US president lends support to address small cell siting challenges

The issues of small cell siting are grabbing attention all the way up to the White House.

President Donald Trump received a briefing from mobile operator CEOs last week, and was told that the complexities of getting site approval could be a barrier to US dreams of 5G leadership. He pledged to support measures to streamline the process, some of which are already being pushed by the FCC in its recent, but hotly debated, proposals.

This is vital because 5G will be so reliant on dense zones of cells to boost targeted capacity and ubiquitous coverage, and densification will enable operators to harness high frequency spectrum, which has high capacity but short range.

Small Cell Forum believes this is a very important sign of the growing recognition, among many governments, that site issues must be addressed in order to achieve goals for universal mobile broadband, the Internet of Things, and 5G leadership. It was an issue addresses as part of a recent paper SCF produced in conjunction with 5G Americas on Small Cell Citing Challenges. Even two years ago, it would have been unthinkable that detailed discussion about small cell site challenges would have been held with the US president.

Randall Stephenson, CEO of AT&T – which is running trials in millimeter wave spectrum – took the president through the way that 5G would be deployed in a small city, with small cells augmenting macro networks to boost speeds and reduce latency, and to support humans, cars and other connected items on the best link available.

Sprint’s CEO, Marcelo Claure, was also part of the meeting with hi-tech industry executives, and explained to Trump that the approvals process for small cell sites and equipment is too onerous to support the rapid, cost-effective deployment that densification will require. Some cities take 30 days to approve a site, while others take two years or more, he said, and although a cell can be deployed on a utility pole in less than an hour, that may have been preceded by a year of bureaucracy to get permission to install.

Trump said there were similar issues with getting roads approved, and he had already pledged to reduce that to one year maximum. He said that streamlining small cell site approval should be “really much easier, believe me”. He said he wanted to help operators roll out small cells far faster, responding to Claure’s argument that, without rapid deployment, the US would lose the 5G leadership it has been chasing. The president concluded: “We can do a recommendation to the cities all over the country to get it going.”

This endorsement should help FCC chairman Ajit Pai to make the case for the regulator’s proposed reforms to approvals processes, which seek to make them more universal and consistent, rather than different in every city. These ideas are not without controversy since some municipalities are resisting moves to reduce their own discretion in setting policies on small cell approval.

Pai wrote recently in a blog: “To get to the 5G future that will make the Internet of Things fully possible, we’ll need much more infrastructure than what today’s networks demand. 5G will require companies to deploy hundreds of thousands of small cells (operating at lower power), and many more miles of fiber to carry all of the traffic. That’s why the FCC is working on modernizing the rules for that kind of infrastructure. We shouldn’t apply burdensome rules designed for 100-foot towers to small cells the size of a pizza box. If America is to lead the world in 5G, we need to modernize our regulations so that infrastructure can be deployed promptly and at scale.”