Seybold's take: Be proactive for wireless

Andrew SeyboldMost of us know by now that the only way to have better wireless coverage and/or more voice and broadband capacity is for network operators to build more cell sites. All of the wireless services companies have yearly budgets for new site construction, but they aren't always able to build all of the sites they have included in their budget.

Why? Because it takes a long time and it is very costly to find a location that is suitable, make a deal with the landlord, and then go through the process of designing the site and obtaining approval from the local planning commission. In some areas, this process can take less than a year, but in others, especially on the west coast, it can take two or even three years. It is easier and less time consuming if the new site has already been developed by another network and will be shared by the new operator, but it is still the same process.

I was recently in the Philadelphia suburbs and noticed that most of the sites there are built on large towers and accommodate multiple network operators. This type of network site construction is frowned on in many cities and suburban areas so sites must be disguised as pine or palm trees, built into church steeples, or otherwise camouflaged so they do not detract from the landscape. These sites tend to be more expensive, and few are capable of multiple tenants.

Many of us have visited network operators' websites to point out (nicely, I hope) where there are gaps in wireless coverage or where broadband is not yet available. The network operators take these notifications very seriously and are constantly working to enhance their networks to provide the best possible coverage. However, many times they show up at planning commission hearings to find that the only citizens at the meetings are those who oppose new cell sites for a variety of reasons. Many of these planning meetings end up with the staff delaying action on a cell site until something is changed or modified, or in some cases, simply tabling the application hoping the wireless provider will withdraw its application.

Recently, the FCC gave network operators a new tool in the form of a "shot clock" that requires planning commissions to meet deadlines of 75 days after submittal for a new site and 45 days if the site is existing and to be shared by another network operator. This new tool does not guarantee that the permit will be approved, only that it will be acted upon within the stated length of time.

My suggestion to all of you is to find out when there are hearings in your city, town, or county for tower sites and attend them if possible. Sign up to speak and be someone who stands up for the network operator and the new tower application. If you cannot attend a hearing, directing an email to all of the planning commissioners is the next best thing. In my community, I try to attend these hearings whenever they are held, and the planning staff usually appreciates having supporters there to offset those who make it a habit to show up and complain--not only about cell sites, but in many cases, every application that is submitted.

It does not matter to me if the network is one I am using or not. I try to support them all when I have the time, and when I cannot go I send an email. A while ago, I wrote a white paper about why we need more cell sites. I am updating this paper and will make it available via my website for anyone who would like to read it and pass it on to their local planning commission.

Even with the next generation of technologies, as more of us choose to make use of wireless broadband services, we will need more cell sites to increase the networks' capacity and performance. The network operators are spending billions to provide us all with the type and quality of wireless coverage we want and need. We should help them by spending an hour or so at a meeting or sending off a few emails. These are just a couple of ways we can help them provide us with better service.

Andrew M. Seybold is an authority on technology and trends shaping the world of wireless mobility. A respected analyst, consultant, commentator, author and active participant in industry trade organizations, his views have influenced strategies and shaped initiatives for telecom, mobile computing and wireless industry leaders worldwide.