Transcript: Ignite On Air Podcast
Smart City Small Cells With Dallas
Hello, everyone. I’m Mari Silbey with US Ignite and welcome back to the Ignite on Air podcast. We’re talking small cells again, this time with officials from the city of Dallas, and to set the stage, it was just about two years ago that the state of Texas passed a law governing how cities should work with wireless carriers for small cell deployments. And while this took away a lot of the initial leverage cities had to negotiate permitting fees and timelines, it didn’t change the fact that telecom companies and local governments still have to find ways to work together to make these small cell deployments feasible.
That topic of how communities have adapted their strategies for partnering with carriers was a big focus during our recent Smart City Small Cell Forum event, and to continue that conversation, I invited our speakers from Dallas to join me here on this podcast. I’d like to introduce Ali Hatefi, Sri Veeramallu, and Don Knight. Thank you for being here today. Ali, let’s start with you. Can you first tell us what your role is with the city?
Hi, again my name is Ali Hatefi and first of all thank you for inviting us for this podcast. I’m the assistant director of the Public Works department, and I’m over the right of way management and construction inspection. So deployment of the 5G or small cells was under the section that I’m overseeing.
Great. Well, when your discussions about widespread small cell deployment started, I understand the city of Dallas brought all of the wireless carriers and the power utility company together to talk about what those deployments might look like. Can you describe briefly, what that process was and then some of the standards and procedures you created?
Sure, absolutely. So we started implementing all the requirements that we thought that’s in the best interest of the city, and then we started receiving feedback individually from different industries. Once we were at the same table, everyone could share what they had. Of course, you know, not all the details were shared, and some companies didn’t feel very comfortable to share all the details with their, basically, competitors at the time. But regardless, we got good feedback of what the challenges are.
So we decided to incorporate whatever was feasible to the city of Dallas, to the [city’s] design manual when we did it. We received a bunch of comments. We went over all the comments, and we decided to maybe agree or disagree on the specific comments. And then at that point, we created another version of the vision of the design manual. So we sent it out again for comment at that point. Everything on our end is on the public website, the Public Works website.
And I do think it’s interesting, too, that you involved the power utility as well. I want to turn to Don. One thing I thought was fascinating that you mentioned in our Forum event was that your team started offering carriers access to new sites for small cells that wouldn’t otherwise have been available. How did that work? And how did that change the discussion with the wireless carriers?
Don Knight with the Dallas City Attorney’s office. When we first developed our design manual, we had anticipated that most small cells would be able to be installed on existing utility poles and street lights. And after our design manual was complete, the local investor-owned electric utility that serves the North Texas area issued its own rules, and they only allowed small cell providers on secondary distribution poles and prohibited them from putting anything other than the antenna on the pole itself. So street lights and all the other poles were off limits under the electric utility’s rules, [and] our rules did not generally allow ground furniture because of safety concerns and just the issue of finite space and crowded rights of way. So that meant most of the poles we expected would be available to small cell providers were now off limits because of the electric utility’s rules.
While we discussed how we could encourage use of existing poles so that we weren’t adding thousands of new poles that would cause visual blight and decreased safety for vehicles – you know, by multiplying the number of rigid obstacles they could hit in the right of way – we kept coming back to it’s a shame that we can’t use the utility-owned street lights that are all over the city. But we could not force that so long as they were owned by the utility.
So Sri remarked that it would be great if we could somehow get the small cell providers to install new LED street lights with the capacity to become smart poles with city-provided technology. And that got me thinking that the utility-owned street lights were only there because we, as their customer, had paid to have them installed. And I knew that we had the right to have them removed if we paid any un-amortized cost for the existing street lights. So I proposed we offer small cell providers the option of removing an existing utility-owned street light and replacing it with a city-owned LED street light that could later be equipped with city-provided smart devices.
To take advantage of this, the small cell providers had to cover the cost of removing the utility-owned street light and installing the new city-owned street lights. And the small cell providers were then responsible for maintaining the pole and restoring it if knocked down, while the city was responsible for maintaining the street light and any smart devices on the pole. The concept was popular enough with small cell providers that we heard they were recommending to other cities that they do the same thing that Dallas had done.
I see. So that’s interesting. So that was a chance for you to give them something that they wouldn’t have otherwise had access to. And at the same time, you were able to offload some of the cost while still maintaining ownership of those sites. Is that about right?
It was. Yes, exactly.
Sri, do you want to talk a little bit about what those new smart poles look like and what some of the design requirements are?
Hi, Sri Veeramallu, city of Dallas, Department of Transportation. You know, when we first thought about the pole, we were looking at options around to see what has been done in the past with other cities, and we were also looking at hey, you know, what is that that the providers want in terms of spacing? And we were also keen on trying to put everything inside and close it so it [would] be pleasing to the eye, right? I mean, so we had to balance what would be our technical requirements, and also what would be something that’s pleasing in a historic district. That’s kind of what we started off with.
And, you know, the basic idea was hey, we’re replacing a street light so it should primarily serve a function of the light. So we said, well you know, what are the design requirements that we have for a street light and what do we need to augment it? So we looked at that, we were like, you know, if you’re going to allow these providers there, different providers will have different manufacturers, so they’ll have different ways of building things. So we said what is the most common thing we want them to stick to? It’s more or less like minimum guidelines that we had. You know, what is the wind speed that you designed for? We also wanted to make sure the the poles will fit on the same pole pattern. So basically whoever the provider is, wherever they install it, it’s the same pole pattern so it’s uniform across the city. So if there was an issue with one of the providers, one of them goes bankrupt or whatever happens, we have the option to replace the pole with a standard pole that we can fit on the same pole pattern.
So you know this wind speed was one that we asked. We say minimum 110 miles per hour wind loading. We said this is a pole pattern we want. And then the other thing we were trying to do was say what can we fit at eye level versus what can we fit 30 feet up in the air? So we were trying to look at these aspects.
We were looking at some examples and came up with hey, we want a cylindrical design so it will conceal everything in, and it will also give an option for people to install something above the light. So when the city forces go and maintain the light, they’re not actually working at the radios, but below the radios is kind of what the thought was. So it kind of evolved over time. We started off with some minimum basic requirements, inventing to what we wanted, and we came up with the design that most of the providers were able to accept and move on and manufacture. And what we have is what you can look at in our design manual. And we also have plenty of installations in the city that we can provide some pictures for people to look at.
What’s a good website for people to check if they want to go see what your design manual has as requirements?
If they just type in right of way management system, the city of Dallas, it will take you to the website, and it’s actually incorporated as a part of the right of way management. And we have our design manual and all the additional documentation that we have out there.
Great. Last question I have is what is the outlook for small cell deployments in Dallas at this point for the rest of the year? And how much, if at all, has it changed with the current COVID-19 health crisis?
Sure, I guess I’ll start and then I’ll let maybe Don and Sri talk about that also. As of now, our operation is still the same as far as the COVID-19 goes, you know, regarding the deployment of the small cell. We have received some complaints from some residents saying that there is some evidence that this 5G is related to COVID-19 and all of this is speculation, and they’re asking us to basically stop the process, or at least delay the process till everything is over with this COVID-19. But at this time, we haven’t stopped the process yet and the process is still going on.
One good thing was that our right of way permit is an online-based permit system that even before COVID-19, it was the same way and you know, people are submitting their applications online, and along with that, all of the supporting documents, and we review them and we approve them if it’s possible. So that hasn’t changed. And we try to let citizens know that this is a state law, that we cannot dictate and say that they cannot install any 5G small cells in the city of Dallas. However, we can guide them where to install or tell them what the limitations are.
And that could be the topic for a whole other podcast. Particularly I know there have been protests around 5G and health concerns, many of which are not backed up by serious claims. But again, that’s a whole topic for another podcast. So for right now, I think we’re going to close with that. I know that community engagement and making sure the public is informed and educated is very important. And we’re going to continue to try to do that. But for right now I want to thank all three of you for joining us today. Thanks for coming on the podcast.
I’m Mari Silbey and my guests today on the Ignite on Air podcast have been Ali Hatefi, Sri Veeramallu, and Don Knight from the city of Dallas. If you are interested in learning more about US Ignite as a nonprofit and about our public- private partnership programs, please visit our website at US dash Ignite dot org. I also want to thank the sponsors for our US Ignite Forum program, including Ingram Micro, CommScope, AT&T, Axis, and Deloitte. Thanks for listening.