Lighting the Way for 5G Joint Use

January 13, 2020 — Tim Lloyd

5G is here!  One after another, mobile carriers are announcing go-live dates for their new 5G networks, tirelessly attempting to meet the needs of consumers clamoring for faster download speeds.  However, while the average user is only looking for additional bars on their mobile device, the implementation of 5G is quite complex and creates a unique challenge for providers.  The success of 5G is based on small cell technology requires many more antennas than its predecessors, small cells that boost transmission and thus are lower to the ground and closer to the end users.  In big cities that are the target areas for deployment, installation of hundreds of additional antennas and poles to support them is an aesthetic and logistical headache.  The solution?  Making use of existing infrastructure, namely electric utilities’ street light poles.

And yet, with this solution another complication arises.  The existing street light poles must be modified to support the antenna attachments.  To accomplish this in a utility requires efforts from several departments including administration, design, scheduling and construction.  With the day-to-day operations of a large Investor Owned Utility, make-ready work must fall in line with new construction and storm recovery.  While the work will be completed, the timeline often does not meet the demands of speedy 5G deployment.

SSP has had the opportunity to work with one of our clients to develop a process that meets these challenges.  The utility has taken a proactive approach by publishing standards for pole types that are designed specifically to accommodate small cell antennas.  The lighting department has taken accountability to see requests for collocation from start to finish, navigating the proposal through each of the necessary departments and associated tasks.  By managing the process closely in addition to treating this as customer work instead of necessary compliance, the expectations of their partner companies are being met and, in many cases, exceeded.

Coordinating several departments across multiple states has been made possible by using SSP’s Joint Use solution, SPANS.  While most SPANS users are accustomed to seeing a traditional Attachment Proposal workflow for Joint Use work, the SPANS product has also been specifically configured to meet the needs of this new and continually evolving process.  Customizations were developed that include lat/long searches for existing antennas, timelines that generate automatic notifications and cancellations, and records that model the internal approval process.  The completed workflow in SPANS is modeled below.

What have been the results of this collaboration?  Prior to the SPANS implementation, the client had been able to process approximately 650 requests over the course of a couple years.  In the past year since implementation, over 1200 requests have been accepted and are either completed or well into the workflow in SPANS.  Mobile providers are excited about the process and 5G has been successfully deployed in major cities in the utility’s service area.  5G has indeed arrived.

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