Focus on Design Eases Permitting Process in California Markets


Attention to detail can be the difference between an efficient permitting process and a deployment that stalls out during the approval process.

Boulder, Colorado-based Comptek Technologies, an Aero Wireless Group company, is capitalizing on its ability to create small cell site designs that meet many of the rigorous standards and restrictions set forth by jurisdictions. Most recently, Verizon selected Comptek to work in the City of Santa Monica, California, to design and deliver infrastructure assets for 5G deployments in the high-profile tourist destination that places a premium on the aesthetic of its community.

The company designed a 5G flush-mount concealment shroud that appealed to city leaders and met the requirements both of the city and Verizon Wireless, which works in partnership with Comptek in markets where custom designs are needed. Verizon shares information with Comptek about what each jurisdiction is looking for and sometimes brings the company to the table to communicate directly with city leaders about their needs.

The relationship between Comptek and Verizon dates back to 2016, when the companies worked together on a project to bring smart poles to the city of Denver. Verizon was working with the Denver City Council to densify its network in the city, and Comptek came in to help develop a solution that met Denver’s aesthetic requirements and requests.

Jim Lockwood

“It really became a success for the city of Denver,” said Jim Lockwood, CEO of Comptek. “The City of Denver adopted Comptek’s smart pole, CityPole® as their standard. About a year later, Verizon’s corporate team invited Comptek to respond to an RFI to support them on a national level with a family of smart poles. We developed solutions that resonated well with Verizon and were selected in early 2018 as one of only several suppliers.”

Since then, Verizon has tapped into Comptek’s design capabilities nationwide, but particularly in Southern California markets where local authorities tend to set a high bar for the aesthetics of infrastructure in their rights of way and often have strict restrictions on pole height and noise.

“The most common request, especially for Southern California, is to make the infrastructure look as nice as possible, as slim as possible, and as quiet as possible,” said Joel Crane, Senior Manager, Network Real Estate/Regulatory, Southern California Real Estate with Verizon. “If it’s not immediately identifiable as wireless infrastructure, so much the better. We’ve been able to achieve that with Comptek.”

The companies have partnered in Los Angeles, San Diego, Long Beach, and most recently Santa Monica on smart poles, streetlights and other designs that blend into those communities while adding and upgrading wireless capabilities and providing an asset that can support future network needs. A unique challenge the companies faced in those markets was limiting noise.

“In Southern California, the thermal management of the radios inside or external to a pole is important to achieve without the use of active fans,” said Lockwood. “There can be no sound coming off the pole.”

Comptek’s multidisciplinary engineering team that includes mechanical and electrical engineers along with structural and industrial designers developed a system to leverage and redirect the air flow released by fans already built into the 5G radios to cool the heat generated by the radios themselves without adding additional mechanical elements or new fans inside the pole or shrouds.

“These are not traditional channels of redirecting the heat,” said Lockwood. “We operate 26 3D printers in Boulder printing interesting shapes designed to support our internal cooling systems and reduce the form factor of shrouding the radios.”

Comptek also puts a great deal of effort into making sure its designs look like they belong. In Southern California, many existing streetlight poles are made of concrete, but concrete poles don’t have internal space to accommodate fiber, coaxial cable, power supply and other elements needed to run a cell site now and in the future. Comptek has spent nearly two years developing faux concrete finishes that can be applied to hollow steel poles and color matched to existing infrastructure.

Comptek’s designs may be striking the right aesthetic notes at municipalities because the company has made a concerted effort to bring artistically gifted people to its staff — including those with a background or education in industrial design and art.

“We recognized very early how important it is to provide attractive small cell infrastructure, so it was just second nature to bring onto our team industrial designers that often understand better than many engineers how to make things really look good,” said Lockwood. “Our industrial designers support our regionally located staff that directly support the customer.”

Now, along Ocean Blvd., Shoreline Blvd., Pine Ave. and other higher-density locations within the city of Santa Monica, the Comptek 5G flush-mount shroud blends with existing streetlight and traffic signal poles. The shroud is lightweight and low profile, conceals cables, requires minimal installation time, mounts to existing steel and wood poles, and is thermally and structurally tested.

The design now becomes part of a stable of proven solutions that Verizon can take to different municipalities as an option for their own deployments. Many municipalities appreciate the ability to see pictures of actual deployments or even physically visit sites to see and touch them in person rather than contemplating conceptual designs. When actual sites aren’t available, Comptek will create and ship 3D printed models to Verizon that can be presented to permitting officials.

“When we first started to work with Joel and his team, we built a full-scale prototype smart pole including everything except the radios. We shipped it to Irvine and put it in the parking lot,” said Lockwood. “It allowed not only the Verizon staff to kick the tires and see how it looked but also to bring municipalities in to view as well.”

Although there is an upfront cost to building full-scale and scaled-down models for municipalities to examine, often the effort pays off with an approval.

“My philosophy is when you’re approaching a jurisdiction up front, you want to make sure that you completely understand the permitting process that you’re about to embark on, and you want to make sure that you have approved designs going in to expedite that process,” said Crane. “The set up very often takes a little bit longer but it’s worth it in the long run for setting expectations, and having a standard design up front has absolutely enabled us to go through the wireless permitting process much quicker.”

Crane characterized the relationship with Comptek and its ability to create customized designs as ‘invaluable,’ especially because being responsive helps Verizon build positive long-term relationships with the municipalities it serves.

“It is absolutely critical to have good-looking designs to support our development of our network,” he said.