In an effort to speed the deployment of next-generation 5G technology on a national level, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission will be voting this month on an order aimed at making it easier for network operators to deploy the small cells they will need.
Small cells are cellular base stations and antennas that can vary in size but are generally the size of shoe boxes or backpacks. They are a part of the network densification necessary for 5G deployment. The wireless industry will need an estimated 800,000 small cells by 2026, compared to the 150,000 macro cell towers in operation today, with deployments expected on streetlights, utility poles, buildings and other structures.
The FCC's new order, which has yet to be released but was outlined by FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr in a Sept. 4 speech, has four main components. First, it would implement a long-standing federal law barring municipal rules that effectively block the deployment of wireless service.
Second, the order would allow municipalities to charge fees for reviewing small cell deployments, but only if such fees are limited to recovering the municipalities' costs. The order would give guidance on specific fee levels that would comply with this standard.
Third, the order would set a time limit, requiring municipalities to approve or disapprove applications to attach small cells to existing structures within 60 days and applications to build new small cell poles within 90 days.
Fourth, the order places some restrictions on certain municipal rules that could prohibit service, but it also reaffirms localities' traditional roles in reasonable aesthetic reviews. "Significant effort is put into maintaining a community's aesthetics, particularly in special zones such as historic districts. We affirm that federal law does not prevent local governments from continuing to apply aesthetic standards so long as they are reasonable, non-discriminatory, and made public in advance," Carr said.
The FCC is set to vote on the order at its Sept. 25 meeting.