Joint use, co-locates, and the coming 5G rollout -- how does it affect your utility?
The Sept. 27, 2018 release of FCC-18-133A1: Accelerating Wireless Broadband Deployment by Removing Barriers to Infrastructure Investment is having significant impacts to utilities of all sizes as the nationwide cellular companies (Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile) and other users of 5G broadcast services seek to place their “Small Wireless Facilities” on existing utility structures via Joint Use applications. The ruling became law on January 14, 2019 and is being challenged in the Ninth Circuit Court under Case 19-70144 as municipalities, utilities and wireless carriers seek to clarify the ruling. Market forces are ultimately prevailing as first generation consumer 5G devices started hitting the market in 2019 and saturation continues to increase as more devices come to market throughout 2020.
Joint usage agreements are needed between your utility and all the applicants desiring space on your structures. Service providers sharing a structure may include: power, cable television, POTS (plain old telephone service), DSL (digital subscriber line), fiber optic data, small cell wireless facilities, and others. These agreements could number in excess of 150 per utility when all the various telecommunications companies, cable companies, schools, municipalities, government agencies, and other private parties are taken into account. Agreements will identify the particulars of ownership of space on poles, construction costs, repair and maintenance agreements, etc.
Early estimates of the 5G rollout indicated that many more locations would be required than were needed with the previous rollouts of 3G and 4G: up to 300,000 applications may be filed nationwide in the next 4-5 years. The initial applications are located in dense urban environments where the cellular companies have the most customers that will benefit from the 5G rollout. And the more “dense” your environment is, the more towers will be needed: the technology behind these towers is high frequency (30 GHz – 300 GHz) and short range. A tower every 1-2 blocks, with working radii of approximately 800 feet (250m) means that each cellular carrier is going to need a lot of poles! In practice, the high density downtown urban environment is driving antenna densities up above the initial estimates, in some cases requiring multiple locations due to pole location and operating environment. The applicants will be coming to your utility with high expectations of a swift rollout. The FCC ruling mandates time limits, which they refer to as “shot clocks” to aid in their swift deployment. Failure to meet these “shot clocks” could result in fines or other penalties to your utility.
Mandated Shot Clocks
60 days from receipt of application:
- Review of application to co-locate a Small Wireless Facility using an existing structure
- Includes all required make-ready design, permits, and construction
90 days from receipt of application:
- Review of application to co-locate a facility other than a Small Wireless Facility (i.e., Transmission Tower) using an existing structure, including all required make-ready design, permits, and construction
- Review of application to deploy a Small Wireless Facility to a new structure, including all required make-ready design, permits, and construction
150 days from receipt of application:
- Review of application to deploy a facility other than a Small Wireless Facility (i.e., Transmission Tower) using a new structure, including all required make-ready design, permits, and construction
Utilities will need to be able to identify and articulate the unique challenges that they will face as a result of this rapid increase in applications and roll out of 5G and other small cell wireless services. These challenges will be numerous:
- Identifying bottlenecks and streamlining the application process
- Identifying and securing the appropriate permits required:
- Street, Right of way (ROW), county, sewer, construction
- Zoning board reviews, historical commissions, architectural reviews
- Which poles are applicable, what criteria are used, and how to communicate that to the applicants
- What methodology of engaging and tracking the applications will be appropriate?
- Will a database be needed? Where will it come from, who will administer it?
- Identifying and securing the appropriate permits required:
- Addressing what levels of Make Ready need to be completed and which customer is paying for it
- Field visit and measurements of existing equipment on structures
- Ensuring what’s on the pole in the field matches the utility record keeping
- Existing pole integrity testing and measurements
- Identifying and completing the appropriate analysis for the existing structures
- Pole loading and analysis
- Sag and tension calculations
- Guying calculations
- Appropriate standards will need to be identified
- National Electric Safety Code (NESC) vs local utility
- Developing documented criteria and best practices for Joint Usage applications
- Ensuring designs are constructed as designed
- ensuring safety, reliability and integrity of the critical infrastructure
- Manpower and expertise necessary to complete the engineering and reviews required
- Construction teams and support to adequately construct the structures and equipment
No single utility will face the same set of challenges from this rollout. Utilities have already started to assess their capabilities and readiness to accommodate the rollout and develop solutions. Utilities that previously solidified their processes and procedures have a head start on managing the onslaught of applications. Based on the review and compliance approval processes, the utilities can then assess the manpower challenges and determine the appropriate course of action. These solution sets will then need to be designed and implemented across their entire service territory.
It’s a lot to prepare for. There will be an immediate, short-term need to address the initial onslaught of applications for Joint Usage, but these will taper off over time. Utilities will need to assess whether they have the necessary resources, or if they need to access additional expertise to respond within the required – and short – time frame.
With more than 70 years of experience in the utility industry, Leidos has a proven history of helping its clients successfully assess their readiness to support new regulations and requirements such as this, as well as developing longer term strategies for continued success. Leidos helps utilities develop and implement solutions to their unique challenges, by evaluating existing systems, assessing where improvements need to be made, and developing solutions that are uniquely tailored to meeting the challenges that each utility will face.