If you’re in the utility industry, there’s a good chance you’ve already come across the impacts of 5G attachments. 5G is a formidable power when it comes to new network technologies, but what does it have to do with utility poles? Simply put, the rollout of 5G relies on small-cell technology attachments being placed on existing utility poles. It sounds simple enough, but telecommunications are subject to certain regulations, such as those from the National Electrical Safety Code (NESC), the Original General Order 95 (GO-95) and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
With so many players involved, 5G attachments require collaboration from several different entities, including service carriers, utility providers and regulating bodies. Fortunately, the promises of new technology tend to bring out the collaborative nature in different industries, and that holds true for 5G.
5G, like other types of cellular networks, transmits wireless signals through a network split into different “cells.” These cells allow your device to switch between towers when necessary and get the best performance. 5G increases wireless capacity and offers other benefits like low latency and speed improvements. While 4G networks use large cellular towers to create cells, 5G uses a type of technology called “small-cell” base stations. These base stations are discreet and installed on existing pieces of infrastructure, primarily utility poles, allowing more dense coverage.
5G has been rapidly gaining momentum since research began in the early 2010s. But what is it about 5G that’s prompted the world to spend $2.64 billion on 5G infrastructure in 2020 alone? The effects of 5G go far beyond how quickly you can conduct an internet search on your cellphone. It has wide-reaching capabilities in many different sectors, like health care and transportation, thanks to 5G’s ability to offer speed, reliability and greater device connection density. The market is expected to grow significantly, with a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 77.6% between 2020 and 2027.
Everything from remote surgery to vehicle-to-vehicle communication to Internet of Things (IoT) devices can benefit from the reliability and low latency of 5G.
Installing 5G nodes calls for collaboration between various parties. The process must be approved by safety, electricity and utility authorities regarding topics like accessibility, backhaul solutions, minimum clearances and attachment guidelines, which can vary widely and necessitate collaboration between parties. The installation must be cleared with the city and cannot interrupt other utilities, such as water lines.
Locations for 5G small cells must have fiber-optic cables in place and, if creating a new utility pole, a foundation and electrical connection. The pole, whether existing or new, needs to be structurally sound to support the addition of the new equipment.
Most installers look for certain characteristics in aerial infrastructure before placing 5G nodes, such as:
Since small cells are discreet and the boxes don’t take up much space, they’re relatively easy to work around and shouldn’t cause any problems for other types of utility work. Adding small cells to aerial infrastructure will be a major part of the 5G rollout and call for an increase in skilled installations. Easy measurements and on-the-go assessments can help installers accomplish the job faster and more reliably.
With such discreet and plentiful placement options, 5G attachments sound easy to implement. In reality, 5G utility pole attachments involve requirements from the pole owner, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and a complex payment model in which service providers and tower owners share access to the utility pole. Joint use agreements are a critical part of this equation, as they outline who owns and pays for the space and resources for maintaining utility poles.
Utility and telecommunications providers have been working together to add telecommunication tools and community antenna television (CATV) on power poles for a while. However, 5G adoption has created uncertainty about who actually attaches the 5G equipment. In the past, these areas of ownership were separate, with additional connections like fiber and internet being placed in a dedicated communications space. 5G attaches to the primary area, traditionally owned by the utility. This overlap forces more collaboration between the two parties.
The installation process also needs to factor in rules from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), National Electrical Safety Code (NESC), the National Electrical Code (NEC) and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The small-cell node must be placed according to safety guidelines and the pole owner’s requirements, and joint use agreements can help standardize them.
These agreements dictate who shares access to utility structures. In this case, we’re often working with phone and power lines. These agreements should help to speed up the process and simplify the demands of 5G rollout. In reality, there’s some red tape in place that can slow the process down. The sheer quantity of applications is enough to put a strain on approvals, with over 417,000 cell sites added just in 2020. This is especially relevant in dense, urban areas, where the number of nodes will be higher than in rural areas.
Another challenge comes from the time limits in place by the FCC. They give utility providers certain timeframes, called shot clocks, to make decisions to support faster rollouts. Utility providers have 90 days from receipt to review an application for:
Those applications include make-ready designs, permits and construction. The timeframe for these approvals used to be longer, and if the permit ruling timed out, telecom companies could move forward with work. While the shorter timeline can add an extra challenge, it helps utilities better manage their needs and speed up revenue flow.Contact Us
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