Legislation introduced on Small Cell Technology in Public Right of Way

According to the League of Minnesota Cities

Legislation introduced in both the House and Senate would restrict local authority to regulate companies seeking to install small cell wireless technology in public rights of way. The bill is being pushed by wireless carriers.

The bill, HF 739 (Rep. Joe Hoppe, R-Chaska) and SF 561 (Sen. Dave Osmek, R-Mound), would allow equipment to be placed on utility poles and “any other property a local government unit has an interest in and has made available for commercial purposes.” Additionally, it prevents cities from negotiating zoning, rates, permit timelines, and maintenance as it relates to the installation of emerging wireless infrastructure.

I didn’t attend that session, but I heard the folks at AT&T talk a lot about the need to deploy small cells when the industry spoke to the Minnesota House Commerce Regulatory and Reform committee. From an industry perspective, it makes sense to want to smooth the road for deploying equipment. The League offers the perspective of the local governments…

Wireless companies, including AT&T and Verizon, are lobbying for similar legislation state by state as they and other carriers prepare to install infrastructure to create a new 5G cellular network. Standards and a timeline for 5G implementation have not been set.

“Small cell facilities” is a broad term for the types of cell sites that support antennas plus other equipment to add data capacity. Small cell equipment and distributed antenna systems (DAS) transmit wireless signals to and from a defined area. They need to be powered continuously and require fiber backhaul.

The bill would allow for wireless equipment up to 28 cubic feet in size in the public right of way. Right now, there are cities that have negotiated agreements with providers, mainly in dense urban developments.

The House bill was referred to the Commerce and Regulatory Reform Committee. In the Senate, the bill’s first stop will be in the Energy and Utilities Finance and Policy Committee.

House co-sponsors include Reps. Pat Garofalo (R- Farmington), Ron Kresha (R-Little Falls), Paul Thissen (D-Minneapolis), Linda Slocum (D-Richfield), Nolan West (R-Blaine), Dennis Smith (R-Maple Grove), and Jon Koznick (R-Lakeville). Senate co-authors include Sens. David Senjem (R-Rochester), John Hoffman (D-Champlin), Dan Sparks (D-Austin), and Dan Hall (R-Burnsville).

5G Wireless as Rural Solution: Not any time soon.

bill rightA guest post by Bill Coleman
(Download as White Paper)

5G Wireless as Rural Solution: Not any time soon.

Minnesota legislators are now hearing that a market-based broadband solution is near. 5G wireless to the rescue!  Learning that public dollars would not be necessary for rural broadband development would be soothing music to elected officials’ ears as other groups line up for funds– roads, schools, health care, tax cuts; the list is endless.

After all, many counties and regional entities are growing desperate for broadband and are actively studying the options for spurring broadband delivery to meet at least minimum FCC broadband standards.  Alternatives range from subsidizing incumbents to partnering with new or existing broadband cooperatives.  While the State of Minnesota is seen as the major finance partner, even townships are writing checks for broadband!

So the question “Is 5G coming to rural America anytime soon?” is critical for policy leaders and elected officials.  They wonder, “If we wait, will our future pass us by?” Conversely, they question “Will our investment in fiber be a waste of money as wireless becomes the preferred and available technology?”

After doing a lot of reading and talking with technologists, it is clear that 5G wireless is coming to the marketplace, but it is not coming to rural America anytime soon.  5G wireless does offer promise, but only to high density population centers such as  campuses, large office buildings and apartment buildings.  5G’s chief feature is very high bandwidth– 1 Gigabit or more!  Once established, 5G promises to have the ability to connect many devices with very quick responses, especially applicable for self-driving vehicles or many smart devices in a factory, on urban streets and so on.  5G would also be great for large file sharing applications like HD movies.

So why not 5G in rural areas?  That answer is easy and indisputable.  Deployment of 5G wireless services will require significant fiber deployment, more than either the current 4G wireless cellular network or the new CAF2 Fiber to the Node (FTTN) installations by large incumbent providers.

Rural 5G wireless services would require installing radios every 1,000 – 3,000 feet on towers and poles.  These small cells would require direct fiber connections and all of them would require electricity to power the radios.  The radios would connect to wireless devices in customers’ homes and to other devices on the network and, of course, back to the network backbone.

For comparison, today’s fiber-fed 4G towers might be four to fifteen miles apart depending on terrain and the number of customers.  We know that 4G services have yet to reach many rural customers at their homes since these services are often focused down state and federal highway corridors in tandem with existing fiber routes leaving those in the bulk of the rural countryside without modern service.

In today’s CAF2 environment, providers are making significant investments to deploy FTTN, shortening copper loops to approximately 7,500 feet.  These shorter loop lengths will allow some customers to exceed the 25 Mb download and 3Mb upload FCC broadband standard while others at the end of the line will more likely receive 10 Mb/1 Mb. While this may be a significant improvement from current services, it lags far below the Minnesota broadband goal of 100 Mb/20 Mb by 2026.  Optimists view these CAF2 improvements as an interim step to future FTTH deployment; others view these improvements as the last incumbent investment for a generation.

There are many questions yet unanswered on 5G wireless technical standards and final standards may be years in the making. There are just as many questions on the different business models that will drive deployment in urban, suburban and rural markets.  These deployment strategies will likely vary by location and provider mix.

For example, ATT and Verizon are dominant wireless carriers seeking to use more wireless in their old wired local exchange areas.  They could relatively easily transition their landline customer base to the new 5G networks adding to their existing wireless customer base.  In Minnesota, these wireless companies use a combination of their own networks and leased facilities from a variety of providers to reach large customers, but primarily to reach cell towers.

In Minnesota, incumbent providers CenturyLink and Frontier are just one year into a five-year process to deploy their CAF2 FTTN networks.  Once completed in 2020-21, likely to coincide with 5G technology and devices entry into the marketplace, will they be willing to open these deep fiber networks to competitive 5G wireless providers?  Or will they offer their own 5G wireless services on enhanced CAF2 networks?  Or, will these companies decline to sell access to their networks to wireless providers to preserve their own customer base.  In that scenario one has to wonder if there would ever be a business case for wireless carriers like ATT and Verizon to install duplicate fiber networks to reach rural customers?

So 5G is coming, definitely and soon, but only to metro areas, just as new technologies always seem to hit metro markets first.  But will and when will 5G reach rural?  For those rural residents and businesses still waiting for 4G wireless services, the answer is clearly not any time soon.  Fiber networks, to the home or to the node with very short loop lengths, will be a requirement to support future 5G wireless services.  First fiber, then 5G.  Not the other way around.

My advice: keep pursuing local fiber deployment so that all innovative broadband services – wired and wireless – can be offered in your community.

Steven Senne of Finley Engineering reviewed this article for technical accuracy.


MN House Commerce and Regulatory Reform Broadband Industry Intro: VoIP, 5G,growth and frustration

Yesterday industry folks had an opportunity to provide updates to the House Commerce and Regulatory Reform Committee. Speakers included representative from Minnesota Cable Communications Association, Minnesota Telecom Alliance and AT&T  Wireless. The presentations were similar to those given (by the same folks) to the Senate last week. The speakers were kind enough to share those with me last week – you can see them here. All three groups mentioned a desire to get fiber closer to the home/premise.

I tried something new for this meeting – I used Facebook Live to livestream the event. Here’s the archive:

I also took notes, which I’ll include below. It seems like there were more questions yesterday. Several Representatives were concerned about changing regulation for phone calls (landline versus VoIP) at the expense of consumer protection. One of the big concerns seems to be that VoIP requires power – so when the power goes out, the VoIP phone doesn’t work. (They have some power generators, but it’s a risk.) The push back is that VoIP is much more cost effective for the provider, especially since many customers are “cutting the cord” and going with cell phone options.

With wireless, there were questions about timeline for 5G and distance limitations. The standards for 5G have not been set yet. But AT&T wants to hit the ground running so they are currently working on small cell deployment. (Small cells make 5G work – they also improve 4G access.) Increased small cell deployment should help with distance issues – because there are distance limitations on 5G, which does make it a better solution for urban markets. Representation Hoppe remarked that they can’t legislate faster than technology can change.

While this committee doesn’t deal with the Broadband Funds, the State broadband grants did come up. One Representative had a customer in CenturyLink territory who was frustrated with his service. Apparently he has 1.5 Mbps (so I’m guessing DSL) and he runs a business. He wondered why/how a community upgrade could be so tied to a provider’s decision to upgrade or not. Panelists remarked that the grant had been a good opportunity for partnerships between provider, community and the State. But clearly that 3-legged stool only stands when all three legs are working together. Continue reading

How, when, why to use hybrid fiber-wireless solutions in community broadband projects

Craig Settles just published a new report – Fiber & Wireless – Stronger Together for Community Broadband. It includes a nice sections of definitions and a lot of examples, including some from Minnesota. The core message is that a broadband solution is not painted with one brush. Communities was the capacity and speed of fiber; they want the mobility and affordability of wireless. BUT wireless requires fiber infrastructure.

A hybrid solution allows a network to reach to the far corners of a community quickly, which means singing up customers quickly, which means money to reinvest in fiber to the far corners. But again it also means mobility. It means access what you need while on the road, at the football game, in the field taking to constituents or customers.

Craig provides help on how to fix the RFP process for communities that are looking into community broadband. And also a reminder that what works in a laboratory setting might night mirror results in the real world.

Minnesota examples in Chaska..

Chaska, Minnesota formed a public private partnership that delivered fiber initially, then added wireless to serve businesses that have smaller budgets. Other small towns had their municipal IT departments build and run the networks, including Sandy, Oregon and Wilson, North Carolina. Some of the bigger cities and the counties are building out and selling fiber services themselves, but retain WISPs or other providers to sell wireless services to the public.


And Renville and Sibley Counties.

 Midwest Electric Cooperative in Michigan says that most of their fiber customers use about 20 Mbps of speed. One Christmas, the co-op doubled their speed for a month. Afterwards most customers were content to return to their old speed. An ISP in Minnesota, Hiawatha Broadband Communications, has been selling the residents in 10 towns 25 Mbps symmetrical wireless since 2015. Customers are overjoyed because before this there was mostly dial up. A hybrid infrastructure can address a median need for speed.

10 Minnesota towns in Renville and Sibley Counties, ranging in populations from 2305 down to 504, created a joint powers board to bring broadband to constituents. The board created the RS Fiber co-op to represent communities’ communications interests, and sign up members. The board and co-op retained an ISP, Hiawatha Broadband Communications (HBC), to oversee network operations and marketing.

The original plan called for a fiber backbone to link the 10 towns together and build fiber laterals to the premises. It was estimated to take three years to complete and in 2018, RS Fiber would ask the board to pass another bond to finance the remaining buildout to take in surrounding farmlands. In total, the entire network will cover over 600 miles and 2500 farm sites and cost $70 million.

Broadband projects present two major financial challenges for communities: raising cash for buildout costs and generating sustainable cash flow. They can’t start billing customers until the network is built, plus there is a lag between the buildout and the time when revenue can cover operating costs. HBC came up with a solution that resolved both concerns.

HBC split the project into two phases and focused on the towns first. Starting in mid-2015, they used multiple crews to 1) build out the fiber ring, 2) simultaneously ran fiber to towers that held fixed wireless equipment, 3) then built fiber to the premises. 90% of the residents got 25 Megabit symmetrical wireless service by the end of 2015. 70% had fiber by the end of 2016.

Wireless was the key because it allowed RS Fiber to collect $50,000-$100,000 in monthly revenue and start retiring the debt because residents received service soon after the project started. It helped significantly that RS Fiber gave the go ahead immediately while cities expedited permitting processes and access to vertical assets. HBC retained appropriate staff to do simultaneous buildouts.

“It helped we could use our own fiber ring for five of the towns, our own video head-end and several towns let us use vertical assets such as water towers,” says Dan Pecarina, HBC CEO. “We installed point-to-point fixed wireless with 1gig capacity to ensure every customer gets 25 Mbps symmetrical

5G deployment possible by 2020 – not a rural panacea

I’ve heard a lot of talk about 5G playing a role in broadband deployment. The implications are exciting but it won’t be a panacea and it is still being tested. It sounds like it will be a good last mile technology for densely populated areas. It will also be good for the Internet of Things. It will help keep driverless cars from crashing into each other.

It will help bring a George Jetson looking world to cities. It’s fast with low latency, but the reach is small and the cost (more infrastructure such as fiber required) so the ROI requires densely populated areas.

Finley Engineering put out a nice flier on 5G; here are some of the highlights:

What is the goal of 5G?

There are many 5G network goals, but the priorities include the ability to provide much higher bandwidth, much lower latency, congestion avoidance, and support for emerging IoT applications.

What does 5G mean?

To understand 5G today, you have to separate the marketing term 5G from the technology term 5G. While there has been significant discussion and announcements regarding 5G and its capabilities, the actual technology and the standards it will follow have yet to be determined. There is ongoing 5G technology and standards work from global organizations, including the ITU, GSMA, and 3GPP, among others, to formally define the technology and its capabilities. True 5G standards aren’t expected to emerge until at least 2020.

What are the limitations?

  • True 5G standards aren’t expected to emerge until at least 2020.
  • This initial 5G spectrum is concentrated in the so called millimeter wave (mmWave) band. The mmWave reach is two miles.
  • More infrastructure is required for 5G.

Is there a role for 5G in rural areas?

It sounds like 5G will increase the need for fiber, maybe provide another partner to share fiber costs. Also it can support call centers, data centers, manufacturers – applications where the need is condensed.

Here’s what Finley says…

Beyond the wireless broadband opportunity for wireless carriers, 5G presents many opportunities for wireline as well. The most obvious is leveraging fi ber networks for backhaul. This is an attractive business today, but will only get better with 5G. The network densifi cation required by 5G will mean many more sites will need fi ber backhaul, and it’s not just traditional wireless towers. Hundreds of sites, including the use of small cells and DAS sites, will be needed to cover a 5G area that may have only needed 20 to 30 towers in a 4G environment. These sites will more likely than not require optical wavelength services over traditional Ethernet, due to low latency requirements. These low latency requirements may drive additional rural carrier opportunities including increased demand for edge computing in the form of localized small scale data centers. One millisecond or less response times generally means servers for these applications need to be within 150 miles, traveling over fiber. That may drive demand for more edge computing infrastructure in rural markets.

Urban broadband is a cable game – rural broadband is DSL: how can that help us plan?

The FCC recently released the Industry Analysis and Technology Division Wireline Competition Bureau. It’s the culmination of FCC Form 477 filled out by providers.

I think there’s an interesting look at speeds by technology and location (metro vs rural) of technology. First location – the following graph tracks ratio of subscribership by household density, or who serves urban areas and who serves rural areas. The answer is DSL is a big player in rural areas; cable is the biggest player in towns and cities. Fixed wireless and satellite are players in rural areas and almost non-existent in urban areas. This graph does not track speed – just technology.


Now it’s helpful to look at what speeds. When we look at access by speeds or 10/1 we see representation of all technologies.


When we look at speeds of 25/3, DSL is no longer represented.


Here’s another way to look at it:


DSL has a larger share of slower connections. DSL has a larger share of rural connections. The Minnesota legislature has defined speed goals or 25/3 by 2022 and 100/20 by 2026. They have dedicated funds to making it happen through the border to border grants. So there’s a recognized need for support, but the question is how to increase speeds in rural areas.

Do tools used in urban areas help rural connectivity? Do policy makers understand that there’s a significant difference in the two markets based on population density, distance to customers, limitations of transport technology and regulations and expectations of technologies based urban scenarios.

Right now Minnesota connectivity rates are well below the legislative goals (and the report only indicates download speeds):

  • 200 kbps – 99.5 percent connect
  • 3 Mbps – 93.0 percent connect
  • 10 Mbps – 75.2 percent connect
  • 25 Mbps – 54.2 percent connect
  • 100 Mbps – 13.4 percent connect

Got community WiFi? Facebook help promote that in the future!

According to VentureBeat, Facebook is testing a feature that will highlight nearby public WiFi hotspots…

Facebook has begun early testing of a feature designed to highlight places where you can access free and public Wi-Fi near you. The social networking company confirmed that its Wi-Fi discovery feature is being rolled out now, though it appears to only be in select countries.

“To help people stay connected to the friends and experiences they care about, we are rolling out a new feature that surfaces open Wi-Fi networks associated with nearby places,” a Facebook spokesperson shared with VentureBeat.

It seems like a feature that would be useful enough (and a way to hone advertising, so profitable to Facebook) to get traction. It also seems like easy marketing for businesses and communities that have hotspots.

Several of the Blandin Broadband Communities have built public hot spots for the community to help people without broadband at home to get access. Many have done clever advertising locally to promote the WiFi and the businesses that host it – this might be a way to spread the word to travelers who might choose to stop based on access.

Maybe it seems like a great idea because tomorrow I’ll be driving home from Chicago – but all things being equal I will always choose a pit stop with WiFi so that my kids can quickly download whatever videos they want and I can upload whatever work I’m doing without pushing our data cap fee to four digits. And part what I save on the data cap gets spent on lunch or treat or headphones or other road trip emergencies.