RF emission concerns continue to thwart equipment deployments

Nokia small cell
Industry continues to work with local governments to get small cells approved. (Nokia)

As the industry struggles to get small cells and related infrastructure deployed across the U.S., it was reminded that some barriers are about more than aesthetics or registration fees.

There’s a pending action at the FCC to take another look at RF emissions, and that can be a great shield for local government officials, said Steve Traylor, executive director, National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors, during a panel hosted by Telecommunications Industry Association in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday.

“When you have the aluminum foil folks coming in” holding up the latest study, which could be from 1996, it can be a problem, he said. “We hope we can get some movement there so that locals can say, ‘here’s the latest science,’ small cell is not going to fry your brain, it’s not going to kill your kids. You can still live in your front living room and move forward.”

Is that fear of the RF emissions a big driver for the pushback in some areas? In some communities, it is, he said—and there are situations where an application is turned down and everybody knows it was the RF issue but it’s couched as something else.

The people who are concerned about RF emissions are not going to be reassured by government, either. For some people, “nothing is going to ever mitigate their feelings on this issue,” he said.

Indeed, the FCC continues to receive comments about the impact of RF to health in its proceedings, including in the one evaluating spectrum bands at 24 GHz and above. Some people say they are sensitive to existing electromagnetic radiation and suffer migraines and other conditions.

Traylor had some other advice for industry as well, and that is to explain to local officials why they need something placed in a certain way or location. “Governments are way behind technology,” he said. “We are always playing catch-up,” and “the more you can explain what this stuff is and what it can do,” the better.  

Asked for the “whiz-bang” types of applications, Brian Hendricks, head of policy and government relations at Nokia Americas Region, said Nokia has had a lot of conversations with local governments, and one of the things that comes up is the way the new network will help government officials make more precise decisions. For example, knowing the traffic patterns on streets due to more precise data can help city planners make better decisions about the roadways and when and where to spend money on traffic signals.

Qualcomm is part of a coalition to replace the old phone booths in New York City with 9-foot-tall digital kiosks called Links that provide free Wi-Fi, noted Steve Crout, vice president of government affairs at Qualcomm. Commercial advertising pays for putting in these kiosks over the next several years. “We’re providing a superfast Wi-Fi connectivity chip so there’s free Wi-Fi throughout the city,” he said. “We’re helping to bridge the digital divide.”

By way of another example, he said Qualcomm is also partnering with AT&T and a water utility in the Southeast to provide sensors and chipsets throughout the distribution system to detect leaks and monitor water quality and pressure. “We’re making decisions on the spot and reducing the amount of personnel who need to go out into the field,” he said.