Small Cell Pole Dilemma

Russ Steele

As I am reading about 5G small cell implementation there is a nagging thought, how will cities, towns, and villages deal with multiple providers who want to install small cells on community light poles. What happens when AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint/TMobile all want to use the same light pole? Not a problem in large cities like Sacramento with 40,000 light poles, but rural towns and villages have fewer poles. City planner needs to start thinking about these issues now, not when the providers show up to start the installation.  Plan now, as 5G is coming real soon to your city.

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In addition to having multiple carriers on a pole, there is the problem of many modes on a single pole 3G, 4G, and 5G equipment on a single pole.

ExteNet Systems CTO Tormod Larsen said his company has added a second operator to poles in San Francisco, and that most of ExteNet’s networks support multiple carriers even if the carriers may not be sharing a pole. He said it can be hard for two operators to share a pole when each one needs a large amount of equipment. Vendors have worked hard to create compact solutions, but when an operator wants to use one small cell location to support several frequency bands, the pole gets crowded.

“We are working on quite a few projects where it is 3G or 4G, and they want to upgrade to 5G and include the existing equipment as well,” said Larsen. “Some of those are pretty massive. The amount we’ve been asked to be put at a particular location is pretty stunning. You end up with basically everything except the kitchen sink: All frequency bands plus whatever frequency band they want for 5G plus LAA. The equipment hasn’t come to a point where they are consolidated, so we are ending up with a lot of boxes that need to be put in a shroud and then consolidated onto fiber. So that is a threat to co-location.”

Larsen said that in some cases carriers will end up with six to eight pieces of equipment at a single location, which can be an unpleasant surprise for city planners who thought they approved a small pole attachment.

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Shock and Awe in the planning department will soon end up on the front page of the local newspapers and lead items on the TV evening news. There needs to be some thoughtful education and planning on both sides of the issue, by the cell phone providers, community facilities planners and user stakeholders. These siting issues will be an ongoing theme on this blog, as the outcome is too vital to be ignored.

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