The 5G Deployment Challenge: Part 2

IEEE Future Networks Podcasts with the Experts An IEEE Future Directions Digital Studio Production

 technology graphicIEEE Future Networks Podcasts with the Experts
An IEEE Future Directions Digital Studios Production 


The 5G Deployment Challenge - Part 2 of a Series – A Panel Discussion on Public Pushback, Policy, and Public vs. Private


Despite 5G’s potential and favorable economics, deployment of the technology is proving challenging for a variety of reasons. 5G, the fifth generation of wireless technology, promises improved performance of mobile broadband for consumer devices such as smartphones and other user devices, but also adding support for fixed broadband to homes and businesses, massive machine-type communications for the Internet of Things, ultra-reliable low latency communications for virtual and augmented reality, and a host of other applications still in development. Analysts estimate that 5G will bring $275 billion in private investment to infrastructure in the U.S., and vastly more on a global scale, and that it will contribute a significant return to national and global GDP. A panel of wireless industry veterans -- experts who’ve spent their careers on the front lines building our nation’s wireless infrastructure -- discuss challenges in 5G deployment including public pushback, policy, and public vs. private options, and offer some possible solutions.


View the International Networks Generations Roadmap page with Executive Summary, and options for viewing the Deployment White Paper.


Subject Matter Experts




David Witkowski 
IEEE Senior Member
Co-chair, Deployment Working Group, International Network Generations Roadmap
Founder & CEO, Oku Solutions LLC
Executive Director, Wireless Communications Initiative at Joint Venture Silicon Valley



Tim Page, AICP
Co-chair, Deployment Working Group, International Network Generations Roadmap
Real Estate Program Manager – SFO
CCRE – Strategic Relocation
Crown Castle


JoAnna Wang
Director of Government & Community Affairs


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Podcast Transcript 


David Witkowski: Welcome to the podcast. Thanks for joining me today. I have with us JoAnna Wang from Modus and Tim Page from Crown Castle International. So, given all the things we’ve talked about, the value of 5G, I’m curious. Start with Tim. How do we strike the balance between private investment and public regulation or public investment in the 5G network?

Tim Page: I don’t have a good answer for you. I don’t know how a public utility concept would work in the U.S. of 330 million people. You know, throughout history, there are significant anti-trust lawsuits, even among accepted public utilities. And in our lifetime, probably not JoAnna’s, but there was a company called Pacific Bell, and, in certain regions of the country, it might be called South Bell or Atlantic Bell. And in 1982, ’83, I’m not exactly sure, the United States government filed an anti-trust lawsuit against PacBell and that’s how we ended up with AT&T. So, I don’t know how that would look. Even today, we’re looking at breaking up PG&E, and that’s just in one state.

If you look at the track record for massive infrastructure projects only in California, it’s not good. If you look at high-speed rail, where we stand. If anyone remembers the construction of the Richmond Bay Bridge, where we really only got half a bridge. The original budget for that was six billion. It ended up being twelve billion, and it took twenty-five years to build.

And the last issue I would raise, David, is who’s going to fund the two hundred and seventy-five billion? That’s coming from private investment, so would there be a, “Oh, we have to have a federal cellphone tax in order to raise the revenue to be able to do this buildout.” So, I’m-- not sure how that would work.

David Witkowski: Yes. I would agree with that. I certainly-- I think the notion of a nationalized anything-- we, maybe in the past, as a country we were good at these national projects. And maybe that came out of our experiences of-- both in the Depression and World War II. Right? We were used to mobilizing at a national level. That was part of the public ethos. We were okay with that. I think in today’s world it certainly feels like we’re not able to do projects like that very effectively, and I think your examples of just in the Bay Area or in California are well-taken. And it-- for me, personally, it sort of drives against, you know, some belief systems that I have. JoAnna, what are your thoughts?

 JoAnna Wang: When we talk about 5G, I think we get siloed in our thinking that it’s just about the cell site, but there’s so much more behind it that goes along with that infrastructure deployment. And I think, if we keep those things in mind, we could find the right balance between private and public deployment models. Specifically, I’m talking about the fiber backbone. Nobody really sees the fiber that’s being laid in the ground. It’s out of sight, out of mind. We see the cell site. We don’t see the fiber. It’s kind of an afterthought. But none of what we are doing with these deployments will work without that, so is it possible, like the highway system, to have some national framework for a fiber model that gets fiber where it’s needed. That access for all of the carriers, competitors, incumbents, otherwise, is fair and reasonable. That we have ‘big once’ policies that are actually helpful, so that when municipalities are opening up a road, we lay the necessary conduits with the foresight to know, down the line, we will need those for fiber. And we can, I think, help shorten the pilot things and the challenges for deployment if that infrastructure is there already, and then we just access it when we’re ready to deploy.

David Witkowski: So that’s a really interesting perspective. Certainly, the city or municipality-- is -- or the state highway agency is in a much better position to put in fiber and power, which are the two things that are necessary to make any wireless deployment work, if we could do that. I’m curious to know whether or not the right answer is to put in the fiber itself, or simply to put in the conduits, and it would be a lot less expensive for a city to put the conduits underground during the road construction. Those big once policies that you talk about. That’s definitely something that I’ve been a proponent of, when I speak to cities and agencies. I want to throw your point back over to Tim for a response, because I know Crown Castle has made a significant investment in fiber. You’ve acquired at least two that I know of, probably more, fiber companies. Tim, what are your thoughts on the idea of public investment in fiber or public investment in conduit to enable private investment in the wireless network?

 Tim Page: So, I like the concept, but here again I’m going to give away my age. We have lived through-- and, David, you’re well aware when there was a mass move in the United States for fiberoptic cable and hundreds and hundreds of miles of this was deployed in the late eighties, early nineties, in an attempt for a number of things, but one of them was to convert television cable over to fiberoptic. So why am I bring that up? That fiber has laid in the ground unused literally to this time. Having met with a number of municipalities who have this fiber already there, and they have no subscribers, no customers, that was put in the ground with ‘if you build it, they’ll come.’ I just want to point out that there’s a tremendous amount of fiber that’s already there not being used.

 David Witkowski: And that’s a great-- but you’re right. I think that there have been investments that have wound up being almost completely meaningless. I’m thinking of one western city in particular that I spoke with their chief information officer and he expressed to me that the city had put fiberoptics everywhere in their city in the hopes that it would be a-- as you put it-- a ‘build it and they will come.’ The problem was that their prices were four times higher than it would cost on a per linear foot basis to just dig up the street or micro trench fiber into the existing street. So, you have this huge fiber network that went everywhere. But because the city wanted to generate a lot of revenue from it, they priced it so high that no one would use it. And so why did they invest that? Well, I guess they could use it for themselves, but they don’t need those multiple bundles of fiber to control traffic lights. They need one fiber to do that. So, JoAnna, how do you respond to that?

 JoAnna Wang: I think that goes to the point of what I was mentioning earlier, right? Fiber infrastructure at a fair reasonable rate. If there was a national framework or regulatory scheme that established what those reasonable rates are, it wouldn’t give the local jurisdictions an opportunity to say, “If you want to participate in this, this is the rate that it’s going to be at,” and give the carriers an option to pursue other opportunities. I think if it was established -- similar to power rates-- established at a statewide level, the carriers might see the opportunity cost and the benefit really-- the economic benefit -- of using existing fiber infrastructure.

I think, too, we live-- we have the benefit of living in the Silicon Valley. We are leading the world in the technology deployment and despite that, we still have areas that don’t have fiber here. You go a little bit north, because the North Bay, we drive up an hour and there is dead cell service. You go to the coast and residents there don’t have an opportunity for who their cable provider is. There’s areas where they outright lack cell service. Dead zones. And that’s 45 minutes away from the Silicon Valley. So, what are we doing to make sure we’re servicing those areas? If there were a national fiber rollout, we could make sure that those hard-to-reach places have access.

David Witkowski: So, you would argue, if I’m hearing you correctly, that, whether it’s a balance of public and private investment, the country currently has a 5G strategy. We should have a national fiber strategy, as well. Am I hearing you correctly?

JoAnna Wang: Yes. I would say so. I think it would definitely help with the 5G deployment. I mean, as it stands now—

David Witkowski: And other things, right? It would help with other things, too.

 JoAnna Wang: Mm-hm. Right.

David Witkowski: Right. Yes. Certainly, I understand what you’re saying about those dead zones. You know, you-- it doesn’t-- you don’t have to drive very far away from the center of Silicon Valley to find places that are really still sort of 1985. Right?

Tim Page: Some of them-- some of them even by choice, David. I might—

David Witkowski: Yes, of course. Right. Yes. Exactly. There are definitely some—

 JoAnna Wang: Good point.

 David Witkowski:--cities in the San Francisco Bay area who have chosen to remain in 1985, and they don’t want those deployments. And all three of us have gone to those meetings and gone to those appeals and protests, and that is definitely a challenge. Although I find it very interesting, and I won’t name the town, but there was a somewhat notorious council meeting that occurred in one of the towns where many residents showed up for it. And they basically said, ‘over our dead body will you put anything like this in our town. We don’t want it. We don’t need it. I have a landline phone, and I have DSL, and I’m good. And I’m happy with that’.

The day that the shelter-in-place orders were issued in the San Francisco Bay area, my understanding is that the residents from that town called their Congressional representatives, and said, “I’m stuck at home for who knows how long, and my smartphone doesn’t work, and my broadband’s really slow, and what are you going to do about it?” The Congressional representative called the carriers and said, you know, “What are you going to do about this problem?” And they basically said, “They told us they didn’t want it.” And so now they want it. That’s great. But it isn’t going to happen tomorrow. I mean, as JoAnna pointed out, right, four years to do one small cell-- cases where I’ve seen. Tim, I know your company had deployment that took almost a decade to complete. This isn’t going to happen next week.

And so, if we fail to act on these opportunities to deploy, when we need the network, whether it’s because of a pandemic, whether it’s because of an earthquake, whether it’s because of something else that causes us to need that connectivity, it isn’t going to be there. You can’t just flip a switch and turn it on. So, I think it’s important that the public understand, and the cities-- city leaders-- elected, staff-- that they understand that these things take time. And that it isn’t just coming down from space, although I guess SpaceX would counter me and say that it is going to come from space. But until that constellation is activated, and who knows when that will actually happen and if it’s going to be viable, we can’t guarantee that signals are going to be available to us from random places. We have to build the infrastructure to make the network work.

So, we’re getting close to the end of our time. I think there’s a lot of this that still needs to be talked about, and we’re going to be doing that in other podcasts in this series over the course of the coming months. JoAnna and Tim, what are the things that you want the audience to take away?

JoAnna Wang: I think this is a topic that’s not-- we’re not going to have solutions quickly. I mean, it’s obviously challenging, which is why we’re having this podcast to begin with, right? I think something that would help this audience understand is what we’re up against when we’re facing jurisdictions for approval. What it’s going to take to get these sites built. When we’ve taken away local control, essentially the right to-- or the discretionary approval right of a facility, and all we leave them with is aesthetic control, we have to make sure that what we’re proposing is really something that we can stand behind. Right? It passes the smell test of, yes, I would want this in front of my house. So, aesthetics matter. We can make these things-- these sites-- smaller, and we can make them-- make sure that they don’t make noise and they don’t disrupt the community. I think we have to stand a better chance of convincing the members of the public, the mobile authority body, that this is the best proposal to helping us reach the next generation of telecommunications services.

David Witkowski: And I think that’s a really important point to take away, especially for the IEEE members in our audience. The people who are involved with defining the market requirements, defining the engineering requirements for technology. A fan on a radio that’s mounted on a tower that’s in a field somewhere is fine. A fan on a radio that’s mounted on a pole outside somebody’s house is not fine. And cities have been very adamant about saying that that is something that they do not want to approve.

Looking at the supply chain on that, of course it starts with the semiconductor design. You have to design semiconductors that don’t emit a lot of heat. They have to be very efficient, which then gives the radio designer, the circuit designers, the opportunity to build a radio that does not have a fan. Possibly some sort of passive cooling. Because ultimately, at the end of the day, you, JoAnna, and you, Tim, have to put that on a pole somewhere and then you have to go to a city and say, “Well, yes, this thing does have a fan.” And they’re going to have-- you have to struggle with that reality. So, if the-- if the product development chain understands that low power, high efficiency is very important, then we can see better deployments that will pace-- at least that one checkbox of “no fans” is already checked. And that’s really important. Tim, what are your thoughts?

Tim Page: So, David, these are more in line with the value chain that you had outlined a little bit. And I think deployment has to have a presence in the value perspective of the way-- upstream in the design. To have a voice in the design and preproduction, including beta design. And then we need to look at the final downstream placement of that product. And I don’t know if there is that presence, that voice, that is saying, “Hey, great technology, guys, but we’re never going to get it approved.” And so, I think that’s critical. I think we need to educate that same audience. The designers who do such a good job at this, give them design guidelines. There’s a really famous one that the City of San Diego put out. And let them know, hey, this is what we have to comply with, and, ultimately, if you can produce something that makes compliance easier, then we can get this deployed. And if you can put that design presence on equal footing with the design team, then I think you’re going to be more successful. And, David, I’ll leave you with this. We had a meeting yesterday at a site north and west of San Jose. And you could sense a fear. I mean, a literal fear over RF. And this was at an existing tower site. We never even talked about 5G. And this is-- this is what we run into daily.

David Witkowski: When a person says, “Well, I have broadband. Wired broadband in my house. And I use my cellphone when I go out, so I don’t need cell service at my house, so therefore I don’t want it,” what they’re ignoring is that they may have neighbors in that same city, and looking at some of the bigger cities in the San Francisco Bay area that have wide wealth disparities across their neighborhoods. If you’re resisting wireless on a citywide basis, you’re not accounting for the fact that people in that city-- that may be the only way that they communicate. They may only be able to afford-- and the data shows this-- seventy percent of Latinos in California are wireless-only. That their phone is their method for communicating both voice/texting data.

Fourteen percent of California households access the Internet only through a smartphone. So, I think it’s unfortunate that N.I.M.B.Y. communities that have the means to have multiple communications bills and pay those bills forget that they’re-- their resistance is actively affecting people in their community who don’t have those means. And that’s really critical, that we understand that there is a digital equity issue at play here. And if we can’t build networks, then we’re essentially excluding people from 21st century life, because your connection is just-- in our daily life, in 2020, your connection is just as important as electricity, gas, water, or sanitation. It’s a critical part of living in this time. And we have to build those networks.

So, this has been a great conversation. We’ve touched on a lot of topics. We’ve barely scratched the surface of some of them. Looking forward to having this conversation in future podcasts. The IEEE Future Networks Initiative has a program called the International Network Generations Roadmap. You can learn more on the website. And we invite you to become involved in this important work. Be a part of what we’re doing. The more people we have involved in this, the more information, the more expertise, the better the end result is going to be. We’re also going to post show notes, transcriptions, links to resources on that website.

I really want to thank my panelists for being part of this. JoAnna, Tim, thanks so much for lending your expertise to what we did today. Always great to talk to you.