Joined at the Pole

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Small Cell Attachments Bring New Challenges for Joint Use Professionals —

In the last year, telecommunications and broadband providers are deploying more small cell attachments than ever. As a result, small cell is challenging joint use professionals across the US. While the joint use community is ever-changing, the rapid deployment of small cell is requiring them to transform. From the approval of the FCC’s One Touch Make Ready policy to 5G preparation and IoT, small cell is crucial for future technological advancements. However, managing the mass deployment of small cell equipment can present a wide spectrum of excitement, eagerness, challenges, and difficulties.

In 2018, small cell permitting requests hit asset owners across the country. Joint use departments were bombarded with small cell attachment requests, both from wireless carriers and a multitude of contractors. Equally as interesting, the volume of small cell requests varies greatly from one week to the next. 

The small cell revolution helps cities prepare for 5G and the IoT.
The small cell revolution helps cities prepare for 5G and the IoT. 

At the end of 2018, around 150,000 small cell antennas were deployed. That trend will only increase as industry experts predict that by 2020, enterprises will deploy around 552,000 small cell attachments. By 2025, approximately a total of 849,000 are forecasted to be deployed.1

For the industry to meet the predicted small cell numbers, 2019 is going to be a busy year. Five changes and challenges contribute to the complex issues joint use professionals face in 2019.

Challenge #1:
5G Preparation

One big change that joint use professionals will face this year is the rollout of 5G. The next generation of wireless networks will support substantial consumption of video, faster connection, and extremely dependable service. Downloading a 2-hour movie (which takes about 6 minutes with 4G) will take about 3.6 seconds with 5G. Verizon launched their 5G network in early October 2018. Many providers will follow suit with 5G rollouts in 2019.

Challenge #2:
The Internet of Things (IoT)

Small cell is the key to tapping into the full potential of the IoT. Small cell boosts wireless signals so that multiple devices, appliances, and machinery can connect simultaneously. Using IoT, Smart Cities will improve in efficiency, save money, and improve public safety. A few uses include Smart Lighting, improved traffic lights with sensors, parking assistance through GPS-enabled apps, and Smart Power Grids that reduce energy.

Challenge #3:
Demand for Fiber 

Many broadband providers are expected to increase their annual spend on fiber. One new report projects that the fiber optic market will expand at a 10.5% CAGR through 2026. The small cell boom is a huge contributor to this increase.2

Challenge #4:
Impact on the Joint Use Community 

Such an increase in small cell attachments impacts the joint use community. In 2019, asset owners should prepare for an increase in both inquiries (prior to permitting) and permitting requests. Attaching companies should prepare for high-volume, fast-paced deployment rates. 

Contractors must ensure they are able to meet the demand. The safety and reliability of a company’s power system or communications network is of utmost importance, so careful attention to joint use management is a must.

Joint use requests for small cell attachments are currently being received in a variety of ways. And inaccurate data is producing more problems than necessary for asset owners and attaching companies. Companies that perform utility pole inspections in the field are finding more small cell attachments than were originally documented. In addition, the number of joint use requests previously received does not match the number of attachments on the poles in the field. 

Challenge #5:
Growing Pains

As small cell attachments increase, requests are flooding asset owners’ desks. Yet, no official process has been verified or authenticated for joint use departments to handle the incoming volume of small cell inquiries.

Municipalities are attempting to create official regulations. Unfortunately, the differences in past regulations contributes to the confusion of the small cell boom. Some states allow more attachment options than others, and requirements may vary for height, circumference, and the type of antenna allowed to attach. Uniform standards, such as One Touch Make Ready (OTMR) aim to streamline the deployment process of all attachments, but there is no official process for those states not regulated by the FCC. While OTMR does outline a specific plan for deployment, many companies are unsure of where to begin. Some companies are wary of losing control trying to get started with OTMR, while juggling massive small cell deployments.

Solutions for Small Cell Challenges in 2019

The powerful economic incentives for small cell growth is beginning to spark creativity and cooperation among providers, governments, developers, businesses, and grassroots organizations. 

Companies need strong coordination among departments within and outside their walls, along with solid procedures for handling joint use requests. Joint use owners are scurrying to ensure their asset data is current and accurate, to prepare for the upcoming changes in the industry. Spreadsheets, and the use of multiple systems, are outdated and obsolete. 

Two key solutions will help owners and attaching companies stay ahead of the small cell game this year.

Key Solution #1:
Improving Internal Operations

Keeping a healthy, organized business atmosphere is one way to be successful in the coming year. Current staff in all relevant departments should be aware of the upcoming changes related to small cell, DAS, and other major deployments. From operations and accounting to engineering and joint use, all departments should be on board, willing to share common goals. Educating employees, understanding the influx ahead, and organizing a company-wide plan helps keep everyone on the same page. Likewise, communication is imperative between team members. We all work better when we work together.

Key Solution #2:
Evolving to a Centralized Joint Use Management Platform

One way to keep staff focused on the same goals is to move from multiple enterprise systems to one system that works for data and business processes. In the height of mass deployment, companies are finding that outdated systems can be patched only so many times, and always at the expense of internal IT departments. Older systems are not user-friendly or comprehensive, and do not store all joint use data for all departments. Engineering, finance, operations, and joint use, should be able to communicate internally in the same system that manages their processes. Without a single system, communication is lost internally.

A joint use platform that provides communication between external partners and internal departments is indispensable. Such a platform assists in managing new and existing asset data with dashboards and mapping features. A joint use platform can complete the permitting process, from start to finish. The biggest perk is the automated workflows that help joint use professionals streamline their data, while cutting workloads. Joint use professionals can shift their focus from repetitive data entry to critical joint use operations. This type of platform can sit between current systems or replace others. Most importantly, a joint use platform prioritizes good data and communication between all key joint use stakeholders.

Endnotes:
1. Thomas, J.P. (2018, April 5). North America enterprises to deploy 400,000 small cell this year. Retrieved from RCR Wireless News: https://www.rcrwireless.com/20180405/network-infrastructure/north-american-enterprises-deploy-400000-small-cells-rag23

2. Global Fiber Optic Connectivity Market Witnessed to Gain Steady Rise Through 2028: Rise in Smart Cities Projects Driving Growth. (2018, July 25) Retrieved from SB Wire: http://www.sbwire.com/press-releases/global-fiber-optic-connectivity-market-witnessed-to-gain-steady-rise-through-2028-rise-in-smart-cities-projects-driving-growth-1015203.htm

Alden Systems serves software and services to power companies, broadband providers, and telecommunications companies. Since 1995, Alden has been empowering joint use companies to work together with simplicity and clarity. To learn more about a joint use platform, visit the Alden One™ (by Alden Systems) informational website here www.aldensys.com/aldenone. 


About Author

Mary Ashley Canevaro is a Marketing Specialist and Copywriter at Alden Systems. She specializes in topics related to joint use, including: utility pole and conduit management, small cell and DAS, joint use software platforms, and FCC policies. Her professional research supports the growth and development of the joint use community. For more information, please visit https://www.aldensys.com. Follow Alden Systems on Twitter: @AldenSystems.

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