Thursday, August 31, 2017

More Harvey-Hit Tower Sites Return to Service

As the rain was starting to lessen in areas of Southeast Texas initially impacted by Tropical Storm Harvey, carriers reported few cell tower sites out of commission on Wednesday. Of the 55 impacted counties in Texas and Louisiana, 4.2 percent of the cell sites were out of service, down from 4.7 percent on Tuesday, according to the FCC’s Disaster Information Reporting System (DIRS).

For the first time since the FCC began issuing daily communications outage reports for Harvey, there were no counties with more than 50 percent of sites out of service. Aransas and Refugio were both above 50 percent on Tuesday, but dropped from 84.2 percent to 47.4 percent and from 73.1 percent to 26.9 percent, respectively. There were no cell sites reported out of service in Louisiana. That, too, is an improvement. On Tuesday, Calcasieu, St. John the Baptist, and Terrebonne parishes each reported one site out.  Continue Reading

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Coverage Stable in TX as Harvey Creeps Toward LA

Tropical Storm Harvey continued to deluge southeastern Texas with rain and surging floodwater Tuesday, as it slowly crept toward Louisiana. A major dam outside Houston, the nation’s fourth-largest city, overflowed, resulting in more flooding.

About 95 percent of the cell tower sites in the 55 total counties of Texas and Louisiana are working, according to the latest figures from the FCC’s Disaster Information Reporting System (DIRS). The carriers provide updated information to DIRS daily. 

At mid-morning on Tuesday, 4.7 percent of the cell sites were down in the affected area, the same as Monday. The counties with more than 50 percent of cell sites out are Aransas and Refugio in Texas. Louisiana is beginning to have cell site outages. Calcasieu, St. John the Baptist, and Terrebonne are the only parishes reporting site outages, each with one site out. Continue Reading

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Wireless Carriers Offer Free Calls, Texts, Data

The nation’s major wireless carriers, Sprint, AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile, are offering free calls, text, data and credits for customers affected by Tropical Storm Harvey.

  • Sprint is waiving casual call and text fees for Sprint, Boost and Virgin Mobile customers in the impacted areas of Texas and Louisiana through September 1.
  • AT&T has a similar plan. Until at least September 1, the carrier will issue credits to AT&T wireless customers in impacted areas for additional data, voice and text charges, and AT&T Prepaid for additional voice and text charges.
  • Verizon is offering free service to monthly subscribers in the affected area until September 8.
  • T-Mobile is offering unlimited data to those who are not already on an unlimited data plan (T-Mobile ONE customers always have unlimited data). Metro PCS and T-Mobile customers not on T-Mobile ONE can use unlimited data from now through September 1. Continue Reading

Monday, August 28, 2017

Carriers Ready for Harvey’s Call

As Hurricane Harvey set its sight on the Texas and Louisiana coasts, carriers employed strategies to keep wireless technologies that keep people in touch and critical systems online. As the storm advanced, preparation included topping off fuel generators, testing high-capacity back-up batteries at cell sites and protecting physical facilities against flooding.

AT&T bulked up its Network Disaster Recovery program and said it has more than 700 pieces of equipment to deploy to disaster areas. Its Cell on Wheels, Cell on Light Trucks, trailers and generators available are capable of maintaining its wireless network, if permanent macro towers happen to be offline. “We’ve worked for the past few days to position equipment and crews to respond to the storm,” said Dave Nichols, president, AT&T Texas.  “We’re closely linked with Texas public officials in their storm response efforts.”   Continue Reading

Friday, August 25, 2017

U.S. Towers, Are They Still “Buys?” Analyst Says “Yes”

“Towers are no longer stupid cheap like they were at the end of 2016,” said Nick Del Deo of MoffettNathanson, “and there is less headroom to our target prices than there once was.”  It is therefore critical, according to Del Deo, that investors expand beyond the simple, and now consensus, “growth is inflecting in 2018” narrative.  Instead, investors must pay closer attention to strategic direction, capital allocation, quality of bottom-line metrics, and valuation at the three operators, to assess which equities are most compelling, Del Deo advised.    Continue Reading

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Sinclair, Tribune Answer ‘Absurd’ Allegations Combo Could Delay Repack

Sinclair Broadcast Group and Tribune Media call allegations that their combined power after their $3.9 billion merger would allow the new entity to delay the television channel repack, “absurd and unfounded.” They defend their planned deal, asserting their need to combine to survive the competitive media landscape. “Each of the petitioners is either trying to use this proceeding to stifle competition for its own economic interests, or is still living in a pre-cable, pre-internet, pre-smartphone world, untethered from the economic realities of the current media market,” said both companies in a response to Petitions to Deny filed with the FCC late Tuesday evening.

The Rural Broadband Association and the Competitive Carriers Association were among those filing petitions opposing the combo. Each said after combining, Sinclair would own over 200 television stations and since it also owns antenna-maker Dielectric, it would have the power and incentive to seriously delay the pace of the TV channel repack, Inside Towers reported. NTCA, CCA, plus T-Mobile, said Sinclair has tried to delay both the spectrum auction and the subsequent repack numerous times and would do so again. Continue Reading

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

“British FCC,” Ofcom, Braces for Spectrum Auction as Carriers Battle

here was a time, long ago, in a United Kingdom far away where telcos, happy because they were free at last to compete, mostly did what they were told by their stern but fair government regulator, Ofcom, without rushing off to the local magistrate to quibble over any injustice they felt intruded on their happy state of affairs, according to TelecomTV.

Those days, alas, are apparently long gone. The regulator has become the referee and protector of the public interest, blowing a tinny-sounding whistle, only to be mobbed by screaming players, i.e., the carriers.

Two years ago, the CEO of British Telecom (BT) openly threatened Ofcom with ten years in court and a veiled infrastructure build strike when it felt it had been wronged. Now Ofcom faces another, and possibly bigger issue, but this time it’s about 5G spectrum and who can hold what percentage of it. The biggest spectrum holder is BT, and the smallest, Hutchison’s 3G ( “3” ), with O2 and Vodafone somewhere in between.

The current spat kicked off when “3” wrote to Ofcom, demanding that it impose a lower cap on the proportion of total spectrum any single mobile competitor could hold. The current ceiling is 37 percent;  “3”  wanted this lowered to 30 percent. The company has been feeling aggrieved for some time since it claims it’s being fatally constrained by a lack of spectrum and can’t serve its customers properly. At present, it has just 15 percent of the total and it claims this situation is anti-competitive, TelecomTV reported. Continue Reading

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Broadband Included in President’s Infrastructure Order

President Donald Trump issued an executive order establishing accountability in the environmental review of infrastructure projects, including broadband. The order creates a framework to ensure the permitting process is “coordinated, predictable, and transparent,” according to the text.
The inclusion of broadband in the executive order is “a step in the right direction for favorable broadband infrastructure policies” and consistent with USTelecom advocacy on this issue, according to USTelecom VP Law & Policy Kevin Rupy. Continue Reading

Monday, August 21, 2017

AT&T Working to Make Drone Tower Inspections ‘Intelligent’

AT&T uses drones for tower inspections. Actually, vendors do that work for the carrier. Now, the carrier wants to start automating the process using artificial intelligence.

“At any point in time, we’re installing, repairing or inspecting one of our 65,000 cell towers,” says Mazin Gilbert, Vice President of Advanced Technology at AT&T Labs in a blog. The video analytics team at AT&T Labs is working with the company’s National Drone Team on the concept.

Now, a learning algorithm analyzes video footage and can detect defects. AT&T is looking at how drones can carry a live video feed to AT&T technicians, who can study that feed in real-time. “With automation in the mix, we can do the job faster, better and more efficiently,” says Gilbert, explaining in this video that automation can make the most out of the video that’s collected, relevant to the inspection. The carrier hopes regulatory changes and more research will help make automated inspections happen. Continue Reading

Friday, August 18, 2017

City Wins, AT&T Loses, in Kentucky Pole Attachment Dispute

A federal court has sided with a Kentucky municipality and against AT&T in a case concerning access to utility poles. No state or federal law prevents Louisville, KY from requiring a “one-touch make-ready” ordinance outlining new procedures for installing communications infrastructure on utility poles in the city, a U.S. District Court for the Western District of Kentucky ruled Thursday.

Make-ready work generally consists of moving or rearranging existing wires and attachments on utility poles to make space for new attachments. One-touch make-ready policies seek to avoid delays by having all make-ready work performed at the same time by a single crew.

AT&T subsidiary BellSouth Telecommunications fought Louisville’s right to allow new users to rearrange existing pole attachments. AT&T asked the court to declare the ordinance unlawful, while the city said it has the authority to manage its public rights-of-way. AT&T told the court it invested “millions of dollars” to build and maintain a communications network in Louisville. AT&T owns most of the poles it uses in Louisville and contracts with Louisville Gas & Electric for others. Continue Reading

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Exactly Who Gets Priority Access to FirstNet?

Public safety personnel who take calls from the public, dispatchers and others will have priority access to FirstNet, the nationwide public safety communications network. While AT&T officials have said they plan to give first responders from states that have opted into FirstNet “presumptive access” on their LTE networks by the end of the year, officials explained more about what that entails at the APCO 2017 show this week in Denver.

When FirstNet awarded AT&T the 25-year contract to build, maintain and operate the network, officials said that fire, EMS and law-enforcement personnel would be considered primary public-safety users. Continue Reading

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

CCA Implores FCC to Block Verizon/Straight Path Deal

The Competitive Carriers Association objects to the proposed transfer of millimeter wave spectrum from Straight Path Communications to Verizon as part of a proposed all-stock transaction the parties value at just over $3 billion. The telcos seek permission to transfer the control of Local Multipoint Distribution Service, 39 GHz, 3650-3700 MHz, and common carrier fixed point to point microwave licenses from Straight Path to Verizon. The FCC’s preliminary review indicates once the deal closes, Verizon would have 100 MHz to 1650 MHz of spectrum in total, in the 28 GHz and 39 GHz millimeter wave bands across the U.S.

“If approved, the transaction would consolidate enormous amounts of mmW spectrum into the hands of Verizon and would exceed the FCC’s spectrum screen in key local markets,” said CCA in a Petition to Deny, filed with the agency. CCA wants the Commission to block the application and instead make Straight Path’s licenses available to all carriers through competitive bidding. Verizon has told the FCC its post-transaction look at “marketplace developments and competitive circumstances reveals no risk to competition.” Continue Reading

Monday, August 14, 2017

LTE Going Lunar

The moon is getting a cell tower. Part Time Scientists, a German company planning to send a lander and rovers to the moon in late 2018, will use LTE technology to communicate with Earth. According to, the team’s spacecraft, Alina, will land at the site of Apollo 17, NASA’s final Apollo mission. As rovers travel the moon’s surface, they will relay information back to Alina, which will serve as a cell tower during the mission. Using LTE communications will be particularly useful in future lunar missions, especially if the European Space Agency continues with its plans to build a lunar village. Continue Reading

Friday, August 11, 2017

Telcos, Cable Fight Over Proposed 3.5 Ghz Changes

The Dynamic Spectrum Alliance (DSA) tells the FCC by its count, most of the more than 800 comments filed on proposed changes to the 3.5 GHz band oppose converting the Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) into a 5G-only band. The DSA characterizes itself as a group of what it says are “multinationals, small-and medium-sized enterprises, and academic, research, and other organizations” committed to expanding broadband.

The DSA argues telcos large and small, have made investments under the current rules, investments that “may be stranded, and future innovation stifled,” if drastic changes are made. “The Commission should resist arguments to change the current PAL structure to one that would be favorable to only one class of entity – the large nationwide wireless carriers, at the expense of all other entities,” says DSA. It notes Ericsson, Intel, Nokia, Qualcomm, Ruckus Wireless, and others “are well on their way to creating a rich ecosystem of 3.5 GHz LTE devices, with the first 3.5 GHz LTE handset expected to reach the market later this year.”

CTIA and T-Mobile say their proposals would benefit 5G, Inside Towers reported. They seek to lengthen license terms to 10 years and increase license areas by using traditional Partial Economic Areas rather than census tracts. In order to spur investment, T-Mobile also proposes the Commission convert all 150 MHz of spectrum in each CBRS market open to priority access licensing. CBRS is now limited to 70 MHz of PAL per market. Continue Reading

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Prison Outreach: From ‘Vet’ to ‘Con’ to Tower Dawg

Veteran inmates at Manzanita Prison, Anthony Paz, Kathy Gill
Kathy Gill was nervous, but then she always gets nervous when she goes to prison.  This was her fourth time.  A woman who had built a company, trained hundreds of men and women to work past their fears and climbed a countless number of towers in all conditions, was wishing she was someplace where she was more comfortable, like dangling from a harness 150 feet in the air.

At least she wasn’t alone at Manzanita Prison in Tucson; she had an ex-con with her to ‘show her the ropes’ as she had done for so many of her tower tech trainees.  They were waiting for DOC and DES approval to go inside an extremely secure grey-fenced compound where there are no plants and lots of dirt.  “Lots and lots of dirt,” Kathy noted. Continue Reading

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Court Backs FCC in BDS Suit, Cutting Deployment Costs

A federal appeals court Monday sided with the FCC, so many of the Commission’s actions to deregulate Business Data Services will take effect. The FCC in April voted to relax what it said were unneeded regulations where competition exists and preserve those where competition is still lacking. By adopting the new framework, the agency hopes to further boost BDS competition and investment, and take steps to decrease the cost of broadband infrastructure deployment, Inside Towers reported.

Sprint, Windstream and others like trade group INCOMPAS and the Ad Hoc Telecom Users Committee, an organization of major firms that buy telecom services, asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit to block the changes. On Monday, the court denied the request. Continue Reading

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Sprint-T-Mo Dance Back On?

Sprint’s talks with T-Mobile about a potential merger are back on and being held at the same time as discussions with cable companies, those with knowledge of the talks tell Bloomberg. Sprint’s exclusive negotiating period with Comcast and Charter expired, enabling the carrier to resume other discussions.

Speaking to investors about the situation on Monday, Masayoshi Son declined comment on specific deals and was vague about a timeframe, according to BTIG analyst Walter Piecyk. Continue Reading

Monday, August 7, 2017

FCC Overhauls Renewals for Wireless Radio Services

FCC Commissioners Mignon Clyburn and Michael O’Rielly. Photos by Leslie Stimson, Inside Towers
The FCC doesn’t want its patchwork of license renewal obligations for Wireless Radio Services to hinder broadband deployment. That’s why the agency has taken steps to streamline them and establish a consistent standard. The Commission approved a Report and Order and adopted uniform service continuity rules at its monthly meeting last week.

“According to the Commission’s licensing records, more than 675,000 renewal applications are expected to be filed by geographic and site-based licensees over the next decade. At a time when both the Commission’s budget and staff appear to be shrinking, it behooves us to have a streamlined and efficient process in place to review forthcoming applications,” said Commissioner Mignon Clyburn during the vote. Continue Reading

Friday, August 4, 2017

Carr, Rosenworcel Get Full Senate Nod

The U.S. Senate confirmed two nominees to the FCC on Thursday — Democrat Jessica Rosenworcel and Republican Brendan Carr. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai congratulated them, saying, “As I know from working with each of them for years, they have distinguished records of public service and will be valuable assets to the FCC in the years to come. Their experience at the FCC makes them particularly well-suited to hit the ground running.” The move brings the agency back up to a full complement, yet Pai himself has not yet been reconfirmed to another term, Politico reported.

It wasn’t immediately clear whether Carr was confirmed for one term or two, as the GOP preferred. Democrats opposed confirming him for two consecutive terms at once, Inside Towers reported. Continue Reading

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Sprint Focused on Network Densification, Small Cell Deployment

Sprint posted a quarterly profit for the first time in three years — $206 million in net income, compared with a $302 million loss for the same period a year ago; it’s in the middle of a five-year turnaround plan and cut costs by $370 million (to roughly $7 billion) in the second quarter and expects an additional $1.3 billion to $1.5 billion in year-over-year reductions in fiscal 2017.

Much of the cost-cutting has been accomplished by lowering subscriber acquisition costs. Sprint President/CEO Marcelo Claure told analysts on Tuesday, at one time the carrier streamlined its subscriber plans; “Now there’s only one way to buy a device and one rate plan.” 

Net operating revenue was $8.16 billion, up from $8.01 billion in Q2. Sprint projects 2017 guidance as $3.5 billion to $4 billion for cash capex. The company is focusing on network densification, including “expenses like towers” to enhance network capacity and coverage. “When you need new towers or monopoles, it takes time,” said Claure. Continue Reading

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Sprint Focused on Network Densification, Small Cell Deployment

Sprint posted a quarterly profit for the first time in three years — $206 million in net income, compared with a $302 million loss for the same period a year ago; it’s in the middle of a five-year turnaround plan and cut costs by $370 million (to roughly $7 billion) in the second quarter and expects an additional $1.3 billion to $1.5 billion in year-over-year reductions in fiscal 2017.

Much of the cost-cutting has been accomplished by lowering subscriber acquisition costs. Sprint President/CEO Marcelo Claure told analysts on Tuesday, at one time the carrier streamlined its subscriber plans; “Now there’s only one way to buy a device and one rate plan.” Continue Reading

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

August’s Total Solar Eclipse Looms as Capacity Killer

On Monday, August 21, the United States will experience the first total solar eclipse to cross the country since 1918. This once-in-a-century event will create a virtual rolling blackout of cell services as it travels along it’s path, not due to the heavenly bodies but  because of the live streaming, photo-taking and subsequent ‘sharing’ done by the terrestrial ones. North American residents will be able to view a partial eclipse, but only certain areas in the U.S. will see the “Great American Eclipse,” making a diagonal cut from the Pacific Northwest to the Southeast seaboard.

“We’re expecting a good experience but there will be [peak] times where the network will struggle,” said Paula Doublin, assistant vice president of construction and engineering for AT&T. According to The Bulletin, emergency personnel are concerned with the convergence of a high population in some areas as well, including those in Central Oregon. They fear the towers won’t be able to handle the bandwidth and in the case of an emergency, 911 calls via cell phones won’t be possible. Their plan is to rely on “older” methods of communication – landlines and ham radio operators – to fill the gap. 
Continue Reading