Smart Cities need Smart Permitting Processes for Poles

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One thing I can’t figure out is this, why do cities do dumb things? I mean with smart poles and devices. It doesn’t make sense why they don’t become more efficient and plan things out. What do I mean by this? For one thing, most municipalities go with an insufficient pole. We are all excited to roll out 5G, whether they’re small cells or CRAN. We need to attach them to the poles out there. We are excited about the work and improved coverage. We also know about all the drama the FCC created when they gave “carte blanche” rights to the carriers to put small cells in the city. Along with some states enforcing that ruling by limiting pole rentals to ridiculously low amounts. All this has pretty much happened over the last two years or so. (This shows how little the states care about its own municipalities!) Now, I see some smart poles roll out. I saw Crown Castle installing them long before any of the drama was unfolding. They knew that radio head would have to get closer to the end user to handle the broadband and loading. They installed poles wherever they got approvals. They did a good job, and they looked into what aspects would make the municipality happy. They were careful and cautious and respectful of the locals. They also knew that fiber and power were major issues. In my opinion, they planned and executed very well. Good job CCI!

Trust is critical. It has to be earned by both sides. If we lose trust, it means problems for everyone involved.

We all know that the carriers do not like to share. They want their own pole whereas the city wants to minimize the number of smart poles if possible. So far, that battle is still being fought in many cities. The cities just want to be efficient, and the carriers just want their own poles. Remember when the carriers all wanted their own towers? How’s that working out today? Right, no carriers can deploy everywhere on only towers it owns, that’s why they sold off so many towers. Now, we see more and more poles rolling out. We also know that fiber is going be needed at most of these sites. Again, Crown Castle was looking forward when they got into the fiber deployment business. The can provide the backhaul and the pole. WOW! Well, I have been looking around and the poles out there, I see more and more smart poles. I see multiple poles with each having a single purpose. I don’t get it because I thought the cities wanted to have as much in each smart pole as possible. Yet, when I look at these cities, they often have poles with large cabinets set in the ground beside them. We all were trying to put everything in the pole itself or underground to make the city happy. I guess that is no longer the case. So, what are the cities looking for that the carriers can use? Is it the poles, the fiber, the locations, the quick permitting process, the cheap rent on poles? What? Maybe it all or a combination of these. I can give you some insight as to what I have seen. Let me know if you agree.

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Most cities want:

  • Clean installations,
  • Safe RF levels for human exposure per FCC guidelines,
  • Aesthetically pleasing installations,
  • Proper permitting,
  • Some reasonable rent,
  • Leaving the streets looking nice, you know, the way you found them instead of ripped up after putting in new fiber under them,
  • Very quiet sites, low noise levels,
  • One touch if possible,Small Cell Cover 4
  • Smallest footprint possible,
  • Multipurpose poles that house a small cell, camera, and street lamp,
  • As many carriers in one pole as possible.

Most Carriers want:

  • Reasonable site acquisition costs,
  • Their own pole,
  • Their own fiber for backhaul,
  • Cost-effective installation,
  • Reasonable stealthing costs,
  • Very low rent costs,
  • Coverage offering the biggest bang for their buck,
  • Very quick and reasonable permitting time.

When I look around, I wonder what the desired result really is. I say this because in some cities I see multiple poles in one area for the same purpose. I see large ugly cabinets popping up in the middle of a sidewalk. I see ugly installations. I don’t know who is to blame, but there are some ugly and inefficient sites out there. Who is keeping watch over these installations? That’s why I get confused. Either the city doesn’t care, or the carrier just throws something in whether it makes sense or not.

There are great solutions out there where the poles can be modified and adjusted to match what the city needs. This makes it so you can put a lot of equipment on the pole. I have also worked with Syndeo,, who offers an underground solution for equipment. If you still want a cabinet on the street, there are plenty of outdoor cabinet makers you can rely on. For fiber, there are more and more fiber providers today than ever. In fact, more and more companies are deploying fiber than ever before. I think most tower climbers will leave the climbing industry and go into deploying fiber. I’ve seen a trend. Way less risk in deploying fiber commercially than climbing towers. Fiber providers are getting bought up by the big boys because it just makes sense. Fiber is needed everywhere. Most cities are quick to complain after the installation happens, but they control the permitting and drawings ahead of time. They need to find a way to enforce it. Making it look good should be planned ahead of time. I wonder who is making the decisions or what consulting the municipalities have helped them. I worry about it because once the carriers can do something in one area, the assumption is they can get away with it everywhere. We need to be consistent.

Listen, I get it, the permitting process is a pain in the ass for all sides involved, but if some preparation is put in ahead of time, then a lot of headaches can be avoided. How can we do that? I have some ideas, but it’s in the city’s hands to make this happen. So far, many have shown little initiative with the exception of a few shining stars.

How do we set the expectations?

  • Make a drawing of what you expect the site to look like! Models go a long way, make a simple drawing to serve as a model and guide.
  • Define the mounting guidelines, for both the pole, antennas, and cabinets.
  • If the fiber is an issue, define the connection expectations. Overhead or buried? Who manages it? Who determines the connection rights? Pole rights?
    • If dig once is a policy, define it and make sure that the end users know the installation schedule and all the players involved, even if they’re competitors, they all need fiber somewhere, right?
  • Do you know who owns what poles? For instance, the city may own the wood poles, but the power company may own the lamp posts. Yes, it’s very important!
  • Who determines where the equipment on the ground goes? This should be thought of ahead of time because I have seen larger cabinets placed in the middle of a sidewalk, and it is ugly and in the way!
  • Before the first permit, agree on the design, not after 100 installations or when people start to complain!
    • If residents don’t like what’s being deployed, freeze the permitting and update the models!
  • Maybe you could define what poles are approved for your city, cabinets, equipment enclosures, etc. If the city does this, the carrier knows where to begin. Just be open to change as they all complain.


  • If you plan to inspect the installation, set the inspection expectation ahead of time, so they know it.
    • If you do inspections, be consistent! One thing I hear is that they have different inspectors giving different expectations. Consistency is very important!
  • Who is in charge of the permitting and inspections? Is it a city manager, the head of construction and maintenance or a 3rd party? The 3rd party could be a management company or consultant.
    • Make sure all parties are on the same page prior to permitting and deployments!
    • If working with a 3rd party, ask them to divulge any pre-existing agreements they have with specific vendors, carriers, tower companies, and so in. It may bias their approval process.
    • As the city should make it clear what vendors you have agreements with and what special privileges they will get. These agreements should be made clear and shared prior to any work being done.
  • Be open; there could be several variations to any of the above.

I hope this helps no matter which side you’re on.

Thank you for your time and learning!

We’re all learning as we go, any shortcut will help! It adds value.

Be smart, be safe, and pay attention!

See Ya!

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