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August 2021

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In This Issue

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From The Editor

Public Safety DAS: A Means to a Most Worthy End

Wireless communications, after all, is a means to an end. Hardly anyone wants to have wire...
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Public Safety Communications

ERRCS Construction by Leaf Communications Brings Signals Inside

A public safety or first responder distributed antenna system (DAS) ensures police officer...
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Site Lighting

Communication Towers Versus Migratory Birds

There is a win-win opportunity for both communication tower owners and birds, and it is as...
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AGL Connections

Arcadia Towers Group Eyes Long-term Growth with SDC Capital Partners

Click to Watch the Video Version of this Article With new funding, Arcadia Towers Group ha...
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AGL Connections

How Arcadia Tower Group’s Four Strategic Variants Boost Real Estate Profitability With Wireless Infrastructure

Click to Watch the Video Version of this Article Four strategic variants — municipal and s...
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Task Management

Amid Surges in Demand for Broadband Connectivity, Supply Constraints Force Networks to Adjust

Like many communications services providers (CSPs), Mississippi-based C Spire is on an inf...
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Site Camouflage and Concealment

Steps for Retrofitting Macro Towers for C-Band 5G

Mid-band spectrum auctions are going to make existing macrocell wireless sites more desira...
 - The Joint Venture Silicon Valley study is available to download for free.
Small Cells

Study: Small Wireless Facilities Have no Economic Effect on Residential Real Estate

Anyone who works on wireless site deployment knows, even before the council or planning he...
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Antennas

5G MIMO Antennas Evolve with Network Expansion

With the conclusion of the FCC auction of 3.8 GHz C-band radio-frequency (RF) spectrum, de...
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Open RAN

Open RANs Appeal to Policymakers, Operators, OEMs

Today, monolithic vendors dominate as suppliers of radio access networks (RANs) that provi...
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Convergence

Convergence Leads to a Horizontal Tower Business

Fiber-optic network vendors, data center provisioners, telecommunications tower operators ...
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Indoor Networks

Business Grows for Indoor Networks; Countrywide 5G Upgrades Require Capital

A record number of new deployments in 2020 led accomplishments by ExteNet Systems, despite...
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From The Editor

Public Safety DAS: A Means to a Most Worthy End

Wireless communications, after all, is a means to an end. Hardly anyone wants to have wireless communications equipment, software or systems simply for the sake of having it. Hobbyists would be an exception. Except for those who enjoy tinkering with a thing to learn something or to have a sense of accomplishment — as do I, with Adobe software — people do not want wireless communications devices, they want the benefits that the devices bring them.

One of the most important benefits a wireless communications device gives someone is the ability to communicate almost instantly with first responders. In turn, wireless communications devices give first responders the ability to communicate among themselves, in service to those who need their help.

When first responders have to enter potentially or actually dangerous places and their wireless communications equipment cannot keep them in contact with each other or their commanders, the risk posed to them and to those they serve multiplies. First responders deserve all the help they can get, when it comes to extending and maintaining wireless communications where needed and when needed.

With building interiors, steps taken to require owners to equip their properties with public safety distributed antenna system (DAS) networks went a long way toward ensuring that first responders have adequate wireless communications when the radio signals from outside otherwise would not sufficiently penetrate inside. The public safety DAS is known as an Emergency Responder Radio Coverage System.

Public safety DAS, a form of wireless infrastructure, provides a means to a most worthy end.

A Behemoth in Progress

What will become of AT&T?

Known in the infrastructure business as a commercial wireless communications carrier, AT&T has been in the spotlight for all sorts of reasons. Its second-quarter financial results received a boost from its communications business segment’s promotional effort that must someday end.

The WarnerMedia segment performed well, but it is set to exit the company next year. The Latin America segment of AT&T’s business will exit next year, too.

Slimming down to focus on communications might make AT&T lean and mean, but its continuing burden of debt and legacy telephone communications services might temper its prospects.

AT&T: A behemoth in progress.

Don Bishop is executive editor and associate publisher.

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Public Safety Communications

ERRCS Construction by Leaf Communications Brings Signals Inside

Coordination with the architects other MEP trades and property owners helps to ensure all code and other requirements are met for public safety communications when a venue breaks ground for construction.

A public safety or first responder distributed antenna system (DAS) ensures police officers, firefighters and emergency medical service providers that radio signals from their agencies will reach the interiors of buildings, sustaining their wireless communications. By requiring building owners to comply with fire codes (NFPA 1221 and IFC 510), state governments and other areas having jurisdiction (AHJ) in turn require building owners to equip their properties with public safety DAS, known as an Emergency Responder Radio Coverage System (ERRCS), when the radio signals from outside otherwise would not sufficiently penetrate inside.

AGL Magazine interviewed Dan Leaf, president and CEO of Leaf Communications, on the subject of ERRCS. Leaf Communications provides building owners with turnkey ERRCS.

AGL Magazine: What is the problem that ERRCS solves?

Leaf: This is the 9/11 story. ERRCS Code was driven from the 9/11 attacks that identified an issue with signal indoors for the first time. It was evident that new construction and the means for wireless communication had a barrier. Because the signal didn't penetrate the building, the first responders could not communicate to their team within the building, communicate out to the engine on the streets, or communicate to dispatch at a time of need, in an emergency, or life-saving communications. Since then, the code has pushed for signal levels to meet a threshold in any building. Each state/AHJ adopts the level of restrictions, but in general, most buildings over 50,000 square feet need some sort of signal augmentation.

Aerial shot of a first responder radio tower being builtNew construction with communications in mind, and first responder systems that meet all code requirements.

AGL Magazine: How was that problem solved before ERRCS — or does only ERRCS solve the problem?

Leaf: ERRCS solves the problem that existed: no signal indoors (blocked by construction material), then no communication to first responders. Installation of an ERRCS bridges that gap to have consistent, reliable and high-penetration signal throughout the building to be able to communicate.

AGL Magazine: What variations of ERRCS are available?

Leaf: Although they are not really variations, there are various size needs. Some buildings may only need below-grade levels; some may need the entire building; some may not need anything added at all. Organic signal depends on several factors: proximity of the serving radio site to the building, size of the building, power of transmit power from the base station to the serving venue and line of site to the serving radio tower, among others. It takes very specific site RF surveys to understand the signal fully, to model the building to introduce the construction material, and then to determine where (if all, any, or none) signal is needed to meet code levels.

AGL Magazine: What kind of ERRCS does Leaf Communications recommend, and why?

Leaf: This is what separates us. We look at this differently. We take the client's perspective and understand what they truly need. Remember, this is not an amenity to the building for future tenants, guests, or residence— it purely supports private communication for police, fire and dispatch. This is only for first responders and their safety to be able to communicate toward the task at hand.

We recommend the system based on the need of the building. We often see a competitor just designing worse-case scenarios and building that system that encompasses the entire property. We take it a bit further in the relationship with our clients. We get onsite, determine where it needs to be augmented, and design and deploy a system with a guarantee. More than 90 percent of our projects only need a portion of the building — not the entire property — to meet code and obtain that certificate of occupancy or annual compliance report.

AGL Magazine: What steps does Leaf Communications take to determine how much signal enhancement is needed to meet the requirement?

Leaf: We are very much at the forefront of projects and any new construction. We usually are working with our clients on 3- to 5-year build plans. We are at the development side of projects to help facilitate and coordinate the need for this scope (RF survey, modeling and RF planning). We coordinate with the architects; other mechanical, electrical and plumbing (MEP) trades; and the property owner to ensure all code requirements are met, planned and expected when the venue finally breaks ground for construction.

Close up shot of a person drafting communications topologyLeaf Communications can engineer, design and test a complete communications topology that meets or exceeds NFPA 72, IFC or any other state-adopted codes.

Without this long lead time of planning, the venue/property owner is setting themselves up for hidden costs that are overlooked until much further along in construction. We help avoid these misses with our clients based on our processes with each project. This has been the key reason why we have our growth and repeat clients year over year.

AGL Magazine: What products does Leaf Communications use in ERRCS? Which, if any, of those does Leaf Communications manufacture?

Leaf: We have strategic alliances with specific OEMs that we have chosen to partner with. We look at the partnership as a two-way street, ensuring we are both successful and maintain that key reputation. We represent our clients, and we are very strategic with the products we use based on several needs. Example: AHJ — with certain requirements that only a few OEMs have, customer service and the ability to pivot quickly with us, since this is such an ever-changing and moving target.

AGL Magazine: How is the ERRCS evaluated to confirm proper functioning?

Leaf: The AHJs have done a really good job of educating themselves on the code, on the requirements, and adopted based on their level of authority. The relationships we've developed with so many AHJs allow us to be in front of the requirements, ensuring the proper deployment and functionality of the systems.

AGL Magazine: What makes a difference in having Leaf Communications handle an ERRCS project?

Leaf: Leaf Communications has the experience. Our team has been deploying these systems when they were first required on the western side of Washington state in the early 2000s. This has allowed us to grow, mature and gain experience as the newly created codes were enforced, written, changed and tested. We bring that experience to the property. In turn, this allows Leaf to be the subject matter experts, gives our clients the confidence that we deliver the system and accepted first time, and provides a seamless experience that is so critical to getting that building accepted and the ability to move in tenants and begin generate revenue.

AGL Magazine: What follow-up does Leaf Communications provide after acceptance of the ERRCS?

Leaf: We have a large portfolio of maintenance agreements. We ensure that these are tested annually and filed with the correct AHJs to prove functionality and meeting and adhering to the code. It is very critical to have this in place each year, as it will allow you to plan and budget for any upcoming changes.

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Site Lighting

Communication Towers Versus Migratory Birds

Tower owners can take measures to reduce bird collisions with towers and make the world a safer place for birds.

There is a win-win opportunity for both communication tower owners and birds, and it is as simple as switching to flashing lights on towers. Each year, nearly 7 million birds die because of nighttime collisions with communication towers. Eliminating non-flashing lights on towers could reduce migratory bird collisions by as much as 70 percent while simultaneously reducing energy costs for tower owners.

What Needs to Be Done?

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) now supports extinguishing side-marker (L-810) lights on towers taller than 350 feet above ground level (AGL) and reprogramming non-flashing side-markers on towers between 150 feet and 350 feet AGL.

You can save maintenance and energy costs by not using L-810 lights on towers taller than 350 feet AGL and by using programmable LED lighting systems on towers between 150 feet and 350 feet tall.

Towers Taller Than 350 Feet AGL

We have experienced staff eager to help. Just email or call Joelle Gehring.

First, request a determination from the FAA, which typically takes two to three weeks for approval. File a Marking and Lighting study with the FAA, requesting to extinguish non-flashing, side-marker lights. Complete Form 7460-1, Notice of Proposed Construction or Alteration. Under Structure Type, enter: “Deviation from Red Obstruction Light Standards.” When complete, send the form to your FAA contact. Contact Joelle Gehring if you encounter problems with this process, or if the FAA does not respond within three weeks.

Second, update the FCC. Once the FAA approves your request and assigns a new FAA Study Number, update your tower FCC registration using the Antenna Registration System (ASR). Select “MD – Modification.” The FCC typically approves applications and modifies registrations within 24 hours.

Third, extinguish non-flashing tower lights. This final and typically easy step does not require tower climbing and results in immediate cost savings.

Towers Between 150 Feet and 350 Feet Tall

An LED light system may be necessary to reprogram non-flashing lights on towers between 150 feet and 350 feet tall to flash, but ultimately LED systems reduce tower lighting costs. We have experienced staff eager to help with reprogramming tower side-markers (L-810) from non-flashing to flashing. Email or call Joelle Gehring.

First, request a determination from the FAA, which typically takes two to three weeks for approval. If the existing FAA determination was issued under advisory circular 70/7460-1L before Sept. 28, 2016, you can skip the first and second steps. Complete Form 7460-1, Notice of Proposed Construction or Alteration. Under Structure Type, enter: “Deviation from Red Obstruction Light Standards.” When complete, send the form to your FAA contact. Contact Joelle Gehring if you encounter problems with this process, or if the FAA does not respond within three weeks.

Second, update the FCC. Once the FAA approves your request and assigns a new FAA Study Number, update your tower FCC registration using the Antenna Registration System (ASR). Select “MD – Modification.” The FCC usually approves applications and modifies registrations within 24 hours.

Third, reprogram non-flashing tower lights to flash. LED lighting systems are easily reprogrammed, low maintenance, and use less energy than incandescent lights. Typically, light manufacturers do not recommend reprogramming incandescent lighting systems.

Tower owners are saving thousands of birds and thousands of dollars with reduced energy and maintenance costs. Your efforts are worth the reward.

Bird Endangerment

How do communication towers endanger migratory birds? Communication towers are important for our cell phones, radios, televisions and public safety. The United State has more than 160,000 registered communication towers taller than 200 feet AGL, and more towers are built every year.

Approximately 6.6 million migratory birds collide with communication towers in the United States every year. Most of the birds that collide with towers are night migrating songbirds on their journeys to and from warmer climates for the winter. Scientists documented 54 Bird species of Conservation Concern as tower fatalities. Given that bird populations have decreased by 3 billion birds since 1970, we need to reduce bird losses in as many ways as possible. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s Migratory Bird Program first focused on bird collisions with towers after 5,000 to 10,000 Lapland Longspurs and other songbird species died at three towers in western Kansas in 1998.

Since then, we have collaborated with bird biologists, the tower industry, and key federal agencies, including the FCC and the FAA. As a team, we developed and implemented actions that help avoid and minimize effects on migratory birds from towers and other tall tower-like structures.

Reasons for Bird Collisions

Why do birds collide with communication towers? We do not know why birds collide with towers; however, research determined that the risk to birds increases when towers are lighted with non-flashing lights at night, when they have guy wires for support and when they are taller than 350 feet. The risk also increases with towers located in areas with inclement weather and in areas with high densities of migrating birds flying nearby. It increases with towers located along ridgelines, which brings migrating birds closer to tall towers.

Tower lights either attract or disorient night-migrating songbirds, especially during overcast, foggy or other low-visibility conditions. Birds congregate in larger numbers at towers with non-flashing lights compared with towers with only flashing lights. Birds may also congregate at flashing lights during the on phase but disperse during the off phase. Lights on associated buildings and parking lots also can attract birds to the tower area and increase their risk of collision.

Reducing Collision Risk

Here are some ways to reduce the risk of bird collisions with towers.

Extinguishing or reprogramming non-flashing lights is the best way to reduce bird collisions with towers. Tower owners can save money while reducing bird collisions by as much as 70 percent. You can make the world safer for birds by connecting with tower owners using the American Bird Conservancy’s resources. The Communication Tower Lighting Fact Sheet provides information about the new lighting standards.

Since December 2015, when the FAA released a revised Advisory Circular, new tower construction includes bird-friendly lighting, and owners of existing towers are encouraged to reduce lighting and operating costs by updating to the new Advisory Circular. We work closely with the FCC and the FAA to ensure that lighting and communication tower development and maintenance practices continue to work toward avoiding and minimizing effects on migratory birds. Tower owners can use the FCC's Opportunities to Reduce Bird Collisions with Communications Towers While Reducing Tower Lighting Costs, which provides guidance on applying the new lighting standards, and reducing construction and maintenance costs.

Tower-related bird fatalities also could be reduced during pre-construction through tower maintenance phases by using the Recommended Best Practices for Communication Tower Design, Siting, Construction, Operation, Maintenance, and Decommissioning.

We all have opportunities to reduce collisions with towers and make the world a safer place for birds. For more information about measures and guidance for avoiding and minimizing impacts to migratory birds, please visit the Conservation Measures and Guidance Documents webpages.

Article source: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

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AGL Connections

Arcadia Towers Group Eyes Long-term Growth with SDC Capital Partners

Part 1 — A $50 million commitment from SDC Capital Partners funds the startup of Arcadia Towers Group with a national scope.

Click to Watch the Video Version of this Article

With new funding, Arcadia Towers Group has a long-term capital commitment that allows it to focus on the business, instead of having to continually monetize assets, raise capital and take an off-and-on approach to tower ownership, according to Sam Johnston, the company’s president and CEO. He said traditional private equity financing typically has a fund life of about five years.

Sam Johnston headshotSam Johnston, president and CEO of Arcadia Towers Group

“The customer buildout timeframes in this business are typically not very linear,” Johnston said, commenting about the way antenna space leasing flows. “We see the growth come in peaks and valleys, and sometimes the carrier builds are over the course of a two- or three-year time period. Coming from where I did as a regional developer, it can be a challenge. You build up assets. You wait for collocations. You get to that five-year place fairly quickly.”

Arcadia has previously has built, bought and then sold towers- more than once. When the last iteration of Arcadia ended with a sale of the assets, Johnston said, the question was: What did Arcadia want to create next?

“We started thinking about it about a year ago and had preliminary discussions with SDC Capital Partners,” Johnston said. “We developed a 10-year strategic plan based on having a long-term capital commitment, a national scope, and a lower cost of capital. That’s going to allow us to scale our business and to work with our customers without having to go through capital-raising activity on a continuous basis.”

On June 29, Arcadia disclosed that SDC had committed as much as $50 million of equity capital to support Arcadia’s growth.

“SDC is a great partner for us,” Johnston said. “$50 million was a number that whetted their appetite. SDC raised $750 million in its second fund, has more than a billion dollars in assets under management, and is growing. We see a pathway for us to go even beyond the initial $50 million investment, whether it is through acquisitions or through continuing to build and grow our tower portfolio organically.”

Arcadia saw SDC as a potential partner, Johnston said, because of its solid record of accomplishment, not only on the investment side but also on the operations side of the digital infrastructure space. He said SDC has investments in fiber-optic networks, a storied history and investments in the data center business, and an investment in a wireless and fiber construction company. “They understand not just our investment needs, but also the operations side of the infrastructure business, which is unique to their position,” he said.

“We were looking for a strong balance sheet and a long-term commitment so we could continue to service our carrier-customers in the tower industry,” Johnston said. “That was important to us in being able to grow upon that initial $50 million commitment. When we pitched them on our four strategic variants, they were aligned. It all matched up nicely. In us, they saw an opportunity to have a tower platform company that they could invest in with confidence and continue to build and grow.”

The four strategic variants to which Johnston referred are municipal and school district partnerships, acquisitions of existing tower assets, carrier build-to-suit services and rooftop management — variants that offer opportunities for property owners to monetize underutilized real estate assets. Arcadia applies its business expertise to these strategic variants in order to provide its carrier customers attractive locations for their 5G wireless network sites. Although Arcadia does not compete with other tower companies on a site-by-site basis, Johnston said, the business nevertheless is competitive.

“From our perspective, we see a lot of consolidation in the middle market,” he said. “We see the larger companies becoming larger. As they grow, it becomes a struggle for them to maintain the service levels important to customers. We are focused on putting the right platform in place to provide the customer service, the workflow management, and the asset management pieces — having all those components will allow us to scale while maintaining that smaller, regional developer flavor. It’s a tough task, but that’s where we will differentiate ourselves.”

Johnston said that Arcadia has a solid team.

“Scott Billups, a cofounder and our chief financial officer, brings with him a background in finance at the CFO level in Fortune 500 companies,” he said. “He’s also worked within the private equity space as a CFO, so he understands that aspect of the business as well. He brings to Arcadia the skill set needed to grow our platform.”

Another cofounder, John Rolander, serves as Arcadia’s chief development officer. “Rolander has been in the municipal bond space for a number of years,” Johnston said. “We’re approaching that business in a different way than we have in the past. He understands the language of the school boards, the treasurers, and municipal advisors.”

Johnston said Arcadia Towers Group considers itself what he called a mature startup, because although previous versions of Arcadia had been in the tower business before, the new Arcadia Towers Group with investment from SDC Capital Partners is starting out from scratch.

“We’re excited to get moving and getting everything set up, and seeing what we can do,” Johnston said.

Don Bishop is executive editor and associate publisher.
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Tower of the Month

Site Name: Cummings Park East T

Site Owner: American Tower

Height: 179 feet

Location: Huntsville, Alabama

Year Constructed: 1999

Photography by Don Bishop

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AGL Connections

How Arcadia Tower Group’s Four Strategic Variants Boost Real Estate Profitability With Wireless Infrastructure

Part 2 — Property owners can use wireless facilities placements to capitalize on underused real estate assets and generate additional income.

Click to Watch the Video Version of this Article

Four strategic variants — municipal and school district partnerships, acquisitions of existing tower assets, carrier build-to-suit services and rooftop management — offer opportunities for property owners to generate additional income from underused real estate assets. Arcadia Towers Group applies its business expertise to capitalize on these variants and provide attractive locations for 5G wireless sites.

“We help our wireless communications carrier-customers bring their networks closer to where their customers are,” said Arcadia’s president and CEO, Sam Johnston, in an interview with AGL Magazine.

Municipalities and School Districts

“We are seeing more interest now from municipalities, not just from the monetization side — it’s great to get to receive monthly income; no one complains about that, typically — but also from the public safety side, particularly in schools, with active shooter and other extreme emergency situations which strain network coverage” Johnston said. “That is becoming a top-of-mind issue for schools.”

According to Johnston, schools also have a technology need. For example, he said, students often use multiple wireless devices.

“They’re coming in with laptops,” Johnston said. “They’re coming in with cell phones. Often, they have tablets that schools issue, as well. Thus, schools have bandwidth and coverage concerns, and they are interested in making sure that they have the bandwidth available to be able to meet their needs.”

Tower Acquisitions

When it comes to acquiring tower assets, Johnston said that Arcadia’s interest is not limited by a geographic boundary, and the company has an interest in acquiring towers in urban, suburban and rural areas.

“There are business cases across all geographic areas,” he said. There’s going to be a huge rural play, along with the urban and suburban growth that people understand more readily.”

Johnston described the marketplace for towers as frothy and competitive, saying that tower owners understand where valuations are.

“As a person who has a background as a regional developer, I understand the issues and challenges facing those tower owners,” Johnston said.

According to Johnston, confidentiality is a high priority with many owners considering selling their towers. “That’s often one of the top issues for them,” he said. “Also, they want expediency in a transaction, so they want someone who’s able to close a transaction quickly.”

A reason confidentiality might be important to a seller is because the timing might not be right for selling the towers. “They’re starting to think about it,” Johnston said. “They want to understand where they might fit in the current valuation scheme, and how selling at such high valuations today might allow them to realize better long-term returns versus holding out for incremental lease-up.

“We know a lot of regional developers are waiting to see what materializes with Dish Network and how to monetize that opportunity,” Johnston said. Dish Network is building the United States’ fourth national wireless network and has a need to collocate on existing tower assets. “Sellers don’t necessarily want to put up a shingle that says, ‘Hey, I’m for sale.’ But they’re interested in finding out their value, learning what the process is going to look like and understanding how they can get there.

“Another important point for sellers is that — even if they’re selling a smaller portfolio of, say, one-to-five sites — they are going to receive senior management involvement and decision-making in the sale process,” Johnston said, speaking of advantages sellers have in dealing with Arcadia. “They want to feel like they’re getting the attention that they need in the process.”

Arcadia is lucky to be in a position to be patient about tower transactions, Johnston said, because sellers want partners who are ready when they are. “A sale might happen today, or it could be in a year from now,” he said.

“We’ve seen developers that want to take advantage of the market timing, with multiples that are all-time highs,” he said. The word multiple refers to a way of representing the price for a tower as a multiple of cash flow. “Developers ask how they can participate in that opportunity. They ask how they can get ahead of their preferred return hurdles they have with their current financing arrangements — which we see a lot of. At heart, I am a regional tower developer too. I understand where they’re coming from.”

Build-to-Suit

As for tower build-to-suit activity for the coming year, Johnston said that it appears as though the carriers are focused in the near-term on the deployment of recently acquired mid-band radio-frequency spectrum needed for their 5G networks at existing sites. “That seems to be top of mind,” he said, “and in the case of Dish, a de novo network build-out. As a result, we see a lot of collocation activity on existing assets, versus other times when site expansion might have been top of mind for carriers. That’s going to skew opportunities toward collocation activity on existing assets for the near-term. However, once that portion of the network is overlaid, the densification that’s needed for 5G is going to drive new site builds from that point on.”

Rooftop Management

Commercial real estate owners understand the challenges associated with tenant leasing and build out, Johnston said, activity that is similar to the wireless infrastructure business. “They’re leasing space, and they’re building out office interiors and commercial properties,” he said. “Leasing and build-out issues are compounded with wireless, because it’s an area that they typically don’t understand, as they’re focused on their core business.”

Fortunately, for companies such as Arcadia that manage rooftops as antenna sites, commercial property owners have always seen a value in tenant and landlord representation, Johnston said. He said that Arcadia is in the tenant and landlord representation business.

“A lot of commercial property owners don’t rep their own property,” Johnston said. “They rely on tenant reps that bring customers and leasing agents to handle leasing. We just happen to offer those services on the wireless side. We give them another tool, circling back to the initial common thread among our four strategic variants, which is that we help them monetize underutilized real estate assets. They recognize that wireless-related companies such as Arcadia are experts at doing just that.”

Asked what has given him the most satisfaction from being in the wireless infrastructure business, Johnston said it has been the friends he has made over the past 25 years.

“We have some great people in this industry, and those whom we might have called competitors are folks who we get along with tremendously and share thoughts and ideas on how we can better ourselves as an industry,” Johnston said. “I would say, first and foremost, being able to have those personal relationships with carrier-customers, landowners and other asset owners within the industry has been really gratifying for me.”

Don Bishop is executive editor and associate publisher.
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Task Management

Amid Surges in Demand for Broadband Connectivity, Supply Constraints Force Networks to Adjust

With material and labor shortages creating supply issues, digital construction technology is providing a critical lifeline.

Like many communications services providers (CSPs), Mississippi-based C Spire is on an infrastructure blitz — part of the $1 billion Fiber Fast initiative in which the company will roll out extensive 5G fiber backhaul and all-fiber Gigabit broadband services to more than 200,000 homes across Alabama and Mississippi.

Yet for all the enthusiasm about its services, C Spire is working to execute its rollout in the midst of a surge in network rollouts that pits it against equally hungry rivals vying for a finite pool of materials and skilled labor.

Sourcing these resources has become harder than ever. Global materials shortages in the wake of COVID-driven factory shutdowns have created a scarcity of components needed for the delivery of today’s fiber networks.

Many suppliers are working with 60-week-plus estimated lead times for materials and supplies, throwing CSPs’ plans — particularly those without substantial buying power — into chaos and threatening a range of medium-term complications if they can’t figure out how to be agile in their delivery to compensate for unpredictability.

Lack of Skilled Labor Is a Handbrake for Expansion Plans

Despite surging demand for networks, recent U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics figures suggest that the ranks of the country’s 215,700 telecommunications equipment installers will actually decline in coming years. The number of fiber telecommunications and electrical line installers is expected to flatline over the same period.

Because many CSPs don’t have internal construction capability, more than 45 percent of fiber deployment and management operations are being outsourced to contractors.[1] This can deliver results, but mitigation of commercial and delivery risk remains a big issue, particularly in a constrained market with heavy competition for construction workforces. The ability to attract and retain quality contractors is just another consideration.

Resource issues have become key blockers in the success of CSPs’ broadband and 5G and network strategies. For example, Mississippi and Alabama — C Spire’s native markets — had fewer than 1,640 telecommunications installers statewide last month. Maintaining the cadence of its rollout hinges on the network’s ability to engage enough skilled staff and to source enough materials to keep the project on track for the duration.

Investment Is no Longer the Primary Barrier

The shortage of resources has presented a Catch-22 for networks keen to accelerate planning and deployment to take advantage of a surge in broadband network funding , which includes near-term investment of $242 billion in federal funding and grant programs and $6.8 billion in state funding.

Yet this investment is tied to strict timelines and delivery milestones. Additionally, while network operators may be able to win public funding by outlining an ideal buildout scenario, competition and unpredictable supplies can easily throw those timelines out, resulting in heavy penalties caused by missed deadlines.

For networks with no internal construction capability, the decision to invest in and train hundreds of new workers is no small order and often is not a viable option. Instead, a growing number of networks are turning to new automation and geospatial technologies that allow them to make much better use of the resources they do have, and to respond far more effectively when supply issues arise.

A technology-enabled approach unlocks a reduction in project and administrative overhead by automating construction, higher-quality inspections and change management, and their respective approvals via a single version of construction truth.

A number of CSPs have already seen dramatic reductions, up to 75 percent, in their resource requirements after adopting Render Networks’ geospatial network construction technology, including Craighead Electric Cooperative Corporation (CECC) fiber broadband project.

By reducing manual processes and mandating approaches that increase visibility and consistency — and, ultimately, margins — CECC was able to improve contractor retention across the multiyear deployment and reduce production timelines by more than half.

“Once the construction started, the rich design and field data enabled us to construct really efficiently,” COO Jeremiah Sloan said, noting that CECC had been able to deploy its outside plant 84 percent faster than it anticipated during network planning in 2018.

“We attribute this wholly to Render,” Sloan said. “It just makes the design very constructable. I’ve managed a similar process before,” he added, “and stumbled on the transition from what our engineers design to capturing as-built records centrally without needing to manually reconcile the data. “We have saved a lot of money by eliminating the number of people needed to manage a project this size from 4 to 1,” Sloan said.

Location, Location, Location

The location-based motifs of digital construction management technology mean that every construction item — from contractor allocation to bills of materials and bills of quantities — is mapped to an optimal build sequence that is laid out in detail before the shovel hits the dirt.

By transforming the network design into a digital scope of construction requirements, visible on a map-based interface, network teams can access a real-time view of the entire rollout to track actual versus planned resources and identify issues as they emerge. Construction tasks can be rescheduled dynamically as resource availability changes, ensuring that work is allocated to crews with the right skill sets or who have proven to operate more efficiently.

Why Build Flexibility and Prioritization Matters

Network leaders increasingly need to prioritize build areas based on census block and location-based requirements — in the case of most federal or state funding programs — or the fastest path to revenue generation. By preparing the build in extensive detail prior to construction, operators can plan for material and resource requirements, particularly when funding has delivery expectations linked to service areas, available resources need to be allocated here first.

Flexibility in your build strategy and technology adoption to enable prioritization is incredibly important and is an enabler in the face of exploding competition, for operators to overcome supply interruptions and permit delays and to accommodate changes in stakeholder priorities.

Ultimately, many of the forces shaping the fiber deployment landscape are out of your hands, but in an era of continuing large-scale fiber investment, the solution is to focus on what you can control. By tapping the extensive task management and project visibility capabilities of a network construction platform, like Render, you can ensure not only that your rollout makes the most of scarce resources, but that you can react to rapidly changing circumstances to build networks as efficiently as possible no matter how demand or supply change over time.

Footnotes

1.“Little Data: The Key to Solving a $20 Billion Problem?”

Sam Pratt is CEO of Render Networks.

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Site Camouflage and Concealment

Steps for Retrofitting Macro Towers for C-Band 5G

Retrofitting macro sites for C-band 5G is considered the quickest path to rolling out high levels of service to wireless customers.

Mid-band spectrum auctions are going to make existing macrocell wireless sites more desirable for 5G radios and services. For areas outside dense urban cores, carriers and tower companies can bypass many of the obstacles and costs involved in deploying large numbers of small cells across a geographic area. Yet, there are specific concerns around size, strength, thermal performance and concealment of the macrocell site that must be overcome. Expert engineering services can ensure suitability of macro sites and help achieve cost and time efficiencies of retrofitting an existing installation.

Mid-band Spectrum Will Accelerate 5G Deployment

To date, many 5G deployments have used high-band millimeter-wave (mmWave) spectrum (above 6GHz) that enables ultra-high-speed, gigabit-plus wireless connectivity, but that high-frequency bandwidth only works over very short connections. Other early 5G rollouts have used lower bands (below 2.5GHz) that offer wider coverage, but noticeably less bandwidth that does not meet the ultimate potential for 5G services (see Figure 1).

Three frequency bands for 5G wireless communications deploymentFigure 1. Three frequency bands for 5G wireless communications deployment.

The FCC has been working to make available mid-band spectrum in the 3-GHz to 4.5-GHz frequency range that offers an ideal balance of high speeds with solid signal propagation to help network operators expand 5G coverage. C-Band comprises a portion of this frequency range, and the FCC has auctioned 280 megahertz of C-Band spectrum, with the end result being 5,684 licenses awarded that are available for 5G. FCC Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel is quoted as saying, “Now we have to work fast to put this spectrum to use in service of the American people.”

Macro Tower Sites Come Into Play

This new “5G land rush” has already begun and will accelerate 5G deployment in the coming years. Initial mmWave deployments focused on densely populated urban areas such as downtown plazas and areas surrounding convention centers, arenas, stadiums and airports where there is the potential for the most demand, and therefore most revenue, from high bandwidth 5G services. Low-band services are often focused in other urban areas to quickly expand 5G connections across the most people, even though low-band 5G does not offer a noticeable improvement over a good 4G LTE connection.

A macro cell site concealed within a water towerPhoto 1. A macro cell site concealed within a water tower can provide 5G service across a non-urban location.

C-band 5G service is the pathway to bringing more customers a distinguishable improvement of 4G LTE across urban, suburban and — with a range of several miles — rural areas.

These areas are already served by 4G LTE delivered by macro tower sites. These sites should be targets for C-Band 5G radios (see Photo 1).

There are several reasons why existing macro sites can be a cost-effective and fast way to expand 5G service coverage.

  • They have already been ideally sited to provide coverage for a specific population, so no new site analysis is required.
  • Carriers and tower companies already own or lease many of these sites, so they may not need to enter into new leasing agreements. Instead, they may just need permission to upgrade the site.
  • Similarly, electrical service and backhaul is already in place, although both may need to be upgraded for more radios and bandwidth.
  • With good mechanical design, an upgrade to an existing site may not require aesthetic review by the local municipality, a process that can slow down the installation of 5G small cell sites.

With all these advantages, carriers and tower companies need to be aware that adding equipment to an existing macro site requires considering and meeting important engineering challenges.

Evaluate Physical Size, Mechanical Strength and Thermal Properties

In any site, adding new services typically involves installing new radios, but not removing existing ones. Wireless carriers will layer new services on top of existing ones (e.g., 5G on the same location as 4G LTE) to continue to service customers while offering them higher 5G speeds.

The operator of the macro site must plan to add 5G radios to existing 4G radios and support electronics. The 5G radios for will have different formats to support “multi-element” antenna arrays that could grow larger to implement advanced beamforming and other techniques for high-bandwidth. In short, close cooperation with wireless carriers is required to understand what radio equipment they plan to use, and in what orientation, to determine needed changes to any physical enclosure.

Likewise, the frame that supports the radios, associated electronics and enclosure walls needs to be evaluated and possibly upgraded to reliably support the entire assembly.

In addition to physical size, more radios in a given space can increase the challenge of controlling temperature. Not only do the new radios generate heat, but their configuration can have an effect on air flow. Thermal analysis is recommended for the new assembly. Where passive cooling was once sufficient, active cooling may be needed to ensure the larger number of radios stay within safe operating temperatures.

Check Concealment Materials For 5G Compatibility

Perhaps the most challenging part of upgrading a macro tower to C-Band 5G is the material that makes the enclosure. When most macro sites were built, little consideration was needed for the impact of materials on signals. Sub-Ghz signals can propagate through most concealment materials (particularly fiberglass) already used in macro cell sites. In fact, some installers may have used commodity fiberglass panels that are not rated for use in wireless sites at all.

The situation is much different for C-band and mmWave 5G signals. Existing frame and/or concealment materials are likely to impact and impede the propagation of GHz-level signals.

While some macro towers do not conceal the radios, the need for concealment may grow as the macro site adds more radios, supporting cabling and electronics.

When considering adding C-band 5G to existing macro sites, therefore, carriers and tower companies should consider retrofitting the site with materials tested for GHz-level and mmWave signals. Raycap’s InvisiWave (see Photo 2), for example, is the result of extensive research and testing on signals ranging from 700 MHz, through the C-band and all the way up the mmWave spectrum to 100 GHz. Not only is it a solution for upgrading macro sites for C-band, it ensures performance and futureproofs for upgrades down the line.

Rooftop macro cell site concealed by fake brick coveringsPhoto 2. Rooftop macro cell sites are potentially good candidates for 5G radios. A macro cell site concealed in a steeplePhoto 3. Macro cell sites concealed in steeples may be retrofitted to accommodate C-band 5G.

Consult With Experts in 4

Retrofitting macro sites for C-band 5G is considered the quickest path to rolling out high levels of service to wireless customers. But it requires proper application of electrical, mechanical and thermal engineering expertise to make sure the retrofit is successful now and going forward. Raycap has experience working with tier-1 carriers and top tower companies to design, engineer and manufacture enclosures and hardware to satisfy the constraints of wireless sites across the United States. With expert design and engineering consulting, carriers and tower companies can deploy mid-band 5G services more quickly and efficiently by retrofitting existing macro sites (see Photo 3).

Source: Raycap

 - The Joint Venture Silicon Valley study is available to download for free.
The Joint Venture Silicon Valley study is available to download for free.
Small Cells

Study: Small Wireless Facilities Have no Economic Effect on Residential Real Estate

A new Joint Venture Silicon Valley study of 1,734 small cell sites in California debunks myths about adverse economic effects small wireless facilities have on residential real estate.

Anyone who works on wireless site deployment knows, even before the council or planning hearings start, what objections they will hear. Small groups of concerned residents will assert that electromagnetic fields (EMFs) cause a variety of ailments ranging from cancer to diabetes to tinnitus, and that the government’s electromagnetic safety guidelines do not account for new technologies. They will argue that wireless equipment is unsightly. Additionally, they will assert that wireless sites built near homes can cause a reduction in property values.

A Shift in Strategy

In the United States, per settled law, the Federal Communications Commission sets the standard for electromagnetic field safety. The FCC derives its safety limits from a variety of sources, including the Food and Drug Administration (a branch of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services), the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) C95.1 standard and the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) RF EMF Guidelines. In 2019, both the IEEE and ICNIRP issued updates, and the FCC subsequently closed a docket — open for more than six years to voluminous public comment — and reaffirmed its EMF safety guidance.

Settled law regarding EMF safety clearly states: Provided a wireless site emits RF energy within FCC-defined safety limits, local governments cannot deny applications for wireless facilities based on EMF concerns — they must defer to the FCC’s safety standard. Thus, in recent years, opposition groups and their familiars in the legal community, seeking to block or limit cellular deployments and knowing they cannot prevail on health-related arguments, have shifted strategies toward sowing concerns about aesthetics and property devaluations.

Do Wireless Sites Affect Residential Property Valuations?

The belief that wireless sites adversely affect residential property valuations arose over time, but a specific assertion of devaluation appears to have started with an article (The Appraisal Journal, Summer 2005) authored by Sandy Bond, Ph.D., and Ko-Kang Wang, where Bond and Wang claimed that wireless towers could result in as much as a 20 percent reduction in valuation. Other investigators have claimed similar adverse effects: Affuso et al. (2017); the National Institute for Science, Law and Public Policy (2014); and Kramer (2016). Notably, all of these investigators used a survey methodology to collect evidence. In practice, surveys — especially those with small sample sizes — are poor methodologies because they are subject to respondent bias, participation bias, sampling bias and a host of other factors.

Surveys may inform economic analysis, but should not be used to infer causation. There are numerous studies on effects on real estate valuation that used objective and reproducible methods: Joint Venture Silicon Valley (2012); Valbridge (2018); Maennig (2010); and others. However, these previous studies focused on large towers and monopoles (i.e., macro sites) sited on hilltops and buildings, rather than small cells on wooden poles and streetlights near residences. None of the objective studies found economically significant effects — positive or negative — on property valuations. Nevertheless, some real estate agents have an extant belief that wireless sites near residences can cause property devaluations — a belief on which opposition groups seek to capitalize.

Although a devaluation of residential real estate from proximal wireless sites does not show up in objective, evidence-based studies, nevertheless the possibility often is raised as an objection during planning commission, city council, county board and permit appeal hearings. This is an effective strategy, because the single largest investment most of us will ever make is our home. Threaten that, and people get nervous. Also, previous studies focused on macro sites, whereas the wireless industry’s current focus is on 4G and 5G small cells. Thus, opposition groups challenge the studies from JVSV, Valbridge, Maennig, etc. as not applicable to small cells. To address the gap between extant belief and evidence-based economics, our study focused on whether residential real estate valuation effects from small cells were objectively evident in real estate sale records.

Study Methodology

Our study applied a spatial difference-in-differences approach, a well-regarded economic analysis method used to estimate the effects from proposed development in and near residential areas. The study examined the question, “Do wireless small cell sites have an impact, either positive or negative, on the valuation of residential real estate?” The study also reviewed previous studies and examined the question of whether or not the oft-asserted 20 percent reduction in property valuation appeared in the results.

The study used a dataset of 1,734 small cell sites installed in California during the period from 2010 to 2020, and a dataset of 11,684,458 real estate transactions statewide during the same 10-year period. Both the wireless and real estate datasets were provided to a doctoral-level economist skilled in urban planning, policy, land use and housing. The economist had no contact with the wireless industry before or during the study, nor did he have any financial relationship with the wireless industry. The economist's results were, in turn, provided to Joint Venture Silicon Valley for final authorship of the study. Aside from formatting the results as necessary for authorship and production, JVSV made no adjustments to the analysis results.

Findings and Conclusions

Across a wide geographic area, roughly defined as a triangle in California from Santa Barbara to Santa Rosa to Sacramento, our study found effectively zero statistical evidence that small cells proximal to residences cause devaluation of residential real estate. In fact, there is some evidence that residential real estate valuations increase within 10 kilometers after construction of a small wireless facility. In cases where there is a statistically significant negative effect, the effect is not economically significant. In cases where there is a statistically significant positive effect, some effects are economically significant, whereas others are not economically significant.

Notably, evidence for the extant belief held by some real estate professionals that wireless sites near residences can cause residential property devaluations is not evidenced by our study.

The study is free to download here.

David Witkowski is executive director of civic technologies at Joint Venture Silicon Valley and founder and CEO of Oku Solutions.

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Antennas

5G MIMO Antennas Evolve with Network Expansion

High-frequency signal building penetration characteristics and interference protection requirements could influence wireless carrier MIMO antenna choices for 5G wireless communications.

With the conclusion of the FCC auction of 3.8 GHz C-band radio-frequency (RF) spectrum, deployments by all of the mobile carriers will follow. According to Martin Zimmerman, director of antenna solutions at CommScope, two factors may affect whether carriers deploy the largest of multiple-input multiple-output (MIMO) antennas to serve central business districts — building penetration characteristics of such high-frequency signals and interference protection requirements for satellite communications (SATCOM) systems. Zimmerman spoke at the April AGL Virtual Summit session, “5G MIMO Antennas Are Taking Off, but Is There Room on the Tower?”

Session host Earl Lum of EJL Research asked Zimmerman about rooftop antenna sites, and which antenna technology and configuration will be the most helpful with extending coverage into skyscrapers and tall urban canyons. Although the more antennas included within a MIMO array, the faster the potential throughput, Zimmerman said that early indications from European deployments indicate that 3.5 GHz signals struggle to penetrate buildings. The frequency, though slightly lower than the U.S. assignment, is comparable.

“Multiple operators have started to back away from 64T and look more at 32T for the central business district,” Zimmerman said. The numbers 64 and 32 refer to the number of antennas in the array.

A particular problem in the United States, Zimmerman said, is that the 3.8 GHz C-band overlaps SATCOM.

“There are going to be some cellular sites that are too close to SATCOM antennas,” he said. “As a result, one of the solutions being looked at is a temporary filtering solution. It is still too expensive to build that into a 64T, because it is a niche application. But that problem is potentially going to knock out some sites from using 64T.”

Another problem Zimmerman cited with using 64T MIMO has to do with antennas concealed within flagpoles. “In general, there isn't enough room,” he said. “Those are mostly one-antenna-per-sector solutions. In those situations, carriers mostly use passive antennas, and all the radios are on the ground.”

Lum explained that most of the massive MIMO antenna products would be made to use with C-band frequencies, with time-division duplexing modulation in a single frequency band. He said that as upgrades extend massive MIMO use into the frequency-division duplex modulation world for LTE, the future would include multiband massive MIMO systems. He asked Zimmerman whether the weight and wind loads of those types of products would be a problem as they form a part of network upgrades in some urban sites and on towers.

CommScope is seeing a lot of interest in multiband products, Zimmerman said. “If you look across the United States, you see a big mix where some regions are mostly three or four pipes, and for right now at least, the C-band extension can just stand an active antenna unit (AAU) on an extra pipe for a given sector. Once customers get down to one or two antennas per sector, the standalone AAUs are just out of the picture. You have to use your slots for multiband products. We have come to market with a full portfolio of products for C-band. We are working with a radio OEM. We're about to deploy our first multiband product that has massive MMO built in.”

With deployments in the 3.45 GHz band coming, Zimmerman said, operators have to consider how to deploy two to three different massive MIMO radios. “You're not going to five poles or six poles,” he said. “So, standalone is where things are right now, and that's fine for right now. Two to three years from now, it's not going to work.”

Speaking of stealth poles, the flagpoles with 50-foot or 75-foot flags hanging from them, Zimmerman said that based on the anecdotal feedback from CommScope’s sales team, they represent at least 10 percent of deployments, nationwide. “It depends on what region you're in,” he said. “In some places, it's much higher.”

Zimmerman addressed the matter of wind loading and the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) 7-22 Wind Loads Subcommittee’s definition of minimum design loads and associated criteria for the design of buildings and other structures. The calculation of wind loading affects the required strength of structures used to hold the antennas and radios. The more conservative the calculation, the stronger and possibly more expensive the structural requirement. In an effort to better reflect real-world conditions and reduce the strength required, CommScope has been providing data based on wind load tests, tunnel tests, for a couple years, Zimmerman said.

“That drops the number,” he said. “What we typically see, especially in certain jurisdictions, not necessarily in the United States, is people want to use the projected area. That is going to give them a bigger number. If they are designing their structures based on the bigger number, there is not going to be an issue. The challenge we have is getting people to accept our wind load values based on actual wind tunnel testing, which can be 50 percent lower, based on the fact that your wind load is specified on a very high airspeed, and most antennas at that speed are no longer in a laminar flow condition, they're in a turbulent flow. Once you get past what they call the drag crisis, the numbers just dropped like a rock. That is where you get the 50 percent reduction. If you want to use the back-of-the-envelope formula, you are going to get a bigger number. Therefore, there is not much risk. The only real risk is maybe you spend a little bit more on construction than might have been necessary.”

Lum raised the subject that active antennas consume a substantial amount of power and asked what would happen at sites where operators eventually place three massive MIMO antennas. Zimmerman confirmed that a 5G 3.5 GHz 65T massive MIMO antenna requires a maximum of 1500 watts of power.

“That's what you have to build for,” he said. “That drives your capex. Then there is your opex, which is based on your nominal typical power consumption. The bottom line is, power consumption is going up.”

Zimmerman mentioned two options:

“One is you pull out your 6 AWG power cables and replace them with 4 AWG,” he said.

“For another, CommScope has an option called PowerShift that conditions the power,” Zimmerman said. “It senses the drop and allows you to adjust the power level so you get just barely enough volts at the radio at the top of the tower. Customers are finding that it allows them to reuse their existing power lines in some cases. Therefore, you spend a little money on one thing, and you save money on ripping and replacing something else. Customers are seeing that as something that is helpful. However, the bottom line power consumption is going up, and it is not trivial.”

Regarding the placement of massive MIMO antennas relative to passive antennas on the same sector, Zimmerman said from an RF radiation perspective, the placement creates no problem. “The C-band is a higher frequency, so insertion loss is a concern,” he said.

However, if the C-band antenna is not an active antenna unit and instead is a passive antenna, Zimmerman said, it is important to place the C-band antenna closer to the radio, rather than farther away.

A problem Zimmerman cited involves the radios themselves, because the radios do not necessarily behave well when exposed to a lot of radiated energy. He said a CommScope solution developed in conjunction with a U.S. operator is a new structure that moves the radios closer to the tower.

“It's a sector frame, and it also spreads out the antennas a little bit,” Zimmerman said. “You may have the same four pipes, the same number radios and the same number of antennas, but you're moving things a little farther apart, and you're also moving the radios farther away from the antennas. One, that knocks down environmental PIM (passive intermodulation). Two, it reduces the load of the sector frame because you have less of a moment, with the radios being close to the actual tower leg.”

Lum made the observation that in many other countries where structures have only one or two mounts, antenna providers try to integrate active and passive antennas while staying within a 2.7-meter limit of the total length of the antenna solution. He asked Zimmerman whether the problem occurs in the United States and whether operators could be expected to deploy some of the active-passive antenna products.

“In Europe, operators have a much higher percentage of one or two pipe-per-sector configurations,” Zimmerman said. “Our current portfolio of active-passive solutions is really popular. In the United States, it is still under debate whether it is a niche product or a gotta-have. When we talk to customers around the country, if we are talking to somebody in a market with many of the two-antenna mounts, they are very interested in these designs. We know there are some markets actively planning-in our active-passive solutions at this point. In other markets, they will say, ‘Ninety percent — almost all our sites — are three or four pipes. It's not an issue.’”

Regarding a possible future market for single omni antennas for 5G, Zimmerman said CommScope continues to see short omnis being used for small cell applications, “but they are not like the omnis of 20 years ago, the big 20-foot stick antennas. They are very small antennas, 2 feet high, maximum, and typically with 16 to 30 ports, depending on whether it is a single-operator solution or multi-tenant solution.”

An audience member asked whether 5G speeds and latency goals can be achieved with 4 x 4 MIMO, or does it need to be higher? Zimmerman said that to achieve the necessary capacity requires a massive MIMO at minimum 8T 8R. However, with respect to latency, he said that massive MIMO will not give any advantage, and perhaps a 4T 4R could be better for the latency.

“With the internet of things (IoT), ultra-fast broadband or different 5G use cases, they might have different solutions,” Zimmerman said. “With IoT, that's where you're going to see people using 4T 4R or lower frequencies, because what really matters there is not capacity, it's coverage.”

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.

Don Bishop is executive editor and associate publisher.

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Open RAN

Open RANs Appeal to Policymakers, Operators, OEMs

Today, monolithic vendors dominate as suppliers of radio access networks (RANs) that provide end-to-end networks. Because of a movement known as open RAN, however, their dominance may diminish, and more original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) may be able to serve the market.

During the session, “Opening the RAN to Opportunity,” conducted during an AGL Virtual Summit, speakers addressed the benefits of opening up the RAN to additional OEMs,. The president of Rysavy Research, Peter Rysavy, served as the session moderator. Together with 5G Americas, Rysavy Research issued a report that explains open RANs in detail: "Global 5G: Rise of a Transformational Technology."

Diane Rinaldo, executive director of the Open RAN Policy Coalition, said that policymakers have been discussing how to create a more robust supply chain in which component parts may be interchanged. “That is very appealing,” she said. “The heart of the issue is, what if we wake up one day and there is only one player in the market?” Launched in May 2020, the Open RAN Policy Coalition has more than 50 member companies. It promotes policies intended to advance the adoption of open and interoperable solutions in the RAN.

 Peter Rysavy headshotPeter Rysavy, president, Rysavy Research Morgan Kurk headshotMorgan Kurk, chief technology officer, CommScope Diane Rinaldo headshotDiane Rinaldo, executive director, Open RAN Policy Coalition

Various groups are working to create open RANs. The Telecom Infra Project is attempting to apply white-box testing to hardware components in the RAN so the software will run on commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) servers. The Third Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) takes steps to maintain interoperability among handsets.

Morgan Kurk, CommScope’s chief technology officer, noted that the key to opening the RAN is to define and standardize interfaces among component parts and ensure that they are true interfaces and not pseudo-proprietary. “This monolithic architecture must be divided into small cases and enable one party to make one component and another party to make another component,” Kurk said. “Others are working within that basic framework to commoditize certain things and, in other cases, to make it easier to build them.”

The result is more competition. An open RAN allows companies to compete and add value where they could not do so before, providing opportunities for systems integrators, small equipment providers and software providers.

“If you can, imagine having one ringmaster who could allow people or not allow them into the ring,” Kurk said. “By breaking this down into small parts, you create an ecosystem that goes far beyond the current five or six RAN providers. The result will be hundreds of providers, all lending their best skills to help build the network.”

Another benefit of increased competition is the probability that companies in the United States will get to play in the RAN space. Although the United States does not have a RAN manufacturer, it has respected software providers.

“With software-defined networks evolving into virtualized networks, there are major companies in the United States that would be in a prime position to help build out that aspect of the RAN,” Rinaldo said. “To be successful, we need scale, and we won’t achieve it in the United States alone.”

Open RANs also will allow an operator to customize a network to the market. “You don’t have to think only in terms of the entire system,” Rinaldo said. “If you want to change out the radios to a different OEM that is better for you, you can. The network that is being built out in New York City will look a lot different from my hometown of 5,000 in Maine.”

Where are the initial opportunities for Open RAN? First, open RANs are most likely to be deployed in greenfield situations because there would be no requirement to migrate from legacy equipment, which is expensive and time-consuming, Kurk said. Other possible candidates are smaller 2G networks and rural carriers dissatisfied with the major OEMs and willing to take the risk. Enterprises deploying private 5G networks using frequencies the Citizens Broadband Radio Service might also be candidates for open RAN.

Open RAN: It’s Happening

In Japan, in September 2020, Rakuten rolled out an open RAN that it jointly developed with NEC. The network offers 5G wireless service to users for no additional cost. According to Rakuten, in its 5G network, excluding the core network, all 5G network functions, such as the virtualized OpenRAN, cloud and OSS, run on the Rakuten Communications Platform (RCP), a telco platform based on containers for more flexible and stable development. Rakuten Mobile’s telecommunications platform uses equipment and software from trusted partners, information from the company says.

Japanese mobile operator NTT DoCoMo and NEC have expanded multivendor interoperability by interconnecting a new 5G base station baseband unit (5G-CU/DU), developed by NEC and Samsung Electronics, that complies with O-RAN Alliance specifications. Moreover, it is compatible with 5G base station remote radio units (5G-RUs) of other vendors on DoCoMo’s commercial network.

Dish Network is planning a nationwide network with Nokia using Open RAN standards. India also has such a network. “Right now, it is occurring in the green space, and eventually it will move to existing networks in the brown space,” Rinaldo said.

FutureCast

The session panelists expressed confidence that open RANs are way of the future. Rinaldo said she believes the industry is moving in this direction, and Kurk went further to say the rules would require it.

“Over time, large OEMs will become Open RAN-compliant,” Kurk said. “During the next five years, I believe it will become a requirement. By the time we get to 6G, every RAN will be open.”

In the future, COTS servers will dominate hardware, including baseband units, and OEMs will concentrate on software, according to Kurk.

“If you can make something in software, you will,” Kurk said. “A good deal of the hardware that you had in the past, goes away, except for the remote units on the towers. Many companies, including Nokia, CommScope, Ericsson, are spending more of their resources on software.”

AGL Virtual Summits are a production of AGL Media Group. The next Summit takes place on Sept. 8.

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Convergence

Convergence Leads to a Horizontal Tower Business

In the mobile infrastructure space, you don’t just do towers anymore. You don’t just do small cells. You don’t just do fiber. You do all of these elements.

Fiber-optic network vendors, data center provisioners, telecommunications tower operators and the software layer all have to work together to create an end-to-end mobile infrastructure to support the demands 5G wireless network densification. This view, expressed by Ray LaChance, CEO of ZenFi Networks, characterizes the present nature of wireless infrastructure as a horizontal tower. LaChance said he previously has expressed this view in describing ZenFi. In short, he described ZenFi as a digital infrastructure player in the New York-New Jersey metro market.

“We don’t call ourselves a fiber company,” LaChance said. “When we started this business in 2014, we never called ourselves a fiber business. Everybody else did, because they assumed we were doing what everybody else was. But we came into the market as a mobile infrastructure play to support the densification of the mobile network evolving to ultra-dense networks.”

Ray LachanceI fully expect to get complete tower economics.— Ray LaChance, CEO of ZenFi Networks

Modern mobile networks are in neighborhoods, LaChance said. He said the neighborhood network has an edge data center — an edge collocation facility. A fiber-optic network extends from the edge data center that connects with wireless equipment sites.

“The edge data center is analogous to the ground space on a tower,” LaChance said. “If you take the fiber span that comes out of that edge data center and goes to a light pole, for instance, with a small cell on it, the analogy of that fronthaul fiber piece is, that’s the steel in the air. That’s the vertical that you know. That’s the horizontal tower piece. So, you have ground space — horizontal tower space. They have wireless stubs where you’ll have a light pole, utility pole, street furniture or building façade, where you put radio heads or small cells. You’re building a tower outside. Rather than being 200 feet tall, though, it’s 30,000 feet tall. You cover entire neighborhoods with it.

“That’s a really interesting analogy, because if you’re in the mobile infrastructure space, you don’t just do towers anymore. You don’t just do small cells. You don’t just do fiber. You do all of these elements.”

In pulling all of these elements together, LaChance said, an infrastructure provider creates a turnkey solution for the mobile network operators. He said the operators do not want to obtain fiber connectivity from one player, own their own sites or even build their own nodes.

“They do it, but they’re not loving it,” he said. “It’s just it’s not their core competency. They look to intermediaries like ZenFi and others in our market to turnkey that whole solution.”

Companies that provide only fiber-optic cable connectivity that want to be in the small cell market are missing a huge piece of the opportunity, LaChance said. He said there is an opportunity for 10-, 15-, 20-year deals to be made with counterparties that have great credit — the wireless carriers — to construct the entire shared infrastructure.

“The beauty of it is, we’re building shared infrastructure, too, so once we build it once, you know that the edge collocation, the fronthaul fiber or even that wireless vertical site, it’s reusable just like a tower,” he said. “I fully expect to get complete tower economics. I want tower multiples on our business, because we’re a tower company.” Multiple refers to a method of establishing asset value that uses a multiple of cash flow. The method often sees use in setting prices when buying and selling towers.

A city like New York will have tens of thousands of small cells deployed, LaChance said. It now has fewer than 10,000, and he said that in ZenFi’s experience, AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile won’t rent infrastructure from providers that cannot supply the edge compute, the fiber connectivity and the small cells — all three. “Maybe it’s because we’re a unique region,” LaChance said. “It’s more expensive to work in New York. There’s a lot of New York metro challenges, and they all want turnkey from companies like us.”

LaChance spoke during the “Evolving Shared Wireless Infrastructure Landscape” fireside chat session during the Metro Connect USA 2021 meeting, where Jennifer Fritzsche, chief financial officer of Canopy Wireless, interviewed him. Fritzsche also is a managing director of communications services and digital infrastructure at Greenhill & Co.

Don Bishop is executive editor and associate publisher.

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Indoor Networks

Business Grows for Indoor Networks; Countrywide 5G Upgrades Require Capital

Enterprise fiber services, outdoor small cells, neutral-host in-building wireless, private wireless, building communications infrastructure and edge hub deliver advanced connectivity.

A record number of new deployments in 2020 led accomplishments by ExteNet Systems, despite a dip in business during the middle of the year. Jim Hyde, who was the company's CEO for three years until July 30, attributed the dip to municipalities and power companies taking time to configure virtual permitting processes as offices reduced staffing or closed to limit the spread of COVID-19 infections.

“In some jurisdictions, we were able to actually lean in and accelerate our build, and in other jurisdictions, we were slowed down a little bit,” Hyde said. “While we had a record number of new deployments, at the end of the day it was a weird road getting there. We came out of the chutes on fire in the first quarter. Then, we lost a chunk of what I call that middle half of the year as everybody was adjusting, adapting and overcoming what COVID forced upon us all. Then, we finished with a record quarter in in the fourth quarter.”

Jim Hyde headshotWe have great relationships with our key core customers... and the carriers are still our largest customers by a long shot.— Jim Hyde, former CEO, ExteNet Systems

The merger of T-Mobile and Sprint last year had an effect, Hyde said, limiting business from that carrier as T-Mobile continues to work through its network integration plans.

“We had to be careful and stay close to our customers to make sure we were responding to their needs in the best possible way so that we are positioned to take advantage what is a true acceleration with 5G, capex budgets notwithstanding,” Hyde said. He referred to the $90 billion spent in the C-band spectrum auction as a ton of money, with the effect on carrier network construction spending yet to be seen how it plays out this year.

A privately-held provider of converged communications infrastructure and services addressing outdoor and in-building wireless, fiber and other advanced connectivity, ExteNet counts among its customers mobile network operators (MNOs), real estate owners, property managers, wholesale carriers, enterprises, municipalities and rural carriers. The company deploys outdoor small cell and DAS networks in urban, suburban and rural locations and indoor networks in sports and entertainment venues, convention centers, commercial office buildings, college campuses, health care facilities, hotels and resorts, data centers and transit systems.

Hyde said ExteNet’s competitors vary within those industry segments by customer, and that the company has not seen a significant change in the competitive set over the course of the last few years. What differentiates ExteNet from its competitors, Hyde said, is that the company has been in business for a long time.

“We have great relationships with our key core customers, having spent 20 plus years on the carrier side of the table, and the carriers are still our largest customers by a long shot,” Hyde said. “These networks matter. They just don’t turn the keys of the kingdom over to folks who don’t have a long track record of executing and delivering on their expectations. There is a high barrier to entry for the kind of business that we do, which is to deliver carrier-class network capabilities in municipalities across the country in large, really important venues. So, the competitive set hasn’t really changed a whole lot. The differentiator is long-term customer relationships and delivering. I don’t expect that to change anytime soon.”

Hyde said that ExteNet’s project sales have long lead times. He said the projects are highly integrated, densified networks that involve fiber connectivity, key license agreements with jurisdictions, permits with the power companies and access to the public right of way. Sustaining such a business requires a strong balance sheet, he said.

“Between those multiple factors, it’s difficult for two guys in a truck to show up and start selling into the small cell network,” he said.

Referring to growth prospects involving mergers and acquisitions, the ExteNet CEO said he thinks of mergers and acquisitions the same way he thinks of other partnerships.

“On the one hand, to bring converged infrastructure together is a great partnering opportunity for us as well and puts our collective balance sheets together,” Hyde said. “We’re going to continue to exploit that that strategy as it exists. But from a mergers and acquisition perspective, indoor networks are in need of a 5G upgrade across the country. That requires capital.”

Hyde said there always is a focus on being opportunistic to make sure ExteNet creates value for customers, employees and its owners, which means keeping an eye on mergers and acquisitions. “It’s all about value, availability of capital and timing,” he said. “There are many ways in which we can spend our money. We received a nice influx of capital from our new investor and a great portfolio company approach with DigitalBridge Group to focus on those partnerships.” The new investor to which Hyde referred is John Hancock Life Insurance Company, which led a consortium that acquired 30 percent ownership of ExteNet. Hancock joined existing major investors DigitalBridge (a part of DigitalBridge Group) and Stonepeak Infrastructure Partners.

Publicity information ExteNet released said the company had unveiled a simplified path called Fiber-First. The path leads toward enterprise fiber services, outdoor small cells, neutral-host in-building wireless, private wireless, building communications infrastructure and edge hub. “Fiber-First ensures that the underlying infrastructure is robust, scalable and carrier-grade to deliver advanced connectivity for our customers,” the information reads.

Hyde spoke during the CEO panel discussion led by Andrew Lippman, senior partner and chair of the TMT practice at Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, conducted at the Virtual Metro Connect 21 meeting.

Don Bishop is executive editor and associate publisher.

 

Product Showcase

Lighting, Security & Surveillance Products

FTS 370x

Flash Technology

As leaders in lighting compliance since 1970, Flash Technology provides turnkey solutions with a collaborative approach — ensuring you receive a reliable, cost‐effective solution that meets your lighting needs. The legacy continues with the Vanguard Medium series. The FTS 370x ships with a suite of standard features and is available in dual, red or white.

‐NVG and NVIS compatible flashhead per FAA AC 150/5345‐43J
‐Interleaved LEDs and by‐pass circuitry provide longer life by allowing the loss of individual LEDs up to 25%
‐Surge immunity of 25kA withstands 99% of all lightning strikes
‐Real‐time performance intelligence and diagnostics
‐5‐year warranty

www.flashtechnology.com

Fiberglass Shelters

Shelter Works

Shelter Works delivers the highest quality solution for critical field equipment protection while providing unparalleled customer support, an industry-leading 25 year warranty, and proven field test results. As an American-based manufacturer with decades of combined experience in designing and manufacturing fiberglass shelters, we take pride in the quality and durability of our buildings and are dedicated to delivering the right protective solution and optimal operating environment for your critical field equipment.

www.shelterworks.com

TWR Star Series

TWR Lighting, Inc.

Since our inception in 1981, TWR has been at the forefront of designing, manufacturing and supporting world class obstruction lighting systems and monitoring solutions for structures that present a hazard to aviation. As it was in the beginning, our goal remains to assist our customers with exemplary guidance in maintaining regulatory compliance and offer robust, industry-leading products with unrivaled customer support and service to the Telecommunications, Broadcast, Utility and Renewable Wind Energy industries.

www.twrlighting.com
 

Company Showcase

Shelters, Enclosures & Security Companies

American Products, LLC

American Products specializes in offering high quality, competitive enclosure and shelter solutions for protecting sensitive equipment in the field. Call us for your environmentally controlled cabinets, cell sites, wireless backhaul, fiber optics and custom enclosure needs.

Peabody Engineering: The Cell Site Disguise Guys®

Industry Leader developing quality modular concealment solutions for cell sites including macro, DAS, small-cells and raw fiberglass shapes and components for field fabrication. Our design and engineering team will ensure each detail matches existing architecture & keep installation simple. Pick, place & connect! Top of the line and cost effective. Opening 2nd location soon in Liberty, SC.

Raycap Inc.

Raycap is a leader in infrastructure and power protection solutions for telecommunications, energy, and transportation. It manufactures surge protection and connectivity systems, power and telecom cabinets, and RF-friendly concealment solutions.

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Convergence

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Indoor Networks

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