Hundreds of thousands of new small cell sites are expected to be needed to support 5G and the revolutionary services it will enable — from connected vehicles to the internet of things. This densification effort will require close cooperation among wireless carriers, infrastructure providers and cities as network equipment reaches deeper into communities at a block-by-block level.
Utilities could become key facilitators in the coming wave of 5G wireless network buildout. Companies like Xcel Energy own thousands of assets – such as street lights — deployed in rights of way across the country that could be leveraged for small cell deployments. Xcel Energy recently launched a program to allow carriers to install small cells on its street light poles, including both existing and new sites, beginning primarily in Colorado where it owns 187,000 street lights. The company has developed an approval, design and construction process that will allow carriers to efficiently get small cell sites into operation while easing city concerns about infrastructure clutter in rights of way.
Interest in the program has been strong, according to Edward Bieging Jr., Project Manager for Small Cell Dual Use Pole Deployment for Xcel Energy. The company is working with service providers on more than 1,000 requests that are in various stages of approval and design, and it anticipates even more demand in the next year. Construction on the first site developed as part of its dual-use program is expected to begin soon, and once the process is streamlined, the company expects to deploy between three and five sites per week, Bieging said.
Bieging will discuss Xcel Energy’s dual-pole program at Connectivity Expo on Wednesday, May 22, during a panel focused on innovative infrastructure solutions. In preview of that panel, Bieging sat down with WIA to discuss Xcel Energy’s dual-use program and the role utilities can play in 5G deployments.
Xcel Energy offers a new option for 5G infrastructure deployment. How is the company helping to solve the 5G siting dilemma?
In late 2016 and early 2017, Xcel Energy made the decision to allow wireless carriers to use our street light asset sites for the deployment of Small Cell Dual Use Street Light poles and began to develop processes to make that happen. The goal was to create an efficient system that assists in getting poles in the ground as quickly as possible. We spent 2018 reviewing new site requests and developing and refining processes. As sites moved through the process and we gained a better understanding of carrier expectations, we have developed pole manufacturer relationships, proactively ordered pole and foundation equipment, and have had many conversations with city officials.
What is the process for a carrier to request a dual-use site with Xcel Energy?
The first step is to enter into a street light attachment agreement with Xcel Energy. Then the carrier must get approval in the form of a letter of no objection from the jurisdiction for the site or sites they want to use for their deployment. Once approval has been given, the carrier then submits a preliminary request in our tracking system. After that, we perform a verification of ownership followed by a field assessment, during which we locate underground facilities and analyze the site for specific criteria, such as Americans with Disabilities Act restrictions and speed limits, to make sure the site is suitable for a dual-use deployment.
Once field assessment is completed, a field report is created that provides Xcel Energy and the carrier important information, including where to feed power to the small cell if needed. The power location identification shortens the design process and land survey which is required to determine if the power design is in the right of way.
Can carriers choose both existing sites and new locations?
We’ve actually made the decision to go forward with new build as well, so if a carrier wants a standalone pole at a certain corner where the city also needs a new streetlight, we are open to installing a brand new dual-site pole at that location. If a carrier chooses an existing street light location, we will remove the existing base and pole and put in a brand-new base and pole because the base needed to support new small cell sites is too large for the existing equipment. We will hook up the street light and the carrier will run their power to the pole to light up the small cell device.
What kind of poles do you offer for small cell deployments?
We have two standard poles — internal- and external-mounted small cell street light poles. We wanted to make sure we are consistent with a standard pole because cities don’t want multiple pole types within a right of way.
How does having a dual-pole site option benefit wireless service providers?
Time to on-network is the main focus of our Small Cell Dual Use Street Light pole installation process. We know that they need and want to get ready for 5G and having an existing asset there is critical for the success of their small cell deployment.
What do carriers need to know about working with utility assets?
The actual removal and replacement of the poles should be pretty easy. It’s the power run to feed that small cell that is going to be a concern. Where is the power going to be fed and how much is that going to cost? Is it just simple run underground to that area that you can directionally bore or plow and hook up to the transformer, or is the transformer full? Do we need to design another transformer or design a more robust transformer? If we have to go down that path, it might be a bit more time consuming. If we don’t, it should be an easy installation.
What have you learned working with the City of Denver?
Like any city, they don’t want clutter in the right of way. They want standards. They want equipment that is going to last. They want sites that are going to look good. They want the least amount of disruption to the residents and to the people in Downtown Denver and neighborhoods. They want to take opportunities as well. For example, if there’s a request where there’s a wood standalone pole, they want to know if there is an opportunity to underground overhead wire to make it more aesthetically pleasing to the neighborhood. I think it pleases cities to know that we are helping and assisting with those installations. There’s going to be times when a monopole or a standalone pole is going to have to be installed because a carrier needs it, but I think everybody so far is working together, getting ordinances put together and understanding the process. Cities don’t feel like they are all alone out in the small cell world. We are here to help them through that process.
How is Xcel Energy preparing for the future demand for sites?
New development could impact infrastructure and it’s a great opportunity to bring Xcel Energy, carriers and developers together to work collaboratively on getting Small Cell Dual Use Street Lights deployed in new development with minimal impact to the residents. We’re working with builder developers and carriers to plan infrastructure during the development stage and get that stuff in the ground and the small cell network mapped out in that development prior to the ground being closed up. We need to be prepared for the demand and not stuck behind the eight ball, slowing things down. A good deployment strategy is the best way forward.
Don’t miss Bieging’s panel “Accelerating Small Cell Deployments with Innovative Infrastructure Solutions” at Connectivity Expo on Wednesday, May 22, at 1 p.m. Bieging will join panelists from Vitruvi, Aero Solutions and Peaknet to discuss how carriers, site development firms, software enablers and new entrants are deploying innovative solutions to meet the challenge of 5G deployment. The panel is a part of the “5G Infrastructure: Fiber, Small Cells and Fixed Wireless” education track, which will explore topics including network densification, artificial intelligence, Massive MIMO, millimeter wave wireless, mission critical fiber and small cell design.
Visit www.connectivityexpo.com for the full list of speakers, keynotes, exhibitors and sessions.
Edward P. Bieging Jr. is a facility attachment consultant working for Xcel Energy on Small Cell Dual-Use Pole installations. He has 35 years of outdoor lighting and customer service experience and consults with cities and municipalities as well as carriers on small cell dual-pole use site requests, internal processes for design, and construction. Bieging has been instrumental in launching Xcel Energy’s Small Cell Dual Use deployment in Colorado.
Previously, Bieging was LED Program Coordinator for Xcel Energy where he scheduled, coordinated and executed the company’s LED conversion program.