Overcoming Obstacles to Small Cell Construction in New York City and Beyond

Network operators and municipalities across the country are striving to enable 5G mobile services for customers in urban areas, and that requires the installation of thousands of outdoor small cells to meet coverage and capacity demands. The requirements are myriad, from the Civil and electrical requirements; the aesthetic requirements (“not in my backyard” or NIMBY) imposed by both private entities and municipal interests; and power company metering/power requirements that vary greatly across the country.

And the icing on top — organizational and campus settings and private LTE networks — can further inhibit any notion that the motion toward 5G can be streamlined. 

Simply put: accommodating the varied technical and aesthetic requirements while also incorporating future and evolving technologies has been and will be a challenge. Wireless construction and infrastructure enterprises see that dichotomy in real-time, especially in the tech-infrastructure savvy New York City marketplace.


Site acquisition and aesthetics                                                                                                                                                                   

Throughout the 5G build-out process, wireless construction enterprises have acknowledged that small cells are designed for street-level deployment, but they must also acknowledge that local governments want to provide attractive cityscapes for their residents. 

Aside from the pandemic, there have been obstacles to deployment.  When it comes to telecom infrastructure and the construction behind 5G deployments, it’s easy to overlook what a deployment fully entails. For infrastructure providers, there are federal, state and local permitting, rights of way, application timelines and other siting and application fees, as well as application review timelines or “shot-clocks.”  

For businesses, a survey by Gartner, the technology consultancy, shows that enterprises are interested in investing in 5G services and technology as long as those services come with enhanced mobile broadband, are ultra reliable, and operate at low latency. Another Gartner report predicts that less than 45 percent of global communications service providers will have launched a commercial 5G network by 2025. At the enterprise level, mobile service procurement teams must develop realistic estimates or budgets to ensure that devices and connectivity modules are compatible with their carrier’s 5G networks. And enterprises should look at all of the expected costs of 5G-reliant implementation, demanding service level agreements (SLAs) at every juncture.

While traditional cell networks have come to rely on an increasing number of base stations, achieving 5G-level performance will require a more comprehensive and expansive infrastructure. And small cells are the key to densifying networks in preparation for 5G.


Construction that breaks through the challenges

It’s hard to keep up with the technical requirements, especially for municipalities and public utilities who may not be as familiar as mobile operators. Enter the construction, design and manufacturing community to work with the ecosystem of stakeholders to design build-out — and concealment — solutions that meet today’s requirements as well as future considerations.

To make that transition, players in the construction field must collaborate with municipal customers to design and install infrastructure that satisfies the ever growing demand for network capacity, including ultra-fast broadband, 5G networks and densified fiber deployments.

Those construction crews, foremen, electricians and laborers must understand the importance of responsiveness and on-time delivery for projects of all sizes. Companies that are successful will be able to demonstrate expertise in all aspects of construction — from design and engineering through construction and installation — all with safety as a backdrop. 

Still, challenges exist, and there are ways to overcome those challenges.

One way to get there is through standardization. Initial small cell deployments were custom installations requiring site-by-site engineering, which made these installations too expensive for widespread use. Today, telecom equipment manufacturers are moving to standardize small cell deployment solutions. It would not be cost-effective to do custom-engineering for each cell site deployment, so solutions must be based on standard designs that can, in turn, be adapted for many different sets of technical and aesthetic requirements.  

Modularity is also important. A broad selection of modular solutions is critical to ensuring successful small cell deployment, particularly in urban areas. Site components must support a wide range of deployment scenarios, like locating the radio adjacent to the antenna or placing the radio at the opposite end of a pole from an antenna.

Another ingredient is aesthetics. Cities and municipalities want the benefits of 5G, but they don’t necessarily want to hang “unsightly” boxes from their streetlights or utility poles, hence the need for concealment. The good news is that manufacturers are building site concealment into their designs to ease aesthetic concerns, and have come up with a wide variety of options, from streetlight poles to wall-mounted enclosures disguised as street signs.


New York Minute

To facilitate build-outs, New York public utilities and municipalities may look to explore synergies with other infrastructure projects like distributed power systems, smart meter conversion and coupling fiber builds with street improvements to decrease the time and costs in the long haul.

5G will play a key role in closing the digital divide with faster speeds, expanded capacity, and lower latency. The overwhelming majority of Americans – 81 percent in 2019 – own a smartphone, making mobile devices an opportunity to address the lack of connectivity.

With the economy slowly but steadily rebounding from the pandemic, New York and the U.S. more broadly cannot afford to lose competitive footing.  It is critical that municipalities, carriers and companies like Hellman Electric work together to remove obstacles to small cell construction to facilitate next-generation connectivity to ensure we can survive — and thrive — in an increasingly digital world.