end of 2020.
Although most orders for concealment products concern urban applications, they include many orders for suburban applications, Nemeth said. “It is a function of how strict the zoning regulations are, or in the case of the macro concealment, how strict the landlords are in the way that they’ll be able to accept the appearance of the wireless site,” he said. “The small cell is no different. We’re seeing a lot of the initial deployments in urban centers — more highly developed, more highly populated areas — but whether or not they’re concealed is more of a function of how strict the rules and regulations are.”
Raycap works directly with the carriers, primarily, along with tower companies and multitenant operators, Nemeth said. The company supports them with expert input on possibilities for designing, building and deploying sites. “We’re providing conceptual designs, photo simulations and renderings to assist with approvals and, in some cases, even full-scale mock-ups used to obtain an approval to build a specific design in a specific municipality,” he said.
Sometimes, Nemeth said, Raycap works directly with municipalities with which the company developed a previous relationship.
Utilities provide another source of business for Raycap. Nemeth said the company works directly with utilities to create acceptable designs to use on poles on utility property, sometimes acting as a go-between for the carriers and utilities or the carriers and municipalities.
“We don’t know from one from one opportunity to the next who’s going to be taking the lead,” Nemeth said. “We just try to do our best to support the carriers and all the stakeholders and ultimately get the site approved and deployed.”
Nemeth said the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on business last year did not forestall growth in the wireless industry, with demand remaining robust despite the pandemic. He said there is quite a bit of pent-up demand for 2021, which he said is a function of some challenges associated with COVID-19, both in obtaining building permits and some construction-related challenges. Nevertheless, Nemeth said Raycap expects 2021 to be a busy year.
From the results of the FCC auctioning radio-frequency (RF) spectrum to wireless carriers this year, Nemeth said Raycap looks forward to more mid-band deployments, which he said come with some special challenges.
“Our customers are interested in impacts, for example, on the mid-band frequencies on both existing and new concealment products because the consumer products that might have worked five years ago on lower-frequency applications might not work for these new mid-band applications,” he said. “We’re looking at that, and we’re consistently doing new research and development on our existing and new products to be able to support that demand as well.”
Nemeth came to Raycap when the company acquired Stealth Concealment Solutions in 2018. He said that with concealment manufacturing becoming part of a larger company meant having more resources and more opportunities to work for a wider variety of customers.
“With Stealth, we were a small company doing business in a large industry,” Nemeth said. “Most of our contacts were at the market level, and we did business on an individual site basis. This is the way the macro concealment business worked and continues to work. Once the Raycap acquisition took place, we had the resources to work with carriers and tower companies on a corporate level and to help to set standards for small cell infrastructure applications and concealment applications nationwide.”
The opportunity that flowed from the Raycap acquisition has been advantageous, Nemeth said. “We do a good job of striking the right balance of being agile enough to customize our products to meet specific market needs, but also large enough and having enough resources to be able to do mass deployments to support that side of the business as well.”
Don Bishop is executive editor and associate publisher of AGL Magazine. This article was derived from an AGL Connection interview with Trey Nemeth conducted by Martha DeGrasse.