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Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Verizon's Small Cells and the roadmap to 5G

Picture: Stephen Donner

Verizon just disclosed their small cells numbers. Their CEO Lowell McAdam said in Fotune:

McAdam has so far decided that his company will follow a 5G strategy of adding many thousands of small cell sites in major urban areas, instead of relying just on the big cell towers it used in the past, and then connecting them with fiber optic cables. On Tuesday, Verizon announced a new deal to buy at least $1.05 billion of fiber optic cable and related hardware from Corning over the next three years–enough to cover 12.4 million miles, the companies said.

Verizon already has 13,000 small sites deployed, McAdam said, disclosing the total number for the first time, compared to about 60,000 current cell tower sites in its network. But Verizon will be adding in each major city 8,000 to 10,000 more small sites, tiny transmitters that can fit in the palm of a hand and be tacked onto a lamp post or traffic light pole.

Unfortunately, according to McAdam, the fiber networks that cable companies have installed don't have nearly enough capacity to meet Verizon's needs to connect all the small cells in big cities. While a typical fiber cable may have contained 144 separate strands of glass wiring in the past, Verizon's newest installations in Boston have 1,700 separate strands per cable.

Their VP of network, Mike Haberman earlier said in Fierce Wireless: Verizon is increasingly looking to small cells to increase capacity and improve network performance, particularly in urban areas. Small cells are complementary to more traditional macrosites, Haberman said, enabling carriers to fill in small gaps and transmit more data in areas where towers may not be sufficient.

“Think of it this way: The macrocells are sort of the umbrella network, and the small cells are underneath the umbrella network to provide the capacity needed,” he continued. “We’ve been doing this for many years. We’ve been on utility poles, we’ve been on traffic lights, and we’re putting the small cells on those locations.”

In Nebraska, the city of Lincoln inked a 20-year lease agreement with Verizon in December to install more than 100 small cells on light poles.

The deal calls for Verizon to pay a $1,500 permit fee, and $1,995 per pole, per year. The per-pole rent jumps 2.3 percent each year, meaning Verizon will pay more than $3,000 in the final year of the agreement.

According to the Lincoln Electric System’s website, the pole attachment fee is $16 per pole, far less than the $1,995 in the agreement, and applies to “other utilities and certain entities which may occupy public right of way and who attach communication appliances on SYSTEM poles.”

Plans by Verizon Wireless to strengthen and modernize wireless data service in Sioux City took a major step forward Monday, as the City Council granted approval to site plans for 11 small cell poles.

FiberComm LC, a Sioux City telecommunications company with an extensive fiber optic network, will build and maintain a dozen of the 35-foot poles, each of which will be capable of accommodating two cell phone service providers. The 12th tower had previously received the green light from the council during its Feb. 27 meeting.

Pole locations will include strategic spots throughout the city, including near the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, the Tyson Events Center and UnityPoint Health -- St. Luke's hospital. 

"Many of these areas are where there is very poor coverage," Jeff Zyzda, FiberComm's director of operations and engineering, told the council Monday. "Also many of these areas are areas where there are events and high traffic."

Verizon is also demoing 5G in Washington and at the same time lobby for the access to city's poles.

To make that 5G simulation a reality someday will take hundreds of thousands of new, smaller, cell phone antennas all over the urban landscape. And that’s why the Verizon 5G bus came to Washington’s Capitol.

The wireless industry hopes to revive legislation that would preempt local zoning rules in order to fast-track placement of the new network of antennas.

Verizon’s Gordon Cook showed off one of these antennas.

“It’s a box about half the size of a toaster,” he said. “This one’s painted white, that one’s painted green to match the utility pole.”

Cook said Verizon wants to strap 5,000 to 6,000 of these boxes onto street poles in Washington in the next few years. First they’d be used to augment current 4G service. Eventually they would be swapped out with 5G antennas.

“We want to be able to put these up quickly and to serve more folks with them and bring higher quality data services to people,” Cook said.

But Cook said current local zoning rules are an impediment. City officials have fought back saying they want some control over how and where small cell antennas are placed.

In addition to all of the above, Verizon has been testing drone based 'flying cell-site' for emergency or disaster scenario, using small cells to connect indoor DAS and thinking about the possibility of deploying small cells in 3.5GHz CBRS bands.

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