The past few months have seen increased media attention and discussion around the quality of urban Small Cell deployments by the likes of Mobilitie and Crown Castle. This culminated last week with the downgrading of Crown Castle’s small cell business by analyst house BTIG research. The incident highlights how urban small cell rollouts are being compromised because of slap-dash workmanship, which is creating an unsightly environmental mess and leading to a political back-pressure against deployments.
Rather than being any sort indictment of small cell technology, the problem seems to stem from inadequate policies and working procedures between vendors, carriers and local authorities. Originally designed for much larger wireless installations, the issues with these policies become particularly apparent when considering types of installation and rights of way.
Let’s be clear: bureaucracy and politics are a fact of life for the mobile space, and generally with good reason. However, for network densities to stagnate due to the haphazard working practices of a few businesses or unsuitable civic approvals processes in the 21st Century, is a shame.
It also seems unfair for commentators to group all small cells together as problematic and hard-work. Operators are still fixated on urban small cells because they are closest in process to their existing macro infrastructure – and look what the consequence is. However, small cells are not just urban small cells.
Enterprise small cells don’t create the same impact on the environment and by changing the deployment model at least part of the problem is easily removed. Switching the onus to the end user (including the facilities managers) means small cells can easily reside beyond the operator, within the enterprise, and be at least as – if not more – effective an approach.
Intelligent use of enterprise assets in urban areas – be they buildings, power infrastructure, or broadband – as hosts for small cell equipment makes for easier network planning, reducing the need for outside contractors and minimising street-level disruption. Enterprises also have a vested interest in maintaining their brand, therefore they’ll typically be very keen to keep their own back-yard tidy and install them in such a way and in such a location that they make a good impression on the neighbours.
The advantages of relying on enterprise small cells within urban networks go beyond simply resolving the issues we’re seeing in the US, though. Not only does the enterprise have the ability to sanction installation and maintenance outside of working hours, it also has a vested interest in improving the service its staff rely upon. This incentivises the enterprise to do the job right and to keep service levels high. The end user-led deployment approach also takes advantage of the enterprises’ much more granular insight in to where coverage is really needed as well as its existing ability to get broadband for backhaul organised within their facilities.
Current generation small cell platforms also allow for additional incentives, like revenue sharing between the operators and enterprises, which make the economics of a rollout often very attractive too. While it’s very important to maintain installation standards for critical infrastructure it’s sometimes important to rethink your approach when demand is outstripping the network operators’ ability to supply.