Sprint and Mobilitie Plan to Install Low-Power Cellular Antennas

Sprint is working with Mobilitie, a Newport Beach, California-based company, to install low-power cellular antennas on existing poles in public rights of way (where utility poles, street lamps and fire hydrants are installed) and build new poles where none are available. Sprint chairman Masayoshi Son created this strategy to improve services and keep costs down. Sprint aims to install 70,000 antennas in the public right-of-ways in the coming years. It currently has 40,000 traditional antenna sites, but there are obstacles.

The Wall Street Journal reports that, although the companies intend to install these new cellular systems from coast to coast, communities that consider them ugly and new regulatory questions are slowing down the process. With only 1,000 permits granted, Mobilitie is awaiting more to begin, and Sprint also “recently slashed its capital spending plans for the year as it waits for zoning approvals.”

Mobilitie_Small_Cells

Using lower-power antennas will result in less network congestion, especially as an increasing number of people are streaming video and surfing the Internet on their smartphones. “It’s not a new concept,” said Sprint chief technology officer John Saw, who explains that the carrier’s goal is to be “cheaper and faster and more innovative” than the competition. “All carriers are trying to ‘densify’ their networks.”

Building and operating “small cells” costs about $190,000 over ten years, compared to $732,000 for a traditional tower, said Mobilitie chief executive/founder Gary Jabara. Sprint’s high-frequency airwaves don’t travel far, making low-power cell a good match. Sprint plans to link the antennas via wireless connections, another cost savings.

But RBC Capital Markets analyst Jonathan Atkin is dubious Sprint will succeed, due to the morass of federal, state and local laws controlling public rights-of-way spaces. Because Mobilitie has faced opposition, it has filed applications under different corporate names in at least 30 states, which prompts attorney Joseph Van Eaton, who represents some resisting communities, to criticize the company. Jabara explains that, “in some states it’s more comprehensible for a jurisdiction to work with an authority.”

But Jabara also states the company is “willing to modify its applications to avoid being disruptive,” saying, “it’s more important to be a good citizen” than to speed up deployments. Going forward, he adds, the company will use the name Mobilitie in dealing with local officials.