The FCC finalized new rules aimed at making it easier for wireless carriers and others to deploy small cells and Distributed Antenna Systems (DAS), an effort the agency said would better position the U.S. market for an eventual move to 5G network technology. Players from across the industry – including lobbying groups to small cell vendors – cheered the move.
“The FCC's endorsement of efficiently deploying DAS and small cell infrastructure is a significant step toward increasing cooperation among federal, state and local communities to improve wireless services for the public and keep the American wireless economy competitive,” Gary Jabara, CEO of Mobilitie, told FierceWireless in a statement. “As urbanization continues trend, we must consider how small cell deployment is essential for delivering advanced connectivity services in environments where dense populations amplify network congestion issues."
Jabara’s comments are notable considering Mobilitie is in the midst of working with Sprint to roll out small cells across the country in support of Sprint’s 2.5 GHz spectrum. As noted in a recent Wall Street Journal article, Mobilitie’s efforts have been partly stymied by local zoning issues for small cell attachments to things like utility poles and street lamps.
Of course, Sprint isn’t the only carrier working to deploy small cells to densify its network. Carriers including AT&T and Verizon have also discussed their desire to expand their small cell deployments, and infrastructure companies like Crown Castle have pointed to small cells as a major new business.
“Today’s action by the FCC recognizes the minimal impact of these facilities, but there is more work to be done,” Scott Bergmann, assistant VP of regulatory affairs for wireless lobbying firm CTIA, said in a statement on the group’s website. “We must streamline infrastructure policies at all levels of government, so that wireless providers can rapidly deliver the next generation of products and services to consumers.”
The Wireless Infrastructure Association (WIA), formerly PCIA and representing wireless network infrastructure providers, added its comments to the chorus. “DAS and small cell networks play a crucial role in providing greater network capacity as data demand grows in communities across the US. We must continue building and deploying all manner of wireless infrastructure, including macro towers, rooftops, DAS and small cells, to meet consumer bandwidth needs,” said Jonathan Adelstein, CEO and president of WIA, in a statement on the group’s website. “This agreement shows how government entities and industry can work together to deploy wireless infrastructure while also protecting historic resources. The action the FCC takes today will enable 5G technologies of tomorrow by reducing a regulatory barrier to wireless infrastructure deployment.”
The new rules, issued by the FCC’s Wireless Telecommunications Bureau, eliminate historic preservation review for “small facility deployments” like small cells and DAS across the U.S. that do not adversely impact historic sites and locations. The agreement was signed with the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP) and the National Conference of State Historic Preservation Officers (NCSHPO).
“The interconnected world of the future will be the result of decisions we make today,” FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said in a statement. “That is why 5G is a national priority, and why today’s agreement to streamline small cell deployment will play a critical role in the successful deployment of next generation wireless service.”
The new rules even received praise from the FCC’s Republican commissioners, with Michael O'Rielly stating: “By reducing unnecessary regulatory burdens and procedures, wireless companies can realize quicker network builds and consumers ultimately will benefit from better wireless voice and broadband communications in these areas. It’s been a long road to reach this point, and I applaud staff for their perseverance and for reaching a promising outcome.”
SNS Research predicts small cell, carrier Wi-Fi, C-RAN and DAS investments to account for nearly $13 billion by the end of 2016.