Sprint CEO presses for speedier small cell deployment

Suggesting the deployment of small cells remains hampered by local siting delays, Sprint (NYSE: S) President and CEO Marcelo Claure made a point to discuss the importance of streamlining the siting process when he visited the FCC on Dec. 8.

According to an ex parte filing, Claure and Sprint SVP of Government Affairs Vonya McCann met with FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai and Pai's legal advisor Nicholas Degani to discuss Sprint's business operations and future plans. During the meeting, Claure talked about the importance  of streamlining the siting process to allow more rapid deployment of small cells and network densification. He also noted the delays frequently encountered in certain jurisdictions and encouraged the FCC to consider actions that would speed the siting process nationwide. The filing did not spell out what type of actions might be considered.

A few years ago, expectations were high that small cells were going to be all the rage, but it didn't quite pan out that way. Earlier this year, FierceWireless contributor and Mobile Experts analyst Joe Madden said there was a time when "I felt like a weatherman predicting rain after a five-year drought....everyone wants to believe that it's true, but there is no evidence on the ground."

However, he pointed to signs the drought was ending, including Verizon Wireless' (NYSE: VZ) plan to devote a significant percentage of its capex budget to densification, including small cells, which will be targeted at key cities such as Boston and New York where it didn't buy spectrum in the last auction.

A few months after that, Sprint revealed that it would add "tens of thousands" of small cells to its network, saying it will be "surgical" and efficient when it comes to where it puts the cells.

Last year, the FCC approved changes to the federal environmental review process that makes it easier to deploy small cells as well as collocated equipment. That equipment includes not only gear on buildings and cell towers but also utility poles. The rules also exclude equipment associated with antennas, including wires and cables, from counting against a deployment. The rules also made it clear that the agency's "shot clock" for towers also applies to small cells and distributed antenna systems (DAS).

After so many years of talking about small cells, Small Cell Forum Chairman Alan Law told FierceWirelessTech in October that operators are no longer asking why they should roll out small cells but how to do it in the most efficient manner. He expects the densification story to really accelerate next year.

For more:
- see this FCC filing

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