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September 2021

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In This Issue

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From The Editor

Wireless Versus Wireline: Winners and Losers

Dollar numbers associated with taxpayer-funded infrastructure projects reach into the tril...
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Tunnels

Ensuring Safe, Reliable In-tunnel Wireless Solutions

We are two decades into the new millennium, and the wireless communication pioneered in th...
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Towers

Disguised Cell Towers Pose for Photographic Artist in Fauxliage

Click Here to Watch the Interview! The book Fauxliage by Annette LeMay Burke contains 60 c...
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Backhaul

High-quality Mobile Connectivity for Rural America

According to a 2019 report by Pew Research Center titled “Digital Gap Between Rural and No...
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5G

Closing the U.S. Digital Divide: Why We Should Think Small to Win Big

If the United States continues to experience an ever-widening digital divide between urban...
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Small Cells

Small Cell Providers Must Please Multiple Stakeholders

It is ideal for a manufacturer to make hundreds, if not thousands, of the same design, but...
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Towers

The Importance of Wireless and Increasing Connectivity

Dagan Kasavana, founder and CEO of Phoenix Tower International Image Provided Tower comp...
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UAV

Drones in Telecom: Tower Operations to Benefit From Standardizing Emerging Tech

Two leaders of a task group about unmanned aerial systems (UAS), also known as drones, inv...
 - The unique nature of wireless infrastructure construction — short-term projects, multiple cost drivers and crews moving in and out of different sites — adds to the challenge of tracking project costs.
Field Talk

5 Steps to Improve Your Wireless Construction Project Margins

Imagine a football game without a scoreboard. You turn on the TV, fans are cheering, a tou...
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Obtaining Value for Government Assets

Converting Wireless Infrastructure Yields Significant Capital for Government Owners

An ancient story, “Acres of Diamonds,” tells of a farmer who exhausted his net worth, scou...
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Safety

Court Orders FCC to Further Explain Cell Phone Radiation Guidelines

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit has ordered the FCC to prov...
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Market Research

Gartner Forecasts Worldwide 5G Network Infrastructure Revenue to Grow 39 Percent in 2021

Worldwide 5G network infrastructure revenue is on pace to grow 39 percent to $19.1 billion...
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From The Editor

Wireless Versus Wireline: Winners and Losers

Dollar numbers associated with taxpayer-funded infrastructure projects reach into the trillions for everything Congress has under consideration, and settle into a $65 billion figure for broadband telecommunications infrastructure. Where the money goes has the effect of picking winners and losers in business, a normal outcome of federal spending.

Absent money that comes from taxpayers, businesses rely on money from investors, lenders and profits to spend on real estate, equipment and human resources. The way they spend the money makes the difference between success and failure, how well they compete for customers with others in the same line of business, and how much they can grow.

Focus for a moment on the tussle over taxpayer money for overcoming the digital divide, defined as the difference between having broadband internet access and not having it. From the perspective of educators, the digital divide has an adverse effect on students. Students without broadband internet access seem to number the most in low-income homes. Additionally, the digital divide is found in rural homes separated by long distances from the nearest internet access points.

For the first group, money from taxpayers or collected from telecommunications customers under government requirements becomes available to subsidize bill payments made by low-income consumers.

For the second group, taxpayer money would be spent with companies to build additional wireline or wireless infrastructure to extend internet connectivity to rural homes.

Therein lies a choice: Should the connectivity be provided by wireline, which mostly means optical fiber, or should it be provided wirelessly, which mostly means fixed wireless access? Should download and upload speeds be symmetrical and no less than 100 Mbps, which mostly favors fiber, or should it allow a lower upload speed of 20 Mbps, which gives more opportunity for wireless providers to meet the requirement?

Answers might become clearer later this month when Congress returns from recess. Shortly before it recessed on Aug. 11, the Senate passed a bill that included grants for service providers for 100/20 Mbps service. The bill raised the federal definition of broadband from the previous 25/3 Mbps service.

"We were pleased that Congress ultimately agreed to speeds that wireless can meet," said Jonathan Adelstein, president and CEO of the Wireless Infrastructure Association.

Gary Bolton, CEO of the Fiber Broadband Association, had argued for 100/100 Mbps service. He said that, at least, the Senate bill acknowledged that the 25/3 Mbps definition of broadband was outdated.

Whom will Congress choose? Our prediction is an outcome that favors wireline, with a small concession to wireless. Many companies that provide wireless service also provide wireline service, so the outcome might not be as divided as it could seem.

Don Bishop is executive editor and associate publisher.

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Tunnels

Ensuring Safe, Reliable In-tunnel Wireless Solutions

A Gap Wireless Report

We are two decades into the new millennium, and the wireless communication pioneered in the previous century has become the foundation of every aspect of our lives. Wireless infrastructure is all but a utility, expected both indoors and out, from street level all the way to the top floor of the highest skyscraper. However, certain environments remain a challenge when it comes to wireless solutions. Tunnels are one such setting.

You do not have to be a miner deep underground to have a need for in-tunnel wireless connectivity. Millions of urban commuters pass through thousands of miles of rail and road tunnels every day, and for many, these tunnels represent wireless dead zones in which they are isolated from loved ones and locked out of their work.

However, tunnels do not have to be wireless wastelands. Although there are unique challenges in implementing in-tunnel wireless systems, there are emerging solutions that combat these challenges in an effective and affordable way. The following information examines these challenges and solutions to understand the best approach to in-tunnel wireless.

Challenges for In-tunnel Wireless Solutions

Tunnels, by their very nature, provide several obstacles for implementing wireless solutions. They are difficult to access and navigate, frequented as they are by vehicles and, in some cases, spanning just a few yards in diameter, and their shape can have different effects on different wireless signals depending on their frequency. Let’s consider these and other challenges of in-tunnel wireless solutions.

Logistics of Tunnel Work

The first challenge to implementing in-tunnel wireless solutions is simply accessing the tunnel itself. Most metro tunnels are in operation for most of the day, from the early morning to midnight or later. In some cases, tunnel operators limit maintenance windows to four hours or less. Compounding this problem is the fact that there are limited entry points to tunnels and limited space inside, requiring effective coordination among all workers. Depending on the work at hand, some projects cannot be left for the next available work window, but instead must be completed in one fell swoop.

Given these complicating factors, in-tunnel wireless solutions must be both simple to install and simple to maintain.

Tunnel Variety

Despite the relatively simple geometry of tunnels, the specific architecture of a given tunnel has a large effect on wireless propagation within. Tunnels can range from narrow to wide, from circular to square, from straight to curved. Existing tunnel infrastructure such as tracks, pipes and cables affects wireless propagation and how signals should be distributed for the best results. As with all wireless installations, the choice of antenna in in-tunnel solutions is an important consideration that must reflect the local environment.

Optical Link Budget

Because tunnels can span several tens of miles, in-tunnel wireless systems must take careful account of optical link budgets. The fiber-optic cable linking head-end and remote radio units will be subject to loss — typically 0.5 dB/km for single-mode (SM) fiber-optic cable. Splicers and connectors along the way will typically cause 0.3 dB loss, and filters used for wavelength-division multiplexing (WDM) will account for a further loss of 0.8 dB to 1.2 dB (for coarse WDM, CWDM, this increases to 1.3 dB).

In a given 6-mile run of fiber optic cable, therefore, you must plan for 6 dB to 8 dB loss or even higher.

Handling Hand-offs

Above ground, the best practice for wireless system designers is to ensure minimal overlap in signals among sectors. In a tunnel deployment, zero overlap can create problems such as a high dropped call rate, high noise in the receiving path and uplink muting. To avoid this problem, in-tunnel wireless solutions may change cell radius, reposition antennas or force overlap by connecting sectors together. Carriers typically specify that one subway tunnel and one subway station constitute a sector, but other sectorizations are possible, based on the carrier’s preference.

Interference

As with any wireless deployment, in-tunnel wireless solutions must cope with the problem of interference. This includes passive intermodulation (PIM) and intermodulation (IM) interference from passive and active components, respectively. Interference can also include uplink noise from user devices operating at maximum power in an attempt to reach above ground macro cells. In busy subway stations, interference can also arise from many users trying to authenticate on the network simultaneously.

For in-tunnel wireless solutions, these sources of interference must be understood and measures must be taken to mitigate them.

Approaches to In-tunnel Wireless

Here is a closer look at the systems and components used to implement in-tunnel wireless solutions.

Distributed Antenna Systems

A properly designed distributed antenna system (DAS) ensures that wireless signals can propagate through the length of a tunnel. System operators commonly use DAS solutions in other environments where building materials can block signals or users require more capacity than generally would be available. A DAS either redirects external signals, such as those from a cell tower, or routes signals from a base transceiver station (BTS) provided by a wireless carrier. The system sends signals to antennas strategically distributed throughout a facility.

A DAS can be passive or active. A passive DAS uses a bidirectional amplifier (BDA) and coaxial cable combined with splitters and couplers to send signals directly to antennas. An active DAS consolidates signals at a head-end unit and sends them over fiber-optic cable to active remote radio units, which then feed into antennas. The typical length of most tunnels makes it necessary to use active systems to overcome signal loss. An active DAS can be analog or digital, referring to whether the head-end unit sends analog optic signals through the fiber-optic cables or whether it converts the RF signals to digital optical signals. For in-tunnel systems, digital DAS solutions generally provide a higher degree of control and flexibility, although analog systems can accommodate a larger bandwidth.

For in-tunnel wireless solutions, a popular approach for distributed antenna systems is an antenna that is literally distributed — in other words, a radiating cable.

Radiating Cables

A radiating cable, also called a leaky feeder, is a coaxial cable that acts as a distributed antenna. Manufacturers design radiating cables with periodic gaps (or apertures) in the outer conductor that allow the interior RF signals to radiate — analogous to the signal leaking from the cable. The apertures also serve to receive wireless signals broadcast from other sources, such as two-way radios, allowing the signals to propagate through the radiating cable and, therefore, travel much farther than they would otherwise. The design of the outer apertures can vary greatly among different radiating cables to influence the frequency range most suited to the leaky feeder.

Radiating cables are a natural fit for in-tunnel wireless solutions and serve as an effective alternative to traditional antennas, such as Yagi antennas. Radiating cables can cover the long distances typical of tunnels while providing consistent coverage along their length. Because of their leakiness, radiating cables must be used with signal amplifiers at regular intervals, depending on their rated longitudinal loss (e.g., 3 dBm per 100 meters of cable) which increases with signal frequency. In general, an amplifier is needed for roughly every three-tenths of a mile of cable, depending on frequency bands and cable size. Designers of in-tunnel wireless solutions also must consider the coupling loss of radiating cables, which refers to the loss between the cable and end user device. For best results, the radiating cable should be in line-of-sight of end devices, not hidden behind false ceilings or placed within cable ducts.

Cable and radiating cables diagram

To understand the variety and parameters of radiating cables better, we take as an example the Radiaflex series of radiating cables from Radio Frequency Systems (RFS). Radiaflex cables comprise seven series tailored to different in-tunnel (or other confined coverage) wireless solutions, encompassing all major services from 75 MHz to 6 GHz. Some Radiaflex cables provide wideband coverage for multiband and multi-operator applications, while others are optimized for narrower high-frequency applications. All Radiaflex cables boast low longitudinal and coupling losses, which are critical characteristics for system design and total cost. Radiaflex cables conform to major international flame- and fire-retardancy standards.

The choice of antennas in a wireless solution can have a significant effect on the cost, look and performance of a given system. For in-tunnel solutions, there are pros and cons to balance in the choice between enclosed Yagi antennas and radiating cables. With their controlled pattern of radiation perpendicular to the cable, radiating cables provide uniform coverage throughout the tunnel, whereas enclosed Yagi antennas provide less consistent coverage. Furthermore, radiating cables require little clearance from tunnel walls, while Yagi antennas require more space. Clearance can be a problem in tunnels, where space is at a premium. The advantage of Yagi antennas for in-tunnel solutions is that they are easier to install and cost less than radiating cables, which require full tunnel access and installation that is more complex.

Ensuring Safety With In-Tunnel Wireless

Effective in-tunnel wireless solutions are critical to ensure the safety of tunnel crews and commuters. Tunnels are particularly challenging environments in the event of disasters such as fire, because they are confined spaces with few exit points. It is therefore imperative to support safety workers with reliable wireless communications in any scenario.

Furthermore, as transportation technology continues to improve and vehicles become increasingly networked, in-tunnel wireless communications will be necessary for the reliability of connected systems. Self-driving vehicles may rely on edge or cloud compute capabilities to function safely in all situations, and tunnels should not disrupt any required mission-critical connectivity.

To ensure safety, in-tunnel wireless solutions must accommodate a wide range of wireless technologies, from two-way emergency bands — such as Family Radio Service (FRS) and General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS) in North America and Terrestrial Trunked Radio (TETRA) and Private Mobile Radio (PMR) in Europe — to modern cellular bands up to 5G and beyond. Note that although sub-6 GHz 5G is attainable in tunnels with the right equipment, it is unlikely that millimeter-wave (mmWave) 5G will be practical for such environments. In road tunnels, FM and digital audio broadcasting (DAB) services must also be supported, both for safety and to ensure commuter satisfaction.

Although the complexity of wireless systems generally increases with the number of technologies supported, some in-tunnel solutions are specially designed to accommodate a wide range of wireless technologies. The RFS Radiaflex radiating cables, for example, support multiple operators with continuous coverage in bands in all standardized 4G and 5G frequency bands simultaneously to mission-critical spectrum.

The equipment used for in-tunnel wireless solutions should be designed to withstand hazardous conditions, such as fires, to ensure it continues cato function during an emergency. Some wireless equipment providers offer fire-resistant components to ensure uninterrupted service during emergencies, such as the RFS DragonSkin coaxial cable, which is fire-resistant up to 1000°C and is UL 2196-certified for low-smoke, zero-halogen (LSZH) emissions. Cable installation must also account for the potential of fire. For example, if radiating cables are installed with clamps or cable ties, it is important to incorporate metal versions of these fasteners alongside the cheaper plastic clamps or ties. These prevent the cable from detaching in the event of a fire that causes plastic fasteners to fail, ensuring the cable remains functional and keeping it clear of potential escape routes.

Although in-tunnel wireless systems face challenges not found in other environments, the solutions discussed here are designed to surmount these obstacles and ensure that tunnels are both safe and enjoyable. To design wireless systems that meet all the needs of a given tunnel while minimizing total cost of ownership (TCO), it is important to collaborate with the right wireless suppliers. Look for providers with a proven background of successful in-tunnel deployments, like RFS, who can draw upon their ample experience with in-tunnel wireless solutions to offer fit-for-purpose equipment and informed advice.

Source: Gap Wireless

To obtain a PDF copy of the “In-Tunnel Wireless Report,” click here.

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Towers

Disguised Cell Towers Pose for Photographic Artist in Fauxliage

Sometimes amusing, sometimes sublime, the disguised cell phone towers of the American West present beautiful images in the hands of an artist.

Click Here to Watch the Interview!

The book Fauxliage by Annette LeMay Burke contains 60 color photographs of disguised cell phone towers of the American West. Burke, a photographic artist, captured images of often-whimsical tower disguises during six years of travel. The photographs also are available in 17x22 and 30x44 prints, with individual commissions for larger sizes.

Fauxliage by Annette LeMay Burke.Fauxliage by Annette LeMay Burke.

“I live in Silicon Valley,” Burke said, in an interview with AGL Magazine. “I used to work in tech, so I’m used to having a lot of technology around me. I first noticed these disguised trees in the early 2000s. Even in Silicon Valley, they stood out as a little odd. They amused me. Eventually, I started a photo project.”

Writing in her book, Burke said that the more she photographed the towers, the more disconcerted she felt about technology clandestinely modifying the environment.

“Would our children soon accept these towers as normal?” she asked. “I began to explore how this manufactured nature had imposed a contrived aesthetic in our neighborhoods. My photographs expose the towers’ idiosyncratic disguises, highlight the variety of forms and show how ubiquitous they are in our daily lives.” Because the towers are mostly fake trees, Burke called the photo series Fauxliage.

Three saguaros in Phoenix. © Annette LeMay BurkeA palm tree cell tower in Henderson, Nevada, with the Las Vegas Strip in the background. © Annette LeMay Burke

Some of Burke’s search for towers to photograph simply involved a lot of driving around.

“It’s much easier when you’re the passenger, just to look around,” she said. “Many times, I would take scouting shots with my cell phone just to get the GPS and then go back later. I would ask people who live in the area where good ones are. Also, the internet is just a great research tool.”

Burke said she has a degree in geology, and she is interested in the natural world and how people interact with it.

“I’m used to looking at the landscape,” she said. “I’m interested in artifacts that we leave behind. This could be something that technology has left behind, these cell towers.”

Despite the quirky disguises that can be entertaining to look at, Burke wrote in her book, the towers present privacy and environmental concerns. “The often-farcical pole disguises belie the equipment’s covert ability to collect all the personal data transmitted from our cell phones,” the book reads. “Our social media interactions, advertising clicks, location tracking pings, audio recordings by the always-listening Siri and Alexis, are all commoditized, sold and stored by Big Tech and the government. Surveillance capitalism, especially perfecting the algorithms that can predict our behavior to advertisers, is big business in the 21st century.”

Three saguaros in Phoenix. © Annette LeMay BurkeThree saguaros in Phoenix. © Annette LeMay Burke

Commenting about the cell towers disguised as saguaro cacti, Burke said, “They are my favorite. The ones I photographed are in the Phoenix area. They are very well disguised, I think, because they can be shorter. It helps them to fit in a little better. The designers go to great detail. The little cactus spines are all airbrushed individually. They have re-created the little birds’ nest burrows in there. They are really great.

Burke maintains a website at www.atelierlemay.com, where it is possible to obtain signed copies of the book and prints of individual photos. Daylight Books publishes Fauxliage by Annette LeMay Burke; visit www.daylightbooks.org/products/fauxliage.

Don Bishop is executive editor and associate publisher.

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Backhaul

High-quality Mobile Connectivity for Rural America

A cost-effective approach to rapid expansion of mobile broadband offers tower companies a way to offer new services to rural mobile operators: a fully managed cellular backhaul service over satellite.

According to a 2019 report by Pew Research Center titled “Digital Gap Between Rural and Nonrural America,” more than 60 percent of rural Americans surveyed say they connect at home using a broadband internet connection. Although this is a significant improvement over the last 10 years, it is clear many rural Americans are still not connecting where they live and do not even own a smartphone. For these unconnected rural Americans, it is about more than connecting to high-speed internet at home, because broadband is simply not available where they live.

State and local governments with constituents living in largely rural areas have been working to address the connectivity crisis, especially during the pandemic. However, the various initiatives, including providing mobile hotspot devices, have fallen way short of bridging the gap. These initiatives only work if quality broadband internet infrastructure is installed to rural homes and establishments. To address this problem, these government entities have been pressuring Congress to act quickly and invest in the deployment of high-speed fixed broadband infrastructure in these areas to ensure every rural home and establishment has high-quality access to the internet, regardless of the device being used.

Connectivity on mobile devices such as smartphones, tablets and cellular-enabled laptops is insufficient in many of these rural areas because mobile broadband coverage is not available or spotty at best. Across the United States, 97 percent of the land area is considered rural, much of which remains without mobile broadband coverage, including roughly 11 percent of the nation’s road miles. It simply has not been economically viable for mobile operators to deploy miles of terrestrial-backhauled networks into rural unpopulated or sparsely populated areas, much of which is mountainous terrain and dense forests.

Subsidizing the installation cost of telecommunications infrastructure, whether fixed or mobile, is vital to enabling service providers to profitably build out their networks in rural America. This is especially true when relying only on terrestrial backhaul solutions, such as fiber-optic cable. According to data from the U.S. Department of Commerce and National Telecommunications and Information Administration, the cost of fiber and conduit material alone for a 10-mile installation runs on average $186,000. This does not even consider trenching or other costs.

Government initiatives are underway to subsidize both fixed and mobile network buildouts in unconnected rural areas of America. For example, the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund was approved by the FCC to allocate $20 billion during the next 10 years to broadband providers, which ensures residents in rural areas have access to quality broadband internet connections. In addition to fixed broadband funding, the FCC also approved what it dubbed the 5G Fund for Rural America, which provides $9 billion for the deployment of 5G mobile broadband in rural areas over a 10-year period (see the AGL article, “5G Fund Proposed for Remote Rural America” for more information).

However, timing is a major issue for these government initiatives aimed at closing the digital divide. The 5G Fund for Rural America auction is not slated to begin until 2021, and that plan is based on using the former Mobility Fund II map. An additional plan was proposed by the FCC that includes updating the coverage maps, further extending the auction date until 2023. Both plans were met with resistance from the Competitive Carriers Association (CCA), which represents rural operators, because of concerns about timing. Both the network build-out and the auction need to happen in a timely manner to close the digital divide as soon as possible. Because it can take six months to a year or more to deploy mobile broadband networks in rural areas using terrestrial backhaul, the timing could extend to 2025 before many of these areas have access to coverage.

There is a viable solution that addresses the challenges of cost, timing and the complexity associated with connecting unconnected areas of rural America: satellite backhaul. By using high-quality satellite backhaul in place of terrestrial backhaul (or even as an interim solution), mobile operators, and even tower companies interested in new business models, can quickly and cost-effectively deploy 4G or 5G coverage in any place and for any purpose it is needed, no matter how rural or remote the area.

Although satellite backhaul alone, in the form of capacity, is suitable for larger mobile operators with dedicated satellite teams in their organizations, most rural operators do not have this luxury. For rural operators and tower companies looking for ways to offer new services to mobile operators, a fully managed cellular backhaul service over satellite is ideal. For this reason, Intelsat, the world’s largest satellite operator, recently launched a complete high-performing satellite backhaul managed service in the United States.

There are many advantages to using an end-to-end satellite managed service to backhaul cell sites in rural areas for 4G or 5G coverage. These include:

  • The ubiquitous nature of satellite for rapid deployment of mobile broadband coverage in any rural area, no matter how remote — backhaul in weeks instead of months.
  • Advances in satellite technology that provide connectivity to a network of rural cell sites in a cost-efficient manner by dynamically distributing bandwidth based on per-site traffic demand.
  • Technological advances, including forward error correction and acceleration, to ensure strict quality of service (QoS) requirements are met and fiber-like connectivity is delivered for optimal quality of experience (QoE).
  • Low-cost, very small satellite antennas that can be quickly installed, helping providers achieve cost and time efficiencies.
  • A variety of service plans and professional services that include access to a global space and terrestrial network, required satellite capacity and equipment, expert engineering services for network design and 24x7 support, last-mile connectivity solutions, and installation and maintenance.

We must connect rural America. Time is of the essence. By incorporating a complete satellite backhaul managed service, we can quickly and cost-effectively expand 4G or 5G mobile broadband coverage across rural America.

Todd Cotts is a senior principal product marketing manager for mobile network operators at Intelsat.

About Intelsat: As the foundational architects of satellite technology, Intelsat operates the world’s largest and most advanced satellite fleet and connectivity infrastructure. We apply our unparalleled expertise and global scale to connect people, businesses and communities, no matter how difficult the challenge. Intelsat is uniquely positioned to help our customers turn possibilities into reality — transformation happens when businesses, governments and communities use Intelsat’s next-generation global network and managed services to build their connected future. Imagine here, with us, at www.Intelsat.com. For more information on how Intelsat works with mobile operators and tower companies in the United States to quickly and cost-effectively build out mobile broadband infrastructure across rural America, visit www.Intelsat.com/AGL-2020.

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5G

Closing the U.S. Digital Divide: Why We Should Think Small to Win Big

Overcoming obstacles to widespread 5G deployment depends on creating micro-efficiencies.

If the United States continues to experience an ever-widening digital divide between urban and rural peoples, legions of citizens from sparsely populated areas will not have access to vital services. According to a BroadbandNowreport, at least 42 million people lack access to terrestrial broadband internet (an additional 6.5 percent of Americans beyond FCC estimates).

Let us be clear: If this problem is not solved, our nation will face the regret of missed opportunities in the future. It is hard to quantify what will be sacrificed if a large swath of the nation does not have equal access to the education, information, and opportunities that the digital era has ushered in. Unable to fully realize all the potential talent in our country, we could unintentionally sabotage our own growth.

Worse yet, these same individuals will not have the ability to participate in vital services like telemedicine and remote learning if utility and broadband providers do not find a viable path forward to deliver services in a reasonable amount of time. Michael Kleeman, senior fellow at the University of California and board member at the Institute for the Future, explains the gravity in a Pew Research Center report: “Because of the economic disparity, the new technologies will be used with those with access to more resources, financial and technical. The digital divide will not be one of access but of security, privacy, and autonomy.”

On a global level, our nation’s economy could suffer. As the pandemic demonstrated so clearly, no economy stands alone. Without pervasive high-speed internet, our top talent and businesses will be less effective on the world stage, without adequate access to the key supply chains and international providers.

Time for Change

John Sciarabba, CEO of Alden Systems, believes it is time for wireless and broadband companies to explore new and forward-thinking solutions to deliver on the 5G promise. Having been in the industry since 1995, he has the perspective that comes with a long view of the opportunities (and challenges) at hand.

Certainly, companies cannot be counted on to close the gap based purely on corporate conscience — naturally, business interests must also prevail. For providers, the cost to deploy in rural areas still stands as a major deterrent even with incentive funding from federal programs.

Add to that hurdle the fact that providers must operate in a labor market extremely thin on resources, and you have quite the uphill climb. “The dollars alone aren’t enough,” Sciarabba said. “It takes resources.”

Then providers have to decide that those rural markets are important to the company’s overall strategy. In addition, all companies must navigate working with limited resources while overcoming a lack of precedent for collaboration among multiple stakeholders around unfamiliar processes. Meeting this challenge is going to require change from all involved.

Big Shifts, Small Steps

Sciarabba suggests that companies who will succeed will explore the answer to a single question: “What is the one cost variable to 5G deployment that we can positively influence?” The answer lies with using good data to drive business process automation to create efficiency — specifically, micro-efficiencies. Without enough resources to do all the work that needs to take place, companies have to maximize the output of those resources, Sciarabba said.

For example: did you know that, on average, a traditional landline fiber strand can take up to 180 days from the time a company selects a given utility pole to the time fiber is deployed on that structure?

What if companies could cut that time in half or more by introducing systems and tools that unite the various stakeholders and allow them to share data more efficiently?

Creating opportunity to build in micro-efficiencies into your workflow may seem like a small choice, but Sciarabba has seen firsthand how incremental shifts add up to real gains for providers. “It doesn’t have to be huge because any savings is a big savings as long as the cost of implementing that change justifies it,” Sciarabba said.

What he has observed is that companies must lay the foundation for efficiency by changing the way they think about the work itself. Rather than view jobs as only projects to be completed before the next one begins, innovative companies approach work from a process-based mindset and consider how the steps of their efforts could be repeated at scale to accommodate a volume of work similar to the job at hand.

Getting Started

Companies that want to drive efficiency must gain greater clarity and control of their processes. New technologies can deliver business process automation to do just that. Historically, companies have resisted broad-scale automation and sweeping change, especially in times of transition. However, what if you could automate incrementally to create micro efficiencies that add up, Sciarabba asked.

This is where data plays a role. Think of the adage: garbage in, garbage out. Now consider the inverse. If companies can find ways to capture good data, it will only create efficiencies downstream. Moreover, by extension, “leveraging the latest technology for different parts of the data collection process will allow better data to be collected,” Sciarabba said.

Good data is the driver of all automation, but managing increasing amounts of data should not require more human capital. As work volume increases with the ramped-up demand for broadband deployment, companies can no longer afford to move data manually “from here to there.” Successful industry stakeholders need each individual working at their highest level of expertise. Your ultimate goal is to have humans spending their time on only the tasks that require a human touch. Nevertheless, that is a lofty pursuit, so instead, Sciarabba suggested just taking a few steps toward automation.

“Just get better at blocking and tackling,” he said. For instance, look for ways to automate rote tasks like email or data entry. If you start removing the redundant steps that are time-consuming or outdated, you will drive efficiency with limited resources, Sciarabba said. Henry Ford once said, “Nothing is particularly hard if you break it into small steps.” Creating micro-efficiencies is an often-overlooked part of the solution to the digital divide.

Ultimately, the role that collaboration and business process automation plays in helping our nation realize the goal of widespread interconnectivity cannot be underestimated. “The only answer there is to get more efficient about the tools and figure out how to make all the stakeholders more efficient — and you also need a champion that believes in that cause,” Sciarabba said. This means getting industry stakeholders to believe, not just at a high level, but also at a tactical level translating into actionable change.

How you use data to automate a process may be a slight efficiency gain for you, but if you apply the principle across all jobs, the benefits could be dramatic. In addition, if all industry stakeholders can realize efficiency gains that would make the cost to deploy broadband more feasible, we could move the needle together. For our industry. For our communities. And there is nothing “micro” about that.

Jeana Durst is a freelance writer and editor in Birmingham, Alabama. For more than 10 years, she has written for various consumer and trade magazines, including four years as executive editor of Construction Business Owner. Most recently, she has covered such topics as the emerging tech and global data center market for business-to-business publications focusing on the construction and utility space. Her portfolio includes numerous eBooks on managing business processes more efficiently using technology-driven solutions.

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Small Cells

Small Cell Providers Must Please Multiple Stakeholders

A lack of common aesthetic requirements among various jurisdictions in the same region leads to increased costs for wireless communications carriers.

Trey NemethIt is ideal for a manufacturer to make hundreds, if not thousands, of the same design, but that only happens occasionally,— Trey Nemeth, general manager of Raycap Stealth

The job of a small cell maker is a bit like a juggler, as described by Trey Nemeth, general manager of Raycap Stealth, which manufactures cosmetic and aesthetically pleasing small cell structures. One of the challenges Nemeth said he faces is pleasing multiple stakeholders, from municipalities and utilities to the carriers.

“The municipalities often call on us to meet very specific cosmetic and size requirements,” he said. “Each carrier has different equipment. As time goes by, the equipment gets bigger and space becomes more restricted, which leads to mechanical issues. And then the utilities have safety requirements and space requirements for power meters and power distribution.”

Raycap bridges the gap between the stakeholders, Nemeth said, and develops customized products, such as a power meter designed to fit inside of a concealed small cell pole or combining power meters with power distribution to fit into a smaller package.

“We’re trying to blend the needs of all these different stakeholders to come up with a product that’s ultimately going to be approved and enable the carriers to deploy small cells,” Nemeth said.

The allocation of spectrum in the C-band will add 3.8 GHz to the array of new frequencies scooped up by the carriers and subsequently thrown to the equipment makers. Equipment manufacturers also are releasing integrated antennas designed to serve 4G, 5G, CBRS and C-band systems. Accommodating these antennas will keep small cell manufacturers busy. The problems are common to any new technology: space for the new radios, additional wind loading and RF-friendly materials for maximum propagation.

“We are going through planning with all the different carriers and making sure that the materials that we’re using are approved and suitable for their needs for the C-band-type architecture,” Nemeth said.

The new frequencies being deployed not only affect new small cells, but also existing structures where they are added.

“We’re going back and looking at existing sites, especially with rooftop macro concealed sites that have been built over the past 25 years,” Nemeth said. “A lot of these have been built with materials that are not suitable for the transmission of these higher frequencies. And so, similar to millimeter-wave, we’re having to develop products and methods to replace portions of these sites.”

Nemeth said cell providers see a lack of common aesthetic requirements among various jurisdictions in the same region, which reduces the number of nodes-per-design that they can supply, which in turn increases costs.

“It is ideal for a manufacturer to make hundreds, if not thousands, of the same design, but that only happens occasionally,” he said. “There are many cities within a metro area, and each has its own aesthetic requirement. Sometimes, we will sell only five nodes of a specific design for a certain neighborhood.”

Other speakers on the panel were Jonathan Kramer, Telecom Law Firm; Sonya Roshek, B+T Group; and Blake Bukacek, Valmont. Total Tech sponsors of the April AGL Virtual Summit included Raycap, Valmont Site Pro 1, Vertical Bridge and B+T Group. The Top Tech sponsor was Aurora Insight. Additional sponsors included NATE, Voltserver, WIA and Gap Wireless. The next AGL Virtual Summit is scheduled for Sept. 8 at 2 p.m. Eastern time. The Summit is free to attend; register here.

At the time this was written, J. Sharpe Smith was senior editor of the AGL eDigest email newsletter and a contributing editor to AGL Magazine.

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Tower of the Month

Site Name: Linville

Tower Manufacturer: Stealth Concealment Solutions

Height: 120 feet

Location: Linville, North Carolina

Tower Type: Monopine

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Towers

The Importance of Wireless and Increasing Connectivity

The tower industry has seen the importance of wireless connectivity for communication on cellphones and for education, telemedicine and commerce across the world.

Dagan KasavanaDagan Kasavana, founder and CEO of Phoenix Tower International Image Provided

Tower companies and wireless infrastructure providers have become more important than ever to mobile network operators (MNOs) in the face of challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Dagan Kasavana, founder and CEO of Phoenix Tower International (PTI). He said that during the past year, his company has worked with them hand-in-hand to help them with operating results, wireless communications coverage needs and alternatives to capital investments.

“We strengthened our partnerships quite a bit with some of our key customers,” Kasavana said. “My belief is that they will never forget how the tower companies responded in times of need. That will lead to a lot of goodwill in the future for the entire industry.”

Founded in 2013, PTI seeks to own and operate wireless infrastructure sites in stable markets throughout the world that are experiencing a growing use of wireless communications. It owns properties in Latin America, the Caribbean, the United States and Europe.

In Kasavana’s view, the tower industry has seen the importance of wireless connectivity for communication on cellphones and for education, telemedicine and commerce across the world. He said one reason there is still lifeblood in the economy despite everyone working from home is wireless connectivity. “We’re incredibly humbled to be in an industry that is in such demand, but also that comes with significant responsibility that we don’t take lightly here at PTI and as an industry,” he said.

Carbon Neutrality, Charitable Works

The PTI executive said he was happy to see some of the other players in the industry focus on being carbon-neutral and decreasing their carbon footprint, because that is also something PTI wants to achieve. He said PTI hopes to be on a carbon-neutral basis in 2021.

Meanwhile, PTI wants to grow its charitable works across the world, “because in addition to providing great connectivity, we want to make sure we’re giving back,” he said. “The growth as we emerge from COVID 19 will be uneven, and certain markets will do better than others, and certain people will do better than others. We want to make sure we’re continuing to give back. That’s incredibly important.”

Rising Network Demand

The good news, Kasavana said, is that there is significant demand for the wireless network. He said PTI has seen it in the fixed line networks and on the tower side. He said he expects that as people start to travel more and vacation more, business in hotel DAS, enterprise distributed antenna solutions and tower locations in populous tourist hubs will re-emerge. He said traffic to residential suburban sites would continue to be strong.

“The example I give is that everybody’s working on teams on Zoom, now,” he said. “We will continue to work on teams in Zoom, but people may be connecting from their phones a lot more than they ever have, because they’re on the road a lot more and they’re traveling. That will lead to a significant data on the tower sites themselves and data traffic that should lead to some meaningful additions of equipment on the tower sites and lease-up.”

With PTI doing business in 15 countries and given the COVID 19 situation, Kasavana said, it is more important than ever to roll out 5G wireless communications to be ahead of radio-frequency (RF) spectrum auctions and site deployments to get towers built quicker. He said it is a good sign to have to the government supporting the growth that tower companies and their customer are trying to implement. “A combination of those factors will be great for the industry,” he said.

Progress with 5G

Among the countries where PTI does business, the United States is the farthest along with 5G, Kasavana said, with Europe right behind, along with some of the larger markets in Latin America. In general, he said, the Caribbean and some of the Central American markets are behind. In many cases, they have not had 5G spectrum auctions. Although Kasavana sees opportunity in these markets as a wireless infrastructure provider, he said those governments need to accelerate the build-outs as they perceive the demand for connectivity not only in good times, but also in bad times.

As examples, Kasavana cited educating children at home and conducting business at home. “It was really challenging to have your children educated, across the world, if you don’t have good connectivity in your house — also, commerce for businesses that are doing business from home,” he said. “Governments realize we need to make sure our entire population has connectivity. In the United States, you hear it from the Biden administration. You heard it from the Trump administration. Ensuring that we have rural connectivity is so important for us to compete in the future. You see that across the world.”

Rural Service

Areas of focus for PTI’s business this year in all of its markets include rural carriers and wireless internet service providers (WISPs), and Kasavana said the company is doing much more business with some smaller regional players and internet-of-things (IoT) players. He said he expects the more tourism-centric markets will be slower to rebound, with the macroeconomic picture more challenging in some markets than in others.

“The sovereign situation in some of these markets already was difficult and challenging going into COVID,” Kasavana said. “COVID has hit some of these markets to the extent that that the sovereign situation probably worsened. In some of our markets, it will take two or three years for them to recover — to return to the same capex that we saw two or three years ago.”

For the U.S. market, Kasavana sees help arriving in the form of the C-Band spectrum auction, because American wireless carriers made massive investments in the spectrum, to be followed by massive network build-ups. “In general, you’re always looking to pair a spectrum auction, followed by build outs, which then is followed by the next spectrum auction,” he said. “It’s good to see both, and we’re seeing both right now in the United States.”

Don Bishop is executive editor and associate publisher of AGL Magazine. This article was derived from an AGL Connection interview with Dagan Kasavana conducted by Martha DeGrasse.

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UAV

Drones in Telecom: Tower Operations to Benefit From Standardizing Emerging Tech

Two leaders of a task group about unmanned aerial systems (UAS), also known as drones, invite interested individuals to inquire about joining the group to help it create the future of tower analytics based on drone-gathered data. Co-authors of a statement published in the TIA Wavelength Blog, Sam McGuire and Robert McCoy said that the catalyst behind the increased adoption of UAS projects in the tower industry has been the rapid technological enhancements enabling their deployments globally and increased competition that helps keep costs for the technology under control.

“Advancements in tower-specific flight automation are enabling the collection of comprehensive datasets in short amounts of time,” the statement reads. “These datasets can be leveraged for comprehensive visual inspections or creating 3D virtual reconstructions commonly referred to as digital twins.”

 Robert McCoy headshotRobert McCoy Sam McGuire headshotSam McGuire

McGuire is chairman, and McCoy is vice chairman, of the group, which is known as the Drones Ad Hoc Subcommittee or Drones Task Group, established under the Telecommunications Industry Association’s Engineering Committee TR-14. Anyone interested in joining the group can email McGuire at [email protected] or McCoy at [email protected].

McGuire is senior director of strategy at 5x5 Technologies, an asset inspection, management and analysis company. In addition, McGuire is chairman of the UAS Committee at NATE: The Communications Infrastructure Contractors Association. McCoy is the operations quality assurance manager at Crown Castle International, and he belongs to the NATE UAS Committee.

McGuire and McCoy wrote that teams have been experimenting with different methods to provide accurate measurements within digital representations of tower assets.

“Common methods include the use of ground control points (GCPs) or the placement of known dimensional components into the data capture area — scaling sticks and scaling markers,” the statement reads. “The method of choice will depend on various factors including budget, project timeline and accuracy requirements.”

Multiple approaches to dimensional scaling are validated against large volumes of data at centimeter-level accuracy or better, according to McGuire and McCoy. They said the concept no longer is a theory or future vision; it exists today and operates at scale.

“Combining repeatable, automated flight and an accurate dimensional understanding of digital reconstructions has enabled an entirely new era of analytics,” they wrote. “While many of the AI models continue to evolve and improve, the capabilities that already exist today are substantial.” According to McGuire and McCoy, from a structural standpoint, systems can now identify defects and deficiencies like tower rust, bent members or missing components. They said that some of the highest impact use cases, however, are related to identifying and quantifying network equipment on a tower.

TIA Drones Ad Hoc 2021

The two task force leaders said that the TIA Drones Ad Hoc Subcommittee operates as part of the TR-14 Standards Committee, which is responsible for the ANSI/TIA-222 Standard, “Structural Standard for Antenna Supporting Structures, Antennas and Small Wind Turbine Support Structures” and the ANSI/TIA-322 Standard, “Loading, Analysis and Design Criteria Related to the Installation, Alteration and Maintenance of Communication Structures.”

Given the range of positive effects that UAS operations are continuing to have on tower management and maintenance, they said, the capabilities of drones and analytical applications surrounding their use qualify UAS operations for inclusion in the next revision of the TIA-222 Standard.

“The TR-14 Drones Ad Hoc Subcommittee will be conducting a thorough review of the existing standard and providing the findings, and suggestions to the TR-14 leadership committee for the inclusion of drone operations,” the statement reads. “To do so, we are collaborating with all stakeholders within the existing Ad Hoc Subcommittee and inviting the participation from anyone with appropriate expertise, knowledge, or interest on the subject. The format of our collaboration will be a monthly call as well as periodic surveys and breakout sessions to explore specific subject matter in detail. We invite you to join the conversation and help us create the future of tower analytics.”

McGuire and McCoy invited individuals interested in joining the TIA Drones Ad Hoc Group to reach out to them or to TIA’s membership team at [email protected].

Don Bishop is executive editor and associate publisher.

 - The unique nature of wireless infrastructure construction — short-term projects, multiple cost drivers and crews moving in and out of different sites — adds to the challenge of tracking project costs.
The unique nature of wireless infrastructure construction — short-term projects, multiple cost drivers and crews moving in and out of different sites — adds to the challenge of tracking project costs.
Field Talk

5 Steps to Improve Your Wireless Construction Project Margins

Imagine a football game without a scoreboard. You turn on the TV, fans are cheering, a touchdown is scored, but there is no way to know which team is winning and by how much. It is only at the end of the season, after the teams have played all of the games, that the league announces the standings.

Welcome to the world of job costing for wireless construction.

Every day in the United States, companies dispatch more than 29,000 field workers to remote locations to install the nation’s growing wireless infrastructure. Many companies managing these field crews face various daily hurdles: weather delays, incomplete site details, missing materials, dependencies on third parties and other variables that stack the odds against a successful deployment.

Darrin Wagner headshotDarrin Wagner, CEO of Test Communications.

These challenges affect a company’s bottom line through increased costs and project delays. Because of the unique nature of wireless infrastructure construction — short-term projects, multiple cost drivers, crews moving in and out of different sites — the ability for business owners to track accurate daily spend and project profitability is beyond the reach of many companies.

Darrin Wagner, the CEO of Test Communications, a growing wireless services company with headquarters in Slidell, Louisiana, is one of those owners. Other than a monthly update from his accounting system and a few manually updated trackers, Wagner had limited visibility into where his company spent money on a day-to-day basis.

“We offer a wide range of telecom infrastructure services, and it was becoming increasingly difficult to manage our field activities with QuickBooks and Excel,” Wagner said. “Our monthly accounting reports could tell me how we were doing as a business, but only after the fact. I was essentially flying blind with no way to determine where we were making and losing money at the project level.”

Picture of a FieldClix Budget GraphBudgets are updated automatically to reflect project costs and margins.

With competition becoming more aggressive and sophisticated, Wagner also faced increased margin pressure during the project bidding process, which further shrunk any margin of error he had to deliver a project on time and on budget.

A Better Way

Wagner knew there had to be a better way. In 2019, he began to explore different options to track his company’s financial performance down to the project level with the goal of establishing baseline measures to identify inefficiencies and opportunities for improvement.

“You can’t change, without the ability to measure,” Wagner said. “For us to be competitive in this new environment, we needed to focus on operational excellence, and that required a new approach for our budgeting and job costing capabilities.”

Reflecting on this journey, Wagner has identified five essential steps to accurately tracking job costs to help measure and improve project margins.

1. Use software to track project performance accurately.

Wagner’s vision included obtaining accurate and timely updates on all project progress and costs. His reliance on manual data entry from different sources, with multiple trackers, created delays and inaccuracies in the eventual reports.

“I realized I needed a software platform to help achieve my goals,” Wagner said.

His wish list for a software platform included the ability to manage his projects and crew deployments while also providing accurate, automated daily updates on progress and spend. After an extended search, Wagner selected the Fieldclix software platform to help achieve his goal of measuring performance, establishing baselines, and embarking on a company-wide improvement program.

“It was important to find a software platform that captured operational and financial data in real time to help make informed adjustments for active projects as well as ongoing improvements to my business, and Fieldclix fit the bill,” Wagner said. “With Fieldclix, our office and field teams have one platform to collaborate across dozens of active projects with instant access to the data, reports, and documents they need to perform their job.”

Picture of a FieldClix SoftwareProject costs are captured in the field and displayed in graphic reports.

Pro Tip #1: Capture both operational and financial data in one platform. It is challenging to manage the entire project life cycle without an understanding of field progress, visibility into daily costs and the status of your client and vendor financial transactions. Many software platforms only offer either operational or financial workflow support.

2. Establish project budgets, and track costs daily.

Wagner’s project managers did a great job managing against projected milestones and dates, but they had limited visibility into the amount of money they were spending to achieve these goals. “We didn’t know which decisions and events were increasing our project costs,” he said. “We focused on getting the job done, but often at the expense of our project margins.”

Wagner’s goal was to have his project managers focus on both the operational and financial aspects of their deployments, with an emphasis on project P&L (profit and loss).

“With Fieldclix, we get accurate daily updates on all our costs, including labor, materials, rentals, subcontractors and field expenses,” Wagner said.

His project managers now establish an operating budget for all cost items at the beginning of the project, which receives a review and approval before they spend the first dollar.

“Instead of finding out on day seven of a five-day build whether we’re under or over budget, my project managers can now see where they stand and make adjustments while there’s still have time to make a difference.”

Pro Tip #2: After establishing your project revenue from the client’s purchase order for a specific site build, remove pass-through costs, such as materials to create something called service revenue. Service revenue is the amount of money you have on the table to play with as controllable spend. Remove the amount that reflects your desired project margin, and consider removing an additional amount that reflects your estimated overhead costs (such as project manager hours and equipment). The remaining budget is what the project manager has available to execute the site build.

3. Redefine roles, and establish measurable goals.

It is one thing to deploy a new software platform and an entirely different matter to get the organization to adopt the new operating procedures.

“A software platform like Fieldclix absolutely changes the game,” Wagner said. “It changed our perspective on the project manager’s role and how they are measured.”

Wagner now looks for financial management experience when hiring project managers and has trained existing employees to operate as P&L managers.

“We’ve established a set of objectives and key results across the business, starting at the corporate level and cascading down through the regions to the project level,” Wagner said.

He can now track his revenue, cash flow, work in progress (WIP), accounts receivable and profitability at all levels in the company.

“Now that we can measure with accuracy, we’ve been able to establish a culture of accountability,” Wagner said. “Everyone knows what is expected and can see how they’re performing against their targets and peers. More importantly, we can now reward employees for meeting and exceeding their goals.”

Pro Tip #3: Let the system be the bad guy. In the absence of accurate data, the resolution of internal issues can pose a challenge due to differing points of view — such as how much time a crew spent onsite. By using data and reports accepted as accurate across the organization, a company reduces the potential for internal friction, resulting in more positive working relationships.

4. Track locally for global improvement.

While rolling out the new software platform and setting up his measurement program, Wagner realized there were no existing standards for project performance he could rely on.

“A lot of people fall into the trap of measuring teams against a national average or other external baselines,” Wagner said. “However, the reality is the time required to hang an antenna differs by customer, by region, by site type, and by project team.”

Because of this, Wagner created targets based on historical performance and set expectations for continuous improvement at the local level.

As a business owner, Wagner keeps an eye on corporate performance with the confidence that his remote teams are working to meet targets he has set across different layers in the organization.

Pro Tip #4: In addition to P&L, keep a close eye on your project WIP (work in progress), which can tell you how much revenue is expected to come in the door before completed work is invoiced, as well as the amount of committed costs you have for external vendors. Accounting systems do not often track these metrics, which limits visibility into your true cash position.

5. Keep raising the bar.

With his new operational and financial reporting system in place, Wagner now has the confidence to step out and grow into other markets. “I can confidently pursue new services and clients because I have the data to project what our performance is going to look like,” Wagner said. “Since we’ve implemented Fieldclix, we’ve already grown into two new markets.”

Wagner can now meet budgets on 70 to 80 percent of his projects and expects to continue to find opportunities to weed out inefficiencies and extend his profit margins from a 5 percent improvement to 10 percent and beyond.

Wagner said he strongly believes the investment in the software and associated operational changes brought his company a significant payoff.

“We have not only achieved an ROI financially regarding increased profits, but also culturally,” Wagner said. “Our team members are striving for individual improvement and being the best version of themselves. They welcome the visibility that Fieldclix provides because it allows them to show off when they win. And my team loves to win.”

Rob Tymchyshyn is cofounder and CEO of Fieldclix, a provider of project management software for remote construction. His email address is [email protected]. Visit www.fieldclix.com.

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Obtaining Value for Government Assets

Converting Wireless Infrastructure Yields Significant Capital for Government Owners

An ancient story, “Acres of Diamonds,” tells of a farmer who exhausted his net worth, scouring the globe for diamonds. Soon after creditors forced the farmer to sell his farm to cover his debts, the buyer discovered that the farm itself contained massive diamond deposits. Communications networks — wireless infrastructure — owned by municipal, county and state governments contain similar internal value.

The telecommunications industry is evolving for interpersonal communications, the provision of entertainment and information, and data-driven transportation and services, and rapidly transitioning from wireline, including wire and fiber, to wireless technology. A small set of companies rapidly is consolidating the ownership and management of this wireless infrastructure, including macro cell tower sites, fiber and microwave back haul, small cells and data centers. Because of their size and footprint, these companies have been able to build relationships quickly with major national and regional wireless customers, including broadband providers, broadcasters, utilities and first responders.

The size and coverage of their wireless infrastructure footprint is the key to their relationship with their revenue source — tenants. Consolidation of the realm of wireless infrastructure has passed its tipping point. Only so much infrastructure remains available. During the past eight to 10 years, these companies rapidly have been acquiring ownership of privately owned infrastructure, and the larger companies are even swallowing up the smaller companies. This is good for the owners of infrastructure because this feeding frenzy has driven values to an all-time high.

This is where the notion of diamonds comes into play. Government entities can sell or lease this government-owned, expensive wireless infrastructure to the private sector at record high values, providing municipalities and counties with significant capital to deploy as they see fit. By negotiating the proper terms and conditions in the sale agreement, government entities can continue to enjoy the same use of the infrastructure as before, while simultaneously eliminating the operating costs associated with it. Because of the timing of this transition from wireline to wireless technology, municipalities, counties and states can capitalize on the market frenzy by freeing up significant value from their resources and maintain their ability to use those assets for their unique needs.

Another unmined asset is available to local governments — municipal right-of-way. The FCC, in its September 2018 Order, established a safe harbor figure of $270 per small wireless facility per year for use of the right of way. Unbeknownst to many local governments, the FCC left the door open for municipalities to recover their reasonable and approximate costs for managing the right of way as 5G wireless communications network deployments are occurring, most often in large metropolitan areas. The ability of municipalities to go above the yearly $270 figure is premised on conducting a thorough, comprehensive and defensible cost study, which demonstrates that the $270 figure is an artificially low number. Although the FCC did not characterize that figure or, potentially, a higher number as rent for use of the right of way, it represents found money for municipalities because it helps to make them whole in terms of recouping the internal administrative costs and staff time devoted to overseeing 5G rollouts.

Tom Engel is a director at Strategic Tower Advisors. Tom Duchen is president of River Oaks Communications, and Bob Duchen is vice president of the company.

The core business at STA is to represent tower site sellers or buyers. Engel’s email address is [email protected].

River Oaks Communications is a telecommunications consultant that assists customers with smart city, telecommunications, broadband, wireless and commercial transactions. Visit www.rivoaks.com

Engel and the Duchens will be speaking at IWCE 2021 in Las Vegas on Sept. 28 at 4 p.m. IWCE has set aside an hour for the conference session, “Acres of Diamonds.” Click here for details.

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Safety

Court Orders FCC to Further Explain Cell Phone Radiation Guidelines

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit has ordered the FCC to provide a reasoned explanation for its determination that its guidelines adequately protect against harmful effects of exposure to radio-frequency radiation (RFR) unrelated to cancer. In issuing its order on Aug. 13, the court said that it found the FCC erred when in 2019 it issued an order that reaffirmed its 1996 RFR limits following an inquiry it initiated in 2013 to determine whether the limits adequately protected human health.

“We find the Commission’s order arbitrary and capricious in its failure to respond to record evidence that exposure to RF radiation at levels below the Commission’s current limits may cause negative health effects unrelated to cancer,” the court ruling reads.

Environmental Health Trust, a think tank that promotes a healthier environment through research, education and policy, sued the FCC about its 2019 order. It pointed to multiple studies and reports published after 1996 and that are in the administrative record. The studies and reports purport to show that RF radiation at levels below the Commission’s current limits causes negative health effects unrelated to cancer, such as reproductive problems and neurological problems that span from effects on memory to motor abilities.

“An agency’s decision not to initiate a rulemaking must have some reasoned basis, and an agency cannot simply ignore evidence suggesting that a major factual predicate of its position may no longer be accurate,” the ruling reads.

The court found that although the FCC relied on a conclusory statement from the Food and Drug Administration for some of the justification for not initiating a rulemaking to review the RFR limits, such a conclusory and unexplained statement is not the reasoned explanation required by the Administrative Procedure Act that details steps federal regulatory agencies must take. “While imitation may be the highest form of flattery, it does not meet even the low threshold of reasoned analysis required by the APA under the deferential standard of review that governs here,” the court wrote.” One agency’s unexplained adoption of an unreasoned analysis just compounds rather than vitiates the analytical void. Said another way, two wrongs do not make a right.”

The court further noted that the FCC failed to respond to approximately 200 comments on the record by people who experienced illness or injury from electromagnetic radiation sickness. “We are delighted that the court upheld the rule of law and found that the FCC must provide a reasoned record of review for the thousands of pages of scientific evidence submitted by Environmental Health Trust and many other expert authorities in this precedent-setting case,” said Devra Davis, Ph.D., president of Environmental Health Trust. “No agency is above the law. The American people are well-served.”

Jerome Paulson, MD, former American Academy of Pediatrics Environmental Health Council Chair and now Professor Emeritus of Pediatrics and Environmental and Occupational Health at George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences and Milken Institute School of Public Health, said that he was pleased that the court ruled “that the FCC ignored decades of studies about the potential health harms of cell phone radiation and must adequately review this material before making a decision about new regulations of cell phones. It is very important that the court ruled that the FCC must address the impacts of radiofrequency radiation on the health of children amassed since 1996.” The American Academy of Pediatrics’ submission to the FCC called for a review of safety limits to protect children and pregnant women.

The appeals court ruling states: “We grant the petitions in part and remand to the Commission. The Commission failed to provide a reasoned explanation for its determination that its guidelines adequately protect against the harmful effects of exposure to radiofrequency radiation unrelated to cancer.

“For the reasons given above, we grant the petitions in part and remand to the Commission to provide a reasoned explanation for its determination that its guidelines adequately protect against harmful effects of exposure to radiofrequency radiation unrelated to cancer. It must, in particular, (i) provide a reasoned explanation for its decision to retain its testing procedures for determining whether cell phones and other portable electronic devices comply with its guidelines, (ii) address the impacts of RF radiation on children, the health implications of long-term exposure to RF radiation, the ubiquity of wireless devices, and other technological developments that have occurred since the Commission last updated its guidelines, and (iii) address the impacts of RF radiation on the environment. To be clear, we take no position in the scientific debate regarding the health and environmental effects of RF radiation — we merely conclude that the Commission’s cursory analysis of material record evidence was insufficient as a matter of law.”

Resources
The court ruling
Environmental Health Trust statement
Facts About RF Energy

Don Bishop is executive editor and associate publisher of AGL Magazine.

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Market Research

Gartner Forecasts Worldwide 5G Network Infrastructure Revenue to Grow 39 Percent in 2021

By the end of 2024, 60 percent of communications service providers will commercialize 5G service covering Tier-1 cities.

Worldwide 5G network infrastructure revenue is on pace to grow 39 percent to $19.1 billion in 2021, up from $13.7 billion in 2020, according to the latest forecast by Gartner, a research and advisory company and a member of the S&P 500.

Communications service providers (CSPs) in mature markets accelerated 5G development in 2020 and 2021 with 5G representing 39 percent of wireless infrastructure revenue this year.

“The COVID-19 pandemic spiked demand for optimized and ultrafast broadband connectivity to support work-from-home and bandwidth-hungry applications, such as streaming video, online gaming and social media applications,” said Michael Porowski, senior principal research analyst at Gartner.

5G is the fastest growing segment in the wireless network infrastructure market (see Table 1). Of the segments that comprise wireless infrastructure in the forecast, the only significant opportunity for investment growth is in 5G, a statement from Garner reads. Investment in legacy wireless generations is rapidly deteriorating across all regions, and spending on non-5G small cells is poised to decline as CSPs move to 5G small cells, it said.

Table 1.Table 1. Wireless infrastructure revenue forecast, worldwide (millions of dollars).

Regionally, CSPs in North America are set to grow 5G revenue from $2.9 billion in 2020 to $4.3 billion in 2021, due, in part, to increased adoption of dynamic spectrum sharing and millimeter-wave base stations, according to Gartner. In Western Europe, CSPs will prioritize on licensing spectrum, modernizing mobile core infrastructure and navigating regulatory processes with 5G revenue expected to increase from $794 million in 2020 to $1.6 billion in 2021, the statement reads. Greater China is expected to maintain the No.1 global position in global 5G revenue, reaching $9.1 billion in 2021, up from $7.4 billion in 2020, it said.

5G Coverage in Tier-1 Cities Will Reach 60 Percent in 2024

Although 10 percent of CSPs in 2020 provided commercializable 5G services, which could achieve multiregional availability, Gartner predicts that this number will increase to 60 percent by 2024, which is a similar rate of adoption for LTE and 4G in the past.

“Business and customer demand is an influencing factor in this growth,” said Porowski. “As consumers return to the office, they will continue to upgrade or switch to gigabit fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) service as connectivity has become an essential remote work service. Users will also increasingly scrutinize CSPs for both office and remote work needs.”

This rapid shift in customer behavior is driving growth in the global passive optical network (PON) market as a preferred technology, according to Gartner.

“The 10-Gigabit-capable symmetric-PON (XGS-PON) is not a new technology, and with the price difference with other technologies narrowing, CSPs are willing to invest in XGS-PON to differentiate themselves in customer experience and network quality,” the statement reads. Gartner estimates that by 2025, 60 percent of Tier-1 CSPs will adopt XGS-PON technology at large-scale to deliver ultrafast broadband services to residential and business users, up from less than 30 percent in 2020.

 

Product Showcase

Software & SaaS Products

Alden One

Alden Systems

Alden One plugs you in. The Alden One platform is a shared database of assets and activities that provides clarity and control through business process automation. Alden ensures that our clients improve communication and work coordination—between internal departments and with external stakeholders—to streamline processes and speed up deployment. Alden One manages over 40 million assets for electric power utilities, communications companies, broadband providers, and their engineering and construction partners throughout the United States and Canada. Companies that choose to work together to help improve their communities choose Alden One.

www.aldensys.com

Site360

B+T Group

B+T Group uses its proprietary Site360 technology to help wireless customers shorten on-air time and save money throughout the entire process: from engineering to site acquisition to construction. Site360 uses photogrammetry and 3D imagery to provide the most accurate asset documentation and measurement for state-of-the-art site inspection. B+T Group’s experienced network of pilots operate unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) that follow automated flight plans to collect comprehensive data on an entire communications site in one visit. A 3D model of each tower is created, providing the site data engineers need to complete the services we offer.

www.btgrp.com
In This Issue  
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From The Editor

Wireless Versus Wireline: Winners and Losers

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Tunnels

Ensuring Safe, Reliable In-tunnel Wireless Solutions

We are two decades into the new millennium, and the wireless communication pioneered in th...
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Towers

Disguised Cell Towers Pose for Photographic Artist in Fauxliage

Click Here to Watch the Interview! The book Fauxliage by Annette LeMay Burke contains 60 c...
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Backhaul

High-quality Mobile Connectivity for Rural America

According to a 2019 report by Pew Research Center titled “Digital Gap Between Rural and No...
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5G

Closing the U.S. Digital Divide: Why We Should Think Small to Win Big

If the United States continues to experience an ever-widening digital divide between urban...
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Small Cells

Small Cell Providers Must Please Multiple Stakeholders

It is ideal for a manufacturer to make hundreds, if not thousands, of the same design, but...
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Towers

The Importance of Wireless and Increasing Connectivity

Dagan Kasavana, founder and CEO of Phoenix Tower International Image Provided Tower comp...
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UAV

Drones in Telecom: Tower Operations to Benefit From Standardizing Emerging Tech

Two leaders of a task group about unmanned aerial systems (UAS), also known as drones, inv...
 - The unique nature of wireless infrastructure construction — short-term projects, multiple cost drivers and crews moving in and out of different sites — adds to the challenge of tracking project costs.
Field Talk

5 Steps to Improve Your Wireless Construction Project Margins

Imagine a football game without a scoreboard. You turn on the TV, fans are cheering, a tou...
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Obtaining Value for Government Assets

Converting Wireless Infrastructure Yields Significant Capital for Government Owners

An ancient story, “Acres of Diamonds,” tells of a farmer who exhausted his net worth, scou...
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Safety

Court Orders FCC to Further Explain Cell Phone Radiation Guidelines

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit has ordered the FCC to prov...
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Market Research

Gartner Forecasts Worldwide 5G Network Infrastructure Revenue to Grow 39 Percent in 2021

Worldwide 5G network infrastructure revenue is on pace to grow 39 percent to $19.1 billion...