The United States Federal Communications Commission will soon be holding a vote that will affect the review process for the deployment of small cell wireless equipment, and the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association has submitted a filing urging the Commission to make things easier for wireless carriers. The filing is not a direct demand for action or meant to open up a new case or action; it’s filed as Ex Parte, which essentially means that it’s a suggestion from an outside party with interest in the FCC’s internal issues. The filing zeroes in on the hefty fees and costs associated with environmental reviews for small cell deployments, stating that the scale of those costs far outweighs the impact of the small cell being deployed, especially in an environmental sense.
Currently, small cell deployments are subject to hefty environmental reviews, among others, to determine how much of an impact a given deployment would have on not just the environment around it, but also other electronic devices, other wireless equipment in the area, and any other activity that happens in that area, such as air traffic or military operations. Most of the review requests received by carriers and other wireless entities are tribal; in some areas where tribal lands overlap, as many as 15 requests can come in regarding a single deployment. Reviews from major American environmental institutions are also necessary. This has made reviews into a massive budget constraint in some cases. Wireless carrier Verizon, for example, states that this process makes up more than a quarter of its small cell deployment costs. The environmental reviews process can often be lengthy and costly, and the CTIA is arguing that it is largely unnecessary; small cells, speaking strictly from an environmental standpoint, draw vastly less power and emit less radiation when compared to traditional cell sites. All the same, the environmental reviews that they’re subjected to are similar to those necessary for a normal ground-based cellular deployment, whereas public Wi-Fi access points, which small cells are more akin to, have no such review process.
Small cells, for the uninitiated, are cellular access points that are much smaller than cell towers, hence their name, and only reach a maximum of a few hundred users spread over a relatively small area, usually less than a square mile. Small cells have a short path from access point to user, making them ideal for use with high-frequency wireless spectrum, which can deliver incredible data speeds with little latency. As is easy to imagine, this makes small cells integral in the march of 5G technology. FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai has expressed in the past that ensuring 5G technology can propagate undisturbed is vital to the future of contemporary networking in America, so it’s hard to imagine the FCC’s vote not going in carriers’ favor.