The small cell revolution is underway. Deployment is accelerating as the 5G rollout continues. With the mass explosion of small cell, big changes for professionals in the joint use community are crucial.
New duties are being delegated to staff who are involved in applications, permitting, inspection, communications, installation, accounting, and other joint use tasks. Key personnel should be fully engaged to help joint use operations run smoothly.
In this guide, we provide a few key tips and important notes for successful joint use operations during the ongoing small cell transition. We have broken our tips out into two sections: one for municipalities/pole owners and one for attaching companies.
Municipalities & Utility Pole Owners
Many of the requirements in the FCC’s 2018 small cell order fall to municipal employees to implement, but pole owners may benefit from these tips as well. Deadlines for review and approval, fee structures, and some limits on aesthetic restrictions are all a part of the package.
Here are five key points to understand about small cell deployment:
- It’s big. To handle massive increases in the use of wireless services, (plus the addition of home automation, auto, and “smart city” technology), wireless infrastructure of much greater density is necessary. That means hundreds of thousands of small cell installations will be deployed in the next few years, according to RCRWireless.
- It’s different. Up until now, large towers have been the linchpin of wireless infrastructure. A small wireless facility, as defined by the FCC, consists of an antenna no more than 3 cubic feet in volume and additional equipment of no more than 28 cubic feet; these are often attached to a utility or light pole.
- Watch the clock. The timetable for reviewing small cell applications is 60 days for a new attachment to an existing pole, and 90 days for new attachment on a new utility pole. The clock can reset only if an application is incomplete, and that determination must be made within 10 days of receiving the application.
- Track costs. Under the order, a city may charge wireless companies no more than its approximate actual costs for small cell installation (such as application reviews and infrastructure maintenance).
- Spell everything out. The FCC order mandates that cities make requirements for small cell applications clear and available in advance. It also says the city must put any restrictions in writing that are intended to protect public safety, aesthetics, or community character.
- Be fair. The order forbids discrimination among wireless providers. Requirements and fees must be the same for all companies doing the same kind of work in similar settings.
The FCC order removes many obstacles that, in some cities, had interfered with smooth and timely small cell deployment. Yet, there are still several key points that telecom and broadband managers should make sure their staff members understand. Here are three:
- Submit complete applications. The FCC has put small cell approval on a fast track, but it can still be delayed if applications are incomplete. Up-to-date asset data and attachment information should be available for personnel, so they can successfully submit applications the first time around.
- Keep an eye on the calendar. To take full advantage of the Third Report and Order’s provisions, a modernized digital system for joint use management is critical. Check out the Alden One platform.
- Follow the rules. Cities still have the right to require that installations meet certain specifications to protect public safety and quality of life. Compliance is the easiest way to ensure a good relationship moving forward.
One Last Tip for All Parties: Work Together
There are good reasons for asset owners, attaching companies, contractors, and other third-party partners to approach small cell deployment in a cooperative spirit.
From the FCC’s perspective, the foremost reason for cooperation is to ensure a smooth and speedy rollout of technology that will have a major impact on communities – individuals, businesses, and local governments alike. 5G will bring faster, better service and access to technology that can improve efficiency, safety, convenience, and security for the public, yet there’s still much to be done.
Small cell deployment will be going on for years, and the parties involved are going to be dealing with one another regularly. Establishing a good working relationship early in that process is a surefire way to reduce misunderstandings, disputes, and delays along the way.
Many of the most burdensome aspects of the small cell revolution can be remedied by using a centralized joint use management platform designed for such purposes. Alden One® is the national leading system in joint use. Automated workflows ensure that your staff stays on top of pending applications. Alerts keep staff from missing any FCC deadlines. The platform’s dashboards provide an overview of the entire joint use process, and the software is backed by first-rate consulting, training, and support services to bring staff members up to speed.
Editor's Note: This post was originally published in August 2019 and has been updated for accuracy.