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Smart Cell Savvy

Self-Perform Deployment Advances Networks and the Smart City

Despite a growing cache of innovative smart city applications, smart is not a sure thing. The uptick of mobile data services, escalating subscriptions, and Internet of Things (IoT) connections sends data traffic soaring, which reduces network capacity. To satisfy subscriber demand and support the smart city evolution, many carriers are deploying small cells to expand their wireless networks and fill gaps in capacity and coverage. Towards streamlined small cell connection, carriers are scrutinizing deployment approaches and trading the multi-vendor process for a self-perform approach.

 

Small Cells and the Smart City

Total mobile data usage in the US and Canada will grow by 35% annually through 2021, with North America predicted to lead the world in mobile data traffic at 22GB per smartphone. Alongside wireless data growth, Ericcson’s North American Mobility Report (2016) estimates that 3 billion IoT connected devices such as activity trackers and connected thermostats will link into the network by 2021. Our Black & Veatch 2017 Strategic Directions: Smart City/Smart Utility Report indicates that funding priorities in cities mirror these regional data trends. The report found that most governments and municipalities see high-speed data networks as the priority investment in a smart city program.

Often installed on existing streetlight and utility poles, small cells bring the carrier’s network closer to the user. These miniature low-powered radio access nodes ease network congestion, and fill the mobile coverage gaps in hard-to-reach indoor and outdoor spots. About the size of a laptop (and some the size of 4 laptops end-to-end), small cells provide reliable connectivity, which allows the municipality to evolve alongside their citizen’s social behaviors to better meet their needs and enhance engagement. For example, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) estimates that 70% of 9-1-1 calls originate from wireless phones. In response, cities use small cells to fortify public safety communications and to take a bite out of crime with advanced technologies like sensor-based gunshot detection.

Small cell technology also helps municipalities reinvent their identity. We are seeing cities grow beyond their old status and stigma. They become defined instead by their technologies, the advanced services they offer, and their new states of functionality

Dense small cell deployment, combined with deep fiber networks, will help establish 5G — the next generation of wireless systems. With 5G, cities can amass interconnected, interoperable applications powered by smart analytics — the backbone of a smart city.

Multi-Vendor Deployment vs. Self-Perform

Major US carriers include small cell rollout as part of their 5G development. Denser, faster networks will sustain our digital society and enable a quantum leap in the smart city evolution. As the FCC discusses options to streamline small cell permitting, carriers should also consider strategies to accelerate their deployments.

Traditionally, carriers split leadership across the 4 phases of small cell deployment: Radio Frequency (RF) Design, Site Acquisition, Engineering, and Construction. The carriers often complete the RF design, but assign a different vendor to each of the remaining phases. Under this multi-vendor deployment, the vendors conduct tasks in silos, with inconsistent communication across phases that produces disorderly deployment. Towards optimal deployment, carriers who select the self-perform approach engage one team to conduct all phases, and entrust a team representative to coordinate with city offices, like utilities and permitting, on their behalf. The team synchronizes each phase, creating an efficient, uniform and streamlined deployment.

Self-perform companies complete each phase seamlessly. This is critical because decisions made in one phase affect the progress of other phases. When carriers use the self-perform approach, the team helps select pole locations during the RF analysis with benefit of site acquisition and engineering specialization. This means that selected poles provide optimal signal and align with governing codes. A self-perform approach is transparent, yielding open review of project information across the team, which ensures consensus and coordinated progress.

Under a multi-vendor approach, however, the engineer and the site acquisition vendors operate independently, which means poles that the engineer considers ideal may be located on private property, which is problematic for the site acquisition vendor. In this case, backtracking is required to evaluate and select new sites, which involves revising drawings, safety reports, photo simulations and numerous other project elements, adding time and money to the carrier’s bottom line. Additionally, carriers sometimes retain individual engineering vendors based on familiarity or cost-competitiveness. If these engineers are located out-of-state, then the carriers must also contract with in-state engineers to redraw the plans for permit approval, which causes delays and adds complexity to phase tasks.

A self-perform deployment is a cohesive process that enables responsive, well-informed interactions with the city. In many cases, small cell deployment is unknown to municipalities, and city agents require a lot of guidance. Under a self-perform approach, the city works with one project contact, not multiple vendors, reducing city investment of time and resources. This alliance is important because a carrier can deploy hundreds of small cells at one time, and a reliable partnership helps keep complex projects on track.

“The city alerted me that a citizen asked to relocate a small cell antenna near her home, and the topic would be discussed at the afternoon public hearing,” recalls Ana Gomez-Abarca, Site Acquisition Execution Manager at Black & Veatch.

As part of a self-perform team, in just 2 hours Ana retrieved permitting, engineering, and site acquisition plans, and engaged team specialists and the utility office to gain expert insight from all perspectives. Ana attended the hearing with details on pole height, RF signal coverage, available pole quadrants, and right-of-way designations, to discuss optimal locations and options to reduce small cell visibility. A comprehensive team helped Ana secure complete answers quickly, which helped the city make timely decisions and kept the project moving forward.

In the same scenario, the multi-vendor approach would have resulted in delays as the carrier initiated discussions from individual vendors and waited for each to respond. The information silos prevent a big picture review, so the carrier would have to ensure vendor responses were compatible. What took hours to resolve under a self-perform approach could take days or weeks with a multi-vendor team.

Stack Up Savings

A self-perform approach can often provide bundled pricing. Across the phases, the team shares resources, such as accountants and controls managers, and leverages in-house relationships to streamline each element of deployment and shave project costs. Carriers interact with a single point-of-contact under this approach, which means they issue one invoice, slashing the carrier administrative costs associated with billing.

A self-perform deployment also builds trust. The double edge sword of small cell deployment is that people want connectivity, but they are uneasy about adding the infrastructure to their streetscapes. In a self-perform deployment, the carrier entrusts the project contact to build community buy-in.

“The community calls me directly with a huge range of questions from pole paint color to noise and safety concerns,” says Ana, who often meets citizen groups at small cell locations to describe deployment activities in their neighborhood and the resulting benefits.

Familiarity develops over the yearlong deployment process, and community understanding and awareness is cultivated day-to-day. Project acceptance is a standard, not a stroke of luck.

In a multi-vendor approach, the separate vendors focus on their contracted tasks and do not assume responsibility for citizen engagement. Moreover, the multi-vendor team would not have the answers to citizen questions because they would not be involved in all the moving parts and pieces of the deployment.

“Building citizen trust is vital.” explains Ana, “Answering a question with ‘I don’t know’ undermines relationships and jeopardizes the deployment.”

 

This article first appeared in ISE Magazine on 1 August 2017.

 

Subject Matter Expert
Jeff Parsons: ParsonsJD@bv.com

 

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