Smart City Pole Planning City-Wide

I have been working with pole developers for a while now. I have to admit, from what I hear, Crown Castle is way ahead of the curve. So far, it seems there is too much time putting everything into one pole. Most groups I work with don’t seem to get the fact that poles should be special purpose for a few services, not all at once. 

What I am trying to say is, that if you expect to put everything into one pole, your kidding yourself. Also, if you think the carriers are going to let you install a small cell and connect to their network, you have to plan better than that. 

Here is an overview of how the city or municipality should plan so that the infrastructure developers can deploy with a plan. That is if the city wants to control what is in their boundary. 

However, I have a clear a few things up.

Who will pay?

I’ll tell you who won’t pay, the cities. They have no money or they would rather spend it elsewhere. They do not want to replace poles or lay fiber, at least in most cases. They are pretty free with federal grants if they get them. That money is spent pretty freely to vendors until it runs out. 

They also like free demos and models built. They pay for the bare minimum but don’t count on getting any more money out of them unless they have an immediate payback in some way.

Let me put it bluntly, the cities will not spend their own money unless there is an immediate payback. That payback does not have to be money, it could be votes, good publicity, infusion of business, or something like that.

They will not spend money to add wireless or to get the carriers in. They already know that the carriers or a tower company like Crown Castle will fund that initiative. 

They won’t pay for adding utilities. They expect the utility companies or developers to pay for that.

They may pay for lamp posts, but don’t hold your breath.

So, back to the original question, who will pay? 

I don’t’ mean for the demos or the one bloc deals or parking lots. I mean for city-wide deployment. The cities are doing a great job of sucking time and resources from companies for free demos in the hope of more work. 

It’s going to be one of the following:

  • The carriers, including Firstnet which is really AT&T;
  • The tower companies, like Crown Castle;
  • Investors;
  • Utility companies;
  • Public Safety;
  • Federal grants;
  • Local businesses;
  • Small MNOs;
  • Developers;
  • Federal organizations, like the department of transportation or homeland security;
  • Larger companies like Google, Amazon, and Tesla that don’t fit under “carrier”;
  • Probably a few that I missed or can’t think of.

So there you have it. Do you know who I don’t see? States, Cities, Municipalities, and most other government organizations outside of the feds. Why? Most of them are already in debt, out of money, or they have high taxes. Don’t get me wrong, some of them keep spending money, California and most larger cities out there. Let’s face it, they don’t seem to care how much they spend, how far in debt they are, or how high the taxes are. They just keep on spending and raising taxes. (Personally, I wanted to move there but they did all that they could to keep me out of that state, way to go California!)

One thing about most government organizations, they have serious debt. Even the feds, but the feds know they have to get things rolling. They also need security and to ensure that driverless cars will be safe on the road. They have to do what the states and cities won’t d by funding these projects.

What is the reality of the situation?

Another thing I learned is that cities that were not set proper permitting expectations would get angry when the carriers come in and do what they want, not the right thing. The cities need to plan the best way they can. Here is what I am talking about. 

They are getting on board with setting up the proper permitting standards on a per pole basis. That is good because the residents expect all poles to be aesthetically pleasing and quiet. 

The city was hoping to make more money off these poles, but the FCC pretty much shuttered that idea. Now they will take what they can get and they will improve the permitting process. The speed of permitting was way to slow and the expectations of what they had to present were way to varied and complicated.

If the feds really wanted to help, why didn’t they help set permitting standards for the cities to use as a guideline or a starting point? That would have made more sense to me. The cities would still have been able to add on their individual requirements, but at least they would have had a foundation of where to start. Oh well, 20/20 hindsight is always clearer.

The cities also have stopped the ROW deployments which were plaguing them. They now have tightened that leak, good job. ROW, Right of Way, was a quick way for telcos to deploy poles in the day. That was something the carriers, one specifically, tried to circumvent the process to deploy quickly. What it seemed to do was piss off the cities. The carrier did deploy quickly though. 

OK, what have cities done?

  • Most cities have done a great job aligning individual pole expectations and permitting processes to help the carriers deploy quickly and efficiently. Oh, by the way, the city still gets paid for their permitting. This is still a source of income for the cities. 
  • Most cities have eliminated the ROW loophole, so they have complete control over what poles should look like and where they can go.
  • Most cities know that they want wireless services to blanket their city by all carriers. They are moving ahead with this.
  • Most cities know that they need public safety. Maybe cameras, although citizens see it as an invasion of privacy. However, the cameras are almost everywhere.
  • Some cities rolled out speed traps on poles. I hate this, as do most citizens when they find out they got a ticket from a camera on a pole. They don’t know until it arrives in the mail. Then GOD forbid my wife gets it first! Some cameras have radar with automated speed traps sent by a random computer decided I was speeding and sent me a ticket which my wife got and is so angry about. No wonder people hate that. The city sees its generating revenue. I see it as the city wants it’s residents to hate the politicians and move away as well as tourists to never visit again. At least, that part of town, because automated speed traps suck! 
  • The cities are finding creating ways to save costs and have the poles replaced by having new companies come in and manage the poles and pay for the lighting. 


How can cities improve and regain control? Plan holistically, not just per pole.

Plan for your city on a mass scale. Or at least for the entire block or area. If this means that you want all the poles to look alike, make that determination upfront. If you want the street corner poles to look different than the lampposts down the street, make a plan. 

Then, when you decide what you want the entire block or area to look like, layout the plan to the public. Don’t keep it a secret, set the standards so that the pole owners know how and what to deploy.

Then, think about who’s coming in. This is not as hard as you think. I laid it out above. The carriers, public safety, Wi-Fi providers, small MNOs, utilities, investors, homeowner associations and probably a bunch I missed. 

Carriers are pretty straight forward. They will want their own pole, most of the time. They will want to be able to put as much equipment as they can in that pole. They will want to practically own the pole but pay cheap rent. 

Public safety is tricky. They may want a ton of services. 

  • Shot spotter to identify gunshot locations and types of guns;
  • Cameras for surveillance;
  • Air sensors in case of biological or chemical attacks;
  • Maybe blue lights on poles that could guide people in the event of an emergency;
  • Two-way radio repeaters for the voice-grade emergency systems they use today;
  • I am sure AT&T will push Firstnet radios with public safety. 

I mentioned small MNOs and investors. Here is the thing. With the deployment of CBRS, carriers like AT&T and Verizon no longer need to deploy their 4G spectrum for coverage. They can partner with these small MNOs to have instant coverage everywhere. It won’t be 5G just yet unless maybe the FCC releases the 6GHz for indoor CBRS like services.

My point is that this opens up new coverage options for new companies to grow and partner with the big boys. 

The states are blocking the T-Mobile and Sprint merger by saying there is not enough competition in mobility. Then they should get off their asses and do something about it. Like help small companies, mini MNOs, deploy CBRS systems indoors and in small areas, both urban and rural. It appears they are quick to block mergers mostly for political purposes but slow to help small businesses grow. Why is that? Especially when these small businesses have the opportunity to return the investment to the city with jobs and taxes. 

The cities need to understand that planning is necessary for more than just a single pole.

Who owns the poles?

This is something I often see. The city may some poles but not all of them. The ownership may be spread across several entities. They could be owned by utilities, transportation, state, tourism, homeowners association, and more departments. Is the day it made sense. When these deals were made, the cities did NOT want to pay for them not the continued maintenance and electricity. 

This was a good idea back in the days when there was only one use for each pole. Each pole had a specific purpose, like utility wires, lighting, traffic lights, and so on. Today, we need to open up each pole for more and more use cases. It goes beyond lighting and utilities. We need to add new services. One of those is wireless.

Today, we need to get out of that small-town way of thinking and get with the smart city concept. Poles need to look nice and serve more than one purpose. They need to be versatile!

If the poles are spread across many entities, then each group has their own agenda. 

I know most utilities do not want to be bothered with wireless leases. They would rather stick to what they know. It’s probably attaching cables to poles. Even then, the incumbents often put clauses in their leases that prohibit competitors from getting on the same pole. It’s not just wireless where carriers won’t share. It’s also cable companies, fiber providers, and so on.

That is why someone has to plan out the city-wide pole plan. 

Can poles be a platform?

I guess you could look at it as a “PAAP”, Pole as a Platform. I think cities may want to run this, but to be honest, unless they are willing to invest time, money and resources they should offload it. They should come up with a plan for permitting and hat it should look like. Be consistent. Think about what the poles services are to the public, and allow for additional services. 

It’s not just the carriers. 

I brought up all the services, but one more thing to think about is the electric car charging stations. This is one more thing that can be put in smart poles. Maybe there could be two every 5 blocks or so. We have to be forward-thinking when planning these poles. 

So, as a model, think about what could be on any given block. This is all in addition to the lighting and wiring already associated with most poles. 

  • Pole for AT&T;
  • Pole for Verizon;
  • Pole for Dish;
  • Poles for T-Mobile/ Sprint;
  • Pole for public safety repeaters;
  • Pole for shot spotter, air sensors, IOT applications;
  • Pole for electric car charging;
  • Pole with a video Kiosk for tourism, emergency announcements, and advertising;
  • Cameras on several poles.

How would this be managed?

These poles may or may not be managed by one agency. Maybe this will be outsourced to a company that will do it for the city and utility.

The thing is, if the city and utility share the responsibility, then they have to be aligned. It would make sense. They would also compete for the carrier’s business and they may not want other low paying rent, like public safety. It will depend on what goals each one has. If different departments own poles, then do the carriers or public safety have to deal with each department separately? I would bet yes. 

Maybe they could offload everything in the city to one group. Either an investor or a tower management company like Crown Castle. Then what?

Then they could pay the city rent or split the income from the poles. They could drum up business and plan out the entire system. That may offload resources from the city and utility so that someone else has all the responsibility and the city still gets permitting and rent fees. 

What about the investment?

The reality is, if you want it to look nice you need to install new poles. If you don’t care, you add to the existing poles. They may be wood poles where you simply attach boxes and antennas to them. They may be decorative poles that need to be replaced so that radios fit inside. 

Either way, it’s not a cheap investment. It has to be planned out. 

To be honest, most carriers already have deployed across all the major cities. They already made their investments. They may not want to pay any more. The FCC made that clear when they limited payments, then the states followed suit. 

It’s still going to be an investment to make it happen. One company that has done a lot is Crown Castley, they have done a lot of testing and deployment. They are thinking of the system end to end. They seem to be making great progress.

Is it just about the poles?

Of course not. We need to think of backhaul. While we all want wireless backhaul, the reality is that we need fiber almost everywhere. So when doing the planning, it’s not just about the poles and what will be in them. It is also about the backhaul and power.

Power is critical. We need power to every pole. Not just power for the lighting, but power for the additional services to be used at that pole. If it’s run ahead of time then we have a plan in place. Unfortunately, someone has to run it to the pole and have it ready to break out for each tenant. 

We often mention fiber backhaul. If the city can do this ahead of time, they won’t have to rip up the streets as often as they used to. Who knew that fiber would be critical to the smart city. Now we need it everywhere. 

Power and fiber should be ready at every pole. This is a major investment. It’s already being added, but it takes a lot of time and money to get it there. That’s why when a carrier lays claim to a pole, they do not want to share! It’s all about economics and competition.

Is this just about 5G and the carriers?

No, it’s really not. It’s about the economics of having services everywhere. Not just 5G, but public safety, car charging, video surveillance, video kiosks emergency signs, and more. While 5G pushed this discussion into the forefront, it should have been here a long time ago, in my opinion. 

We want smart cities, but no one wants to pay for them. Why not? Well, the cities have no money or budget for a large scale system. The carriers are looking out for their shareholders. Public safety is overspending. Tourism is having a tough time validating the payback. 

All of this adds up to, “it’s not my problem”. It won’t be until it is. Now, it’s everyone’s problem. So, we have to work through this with new ideas. 

The CBRS spectrum will help fill the coverage holes that were always there,. Indoors and in areas where the carriers refuse to invest. Small local companies can finally fill the gaps, improve indoor coverage, and build. These entrepreneurs will be game-changers. 

I see new companies stepping in to manage these poles and be game-changers. I see new businesses offering new services now that the poles are accessible by everyone. 

It’s about time!



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