If spectrum is the fuel for wireless networks, infrastructure is the foundation. To meet the increasing demand for mobile broadband and to deploy next-generation networks, we need more wireless infrastructure and smarter siting policies at all levels of government.
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Wireless infrastructure refers to the antennas and other equipment that send and receive signals between wireless devices and the network. More wireless infrastructure expands coverage and increases network capacity.

Wireless companies today increasingly rely on smaller antennas, like DAS (Distributed Antenna Systems) and small cells, to meet consumers’ demand for mobile broadband and prepare for 5G, the next-generation of wireless networks.  

While policymakers have taken some steps to speed deployment, we need more reforms – greater access, reduced costs and streamlined processes – that reflect new infrastructure technologies and will help make 5G and the Internet of Things a reality. 

The wireless industry has long relied on antenna installations located on towers and collocations on tall structures like rooftops. These traditional cell sites form the core of a wireless network and are effective for covering large geographic areas and delivering signals miles away. Today, thanks to billions of dollars in investment, the wireless industry has built nearly 300,000 cell sites across the country. 

But Americans are using more mobile data, and the Internet of Things is driving massive growth in connected devices. Communities are using wireless technologies to become “smart” – improving the efficiency and delivery of government services, like public transportation, traffic management and public safety. And tomorrow’s 5G networks will connect and transform entire industries, from agriculture to health care. 

This explosion in wireless connectivity is “driving an urgent and growing need for additional infrastructure deployment and new infrastructure technologies,” as the FCC has recognized. Today’s wireless networks must become denser – supporting more wireless infrastructure located closer together – to handle the network capacity and coverage needs of consumers and communities around the country. 

To meet the demand for mobile broadband and roll out tomorrow’s 5G networks, wireless companies will need to use smaller antenna technologies – DAS and small cells – to densify their network architecture and add more capacity. However, building out these denser wireless networks can face some challenges as these “microcells” have a range of several hundred meters, not many miles. 

Because deployments must be more extensive and closer to users, additional sites to place this infrastructure can be difficult to find. In addition, existing regulations were often developed for 250-foot towers – not technologies like small cells that can be the size of a pizza box and located discreetly on the side of a building or on a street light.
That’s why policymakers, from city council to Congress, should streamline siting regulations that govern when, where and how wireless infrastructure can be deployed.

CTIA is working with policymakers on the three keys to infrastructure reform: 

  • Greater Access. We must improve access to government-owned infrastructure, like utility poles and rights of way. 
  • Reduced Costs. We must ensure reasonable rates for accessing this infrastructure that reflect the economics and architecture of wireless networks. 
  • Streamlined Processes. We must simplify zoning process with reasonable timetables and more uniform procedures for approving wireless infrastructure deployments.  
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