Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Towerco Stocks Take an Uptick as Sprint/T-MO Merger Fades

Stocks in cell-tower companies — which have been in a general decline on the prospect of dealing with one less major wireless-carrier customer — are rising while the carriers involved took a significant drop.  Percentage of growth for the day (10/30) shown below:
  • American Tower (NYSE:AMT) is up 2.8%;
  • SBA Communications (NASDAQ:SBAC) up 2.4%;
  • Crown Castle (NYSE:CCI) up 2.8%.
  • T-Mobile (TMUS) down 5.3%
  • Sprint (S) down 9.3%

SoftBank Group Corp., will reportedly call off negotiations to merge its subsidiary, Sprint Corp., with T-Mobile U.S., according to Nikkei Asian Review, a Japanese financial news agency. It said that SoftBank may approach T-Mobile’s parent company, Deutsche Telekom as early as tomorrow, to end the deal.  
Inside Towers reported on October 13, that the merger was unlikely, citing a Reuters article that said the Department of Justice would “likely recommend putting a stop to any further plans” due to anti-trust regulations blocking its path. Continue Reading

Monday, October 30, 2017

FAA and White House Flying High On Drones

It may soon be easier for towercos to use drones to assist them in activities like mapping and inspections. President Donald Trump directed the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Federal Aviation Administration to undertake an initiative to increase government and commercial use of drones.
The Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Integration Pilot Program would enable safety tests and validate advanced operations for drones in partnership with state and local governments in certain jurisdictions. The program is designed to provide regulatory certainty and stability to local governments and communities, drone owners and operators who are accepted into the program, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

The program will help the USDOT and FAA develop a regulatory framework that will allow more complex low-altitude operations; identify ways to balance local and national interests; improve communications with local, state and tribal jurisdictions; address security and privacy risks; and accelerate the approval of operations that currently require special authorizations.  Continue Reading

Friday, October 27, 2017

Carr is FCC’s Point Man for Easing Wireless Infrastructure Deployment

New FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr is leading the agency’s efforts to streamline wireless infrastructure deployment. In his first speech as a Commissioner, Carr told attendees of the Competitive Carriers Association annual convention yesterday, the FCC intends to vote next month on several related orders. One eliminates the need for historic preservation review in cases where providers swap out utility poles that can hold antennas or other wireless communications equipment. This will go a long way towards helping carriers as they densify their networks in preparation for 5G, he said.
“5G is going to require a 10- to 100-fold increase in the number of cell sites in the country,” Carr said. “The current regime is not tailored to support this type of massive, new deployment. It costs too much, and it takes too long.” So the Commission is remedying this.   Continue Reading

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Pai and Dems at Odds Over Broadcast Regs

In the first FCC oversight hearing with the full complement of five Commissioners, Chairman Ajit Pai told House lawmakers he’s asking his colleagues to vote on an item that would eliminate several broadcast ownership regulations. His goal is to vote on the item at the agency’s November 16 meeting. He said the item would eliminate rules that ban cross-ownership of newspapers and broadcast stations in a market, plus cross-ownership of TV and radio stations in a market. It would also eliminate the requirement that Joint Sales Agreements for Television “count” for ownership purposes in a market and establish an incubator program for new, diverse broadcast station owners.

Democrats on the House Communications and Technology Subcommittee blasted Pai, saying to them, it’s clear the changes would benefit Sinclair Broadcasting before its planned merger with Tribune. Pai said the merger has nothing to do with the item, that the rules are archaic and hinder broadcasters. “The FCC rules still presume a market is defined by pulp and rabbit ears,” Pai said, adding the proposed text would be publicly available today. Continue Reading

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Controversial Changes to 3.5 GHz CBRS Closer to Reality

Inside Towers has been reporting the fight between Google and rural internet service providers versus large carriers over the licensing of the 3.5 GHz Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) spectrum. The FCC proposed increasing the size and length of CBRS licenses to use the mid-band spectrum; CTIA and T-Mobile petitioned the FCC for the changes. They want carriers to be able to use the spectrum for 5G. Small carriers and rural ISPs say the changes will crowd out other users — like them.

The FCC voted to begin a Notice of Public Rulemaking yesterday, and proposed including longer license terms with the possibility of renewal and larger geographic license areas. Proponents said the modifications could help increase incentives for investment, encourage more efficient spectrum use, and promote robust network deployments in both urban and rural communities.

Other countries are updating their policies for the 3.5 GHz band to enable core network deployments of 5G, and the U.S. must do this as well, noted Commissioner Michael O’Rielly. Looking to “fix the previous Commission’s missteps,” he called the current definition of the license geographic areas “flawed.” Continue Reading

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

AT&T, Project Loon, Bring Wireless to Maria-Hit Islands

A Loon balloon getting ready to take flight to Puerto Rico from the Project Loon launch site in Nevada

Project Loon is now up and running in Puerto Rico, supporting basic communication and some internet connectivity. Google’s been working with AT&T, the Government of Puerto Rico, the FCC, FAA, FEMA, spectrum partners and international aviation authorities to make it happen. Residents with LTE-enabled phones can send and receive text messages and access information online, according to Alastair Westgarth, head of Project Loon. It’s the first time the technology has been deployed quickly.

“This is the first time we have used our new … algorithms to keep balloons clustered over Puerto Rico, so we’re still learning how best to do this,” said Westgarth in a blog post. “As we get more familiar with the constantly shifting winds in this region, we hope to keep the balloons over areas where connectivity is needed for as long as possible.” Continue Reading

Monday, October 23, 2017

T-Mobile Ahead of Schedule After Incentive Auction

After this year’s incentive auction finished in April, the telecoms that acquired the 600 MHz spectrum licenses were expected to take up to three years to transition to the new frequencies. However, T-Mobile has already installed network sites broadcasting in the spectrum bands it purchased. The carrier acquired licenses to the spectrum between 617-652 MHZ and 663-698 MHz. It is currently operating in those frequencies in Wyoming and Maine. According to TVTechnology.com, T-Mobile plans to add more 600 MHz sites in Northwest Oregon, West Texas, Southwest Kansas, the Oklahoma panhandle, Western North Dakota, Coastal North Carolina, Central Pennsylvania, Central Virginia and Eastern Washington, before 2018.
The quick turnaround is taking the former owners of the spectrum by surprise. Television broadcasters and wireless mic users who have been using the spectrum are scrambling to abandon the bands quickly. Mark Bishop, T-Mobile’s senior spectrum manager, requested all relevant parties to cease using the channel blocks by November 1, 2017. Continue Reading

Friday, October 20, 2017

First Look at the New ANSI 222 Standards

In an industry where change comes frequently, new equipment, improved procedures, climatic events and accelerated demand have all contributed in pushing a new set of rules forward in the industry standards and practices. Through the collaboration of the Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA) and American National Standard Institute (ANSI), those new standards have been revised and today will be made available to the telecommunications industry and reissued as the ANSI/TIA-222-H.  Although the official announcement will be made later today, Inside Towers has been given an exclusive look at the new standards and permission, via TIA, to publish advanced access to the links to acquire the document itself.  

The cost of the ANSI/TIA-222-H is $750 and it can be purchased by following this link.

“This new revision will keep the industry moving in the right direction,” Task Group Chairman Mark Malouf, President of Malouf Engineering Int’l, told Inside Towers.  Overseeing the Editorial Committee and various Ad Hoc Committees was a daunting task for the Chairman, considering all of the ground that had to be covered. Beginning the revision in 2013, Malouf coordinated the efforts and input of over 100 companies comprised of individuals from many backgrounds including: manufacturers, owners, consulting engineers, government entities, research and construction industries. Continue Reading

Thursday, October 19, 2017

SoftBank and Lendlease Team Up for Tower Roll-up

In a joint venture with Australia’s Lendlease Group, SoftBank Group Corp. intends to buy approximately 8,000 cellular sites across the U.S. Lendlease will be the joint venture manager, asset manager and development manager.

The new infrastructure company, Lendlease Towers, aims to partner with major U.S. carriers to roll out further phases of their infrastructure plans to meet growing demand for data. The goal is to obtain $5 billion of telecom assets, “over the medium term,” through a development and acquisition-based strategy, says a Lendlease spokesman. According to Fox Business, Sprint Corp. is selling its interest in rooftop transmitters and other sites to Lendlease Towers, to get the process started. SoftBank currently owns about 80 percent of Sprint’s outstanding shares. Continue Reading

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

California’s SB 649 Vetoed by Governor Brown

UPDATE Earlier this month, Inside Towers reported on California’s Senate Bill 649 proposed by Sen. Ben Hueso (D-San Diego), aiming to lower the build-out cost for wireless infrastructure, allowing more telecoms to enter the market and compete, specifically regarding small cells. The decision came down to Gov. Jerry Brown, who vetoed the bill late Sunday, reported The Mercury News.

In a signing statement, Brown wrote that while he saw the value in “extending this innovative technology rapidly and efficiently,” the bill took too much control away from cities and counties.
Industry trade groups were quick to react.  “WIA is disappointed that Gov. Brown decided to veto this important piece of legislation,” said Jonathan Adelstein, President and CEO of WIA, “which would have spurred the widespread deployment of the wireless infrastructure that is needed to improve network capacity in the near term and provide a foundation for the deployment of 5G networks going forward. California needs to enact laws that streamline the permitting process and grant greater access to public rights-of-way or its residents will be left behind.” Continue Reading

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Wildfires Didn’t Take the Weekend Off

Communications in the region have been difficult since the fires broke out last weekend, with many residents losing their power and struggling to find reliable cell coverage. State officials said Wednesday morning that the National Guard has brought in a satellite cell system to help people connect with loved ones. (see AT&T article below about donating for relief efforts)
Of the 77 cell towers knocked out in the fires, all but eight have been restored, according to the California Office of Emergency Services.

AT&T has deployed mobile cell sites to Santa Rosa, Willits and the Napa Town & County Fairgrounds to connect customers and emergency responders who have been without wireless service and connectivity since early Monday. Comcast has expanded use of its WiFi hotspots to the public for free.  Continue Reading

Monday, October 16, 2017

Repack Tower Work Predicted to Peak Next Year

American Tower Corp. has been helping broadcasters with stations on its towers develop a repack plan. Of the 987 stations being repacked, the towerco has 218 licensees on 133 towers, according to James Stenberg, Principal Engineer, RF Broadcast for American.

The company has categorized the type of tower work needed, from antenna work to moderate modifications to complex jobs, such as candelabra towers or heavily loaded smaller towers, he told attendees at the IEEE Broadcast Symposium in the Washington, D.C. area last Thursday. “There’s a lot of work early on” in the schedule, he said. “The peak is next year.” Continue Reading

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

U.S. Air Power Flies Portable AT&T Towers to PR

Federal agents from multiple law enforcement agencies are helping to restore communications in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Agents from the Drug Enforcement Agency, Postal Service and others worked with the Air National Guard and the Air Force to bring and erect at least five AT&T portable cell phone towers to the San Juan area, according to the Department of Defense and the carrier. Normally, the towers are trucked in to a location; this marked the first time the mobile cell towers were flown to a location in need, according to AT&T.
“We can put them wherever they are needed and once an area gains stable cell communication, we can move them to the next location,” said Col. Rick Seymour, Alabama National Guard, who is helping to coordinate the effort. Moving the portable towers required the Air Force’s heaviest airlifter – the C-5 Galaxy, flown by the 436th Airlift Wing based at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, according to the Air Mobility Command. Continue Reading

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

FCC Okays Balloons to Restore Connectivity in PR

The FCC granted an experimental license for Project Loon, led by Google’s parent company Alphabet, to help provide emergency cell service in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. “More than two weeks after Hurricane Maria struck, millions of Puerto Ricans are still without access to much-needed communications services,” said Chairman Pai. Project Loon is a network of balloons that provides connectivity to users on the ground. Pai called the approach “innovative” and said more such ideas are needed to restore connectivity on the island.
“I’m glad the FCC was able to grant this experimental license with dispatch and I urge wireless carriers to cooperate with Project Loon to maximize this effort’s chances of success,” said Pai. Project Loon obtained consent agreements to use land mobile radio spectrum in the 900 MHz band from existing carriers operating within Puerto Rico. Continue Reading

Monday, October 9, 2017

Governors to Issue RFP For FirstNet Alternative

Governors for Washington and Oregon said they will jointly issue a Request for Proposals (RFP) for potential alternatives to FirstNet, the broadband public safety communications network being built by AT&T. They plan to release the RFP this Friday, with bids due on November 13.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee wrote in a letter to the Washington Statewide Interoperability Committee, the RFP would explore available options, stating a “regional solution with our partners in Oregon” should be looked at, reported Urgent Communications. Oregon Gov. Kate Brown echoed his thoughts. Those who answer the RFPs would submit proposals that cover both states.  Continue Reading

Friday, October 6, 2017

Is FirstNet the Solution For Connecting Rural America?

There’s a lot of interest from citizens, states, counties and the federal government to bring broadband to rural America. The biggest issue is: “How do you make it feasible?” broadband public safety advocate Andrew Seybold asked rhetorically. “Everyone seems to be focused on fiber to the home,” which is “not economical” in many cases, he says. Many organizations don’t consider microwave for backhaul or wireless solutions, he said during a Wednesday webinar organized by the International Wireless Communications Expo. The topic was “Alternative Wireless Sites for Increased Coverage.”

He’s high on the FirstNet project, the nationwide broadband communications network for first responders being built by AT&T. FirstNet “is required to cover America,” plus it has enough spectrum for both first responders and citizens, Seybold said. Continue Reading

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Cities and Counties Scrap Over Spectrum

Several counties and municipalities oppose any sharing of the 6 GHz band used by their microwave systems. Los Angeles County, CA, the City and County of Denver, CO, Kansas City, MO, Ozaukee County, WI and the Government Wireless Technology & Communications Association jointly told the Commission they’re worried about interference with their public safety systems which consist of numerous tower sites.

They’ve been through two forced relocations to accommodate carrier interests, including the 800 MHz re-band and the 2 GHz relocation to create PCS spectrum. “At a certain point the needs of public safety must take precedence,” they tell the agency in filed comments, as the FCC is reviewing whether mid-range bands (3.7-4.1 GHz, 5.925- 6.425 GHz and 6.425-7125 GHz) are appropriate for flexible use. “Interference from mobile devices is notoriously difficult to locate for mitigation. Increasing the opportunities for mobile interference within the band is an unnecessarily high risk,” state the counties and cities.  Continue Reading

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Pai Proposes Giving Carriers USF Funds for PR, USVI Restoration

In order to jumpstart the communications restoration in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai proposed allowing carriers to use their Universal Service Fund allocations. Pai circulated a proposal among his colleagues for a vote; if passed, the order would quickly make available up to $96.9 million to repair wireline and wireless communications in the hurricane-ravaged islands.
Pai proposed giving carriers the option to receive those funds before performing the work. “Instead of receiving a standard monthly payment, carriers could elect this month to receive seven months’ worth of funding immediately in order to expedite repair and restoration efforts,” said Pai. He asked his fellow Commissioners to approve the item as quickly as possible. If that hasn’t happened by the October 24 meeting, the agency will vote on it then.  Continue Reading

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Ajit Pai Confirmed as FCC Chairman

The U.S. Senate last night voted 52 to 41 to reconfirm FCC Chairman Ajit Pai to a second five-year term retroactive to July 1, 2016. (Not all 100 senators voted.) The vote followed party lines, following floor speeches from Democrats blaming Pai for trying to overturn Net Neutrality to favoring media consolidation with the pending Sinclair acquisition of Tribune.  

Sen. Tom Udall was one of those who opposed Pai’s reconfirmation, saying he’s “put corporate interests first” and is “poised to dismantle” the 2015 Open Internet order. Sen. Elizabeth Warren-(D-MA) chimed in, saying “Pai has worked at breakneck speed to transform the FCC” from an agency that works on behalf of the public “to one that works for corporate interests,” specifically citing the proposed Sinclair-Tribune merger. Her colleague, Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) said: “Under Pai the ‘FCC’ stands for ‘Forgetting Consumers and Competition.’”  Continue Reading

Monday, October 2, 2017

Towercos Stand Up to Havoc in Puerto Rico

The three publicly-traded tower companies, American, Crown Castle and SBA all have a substantial footprint of sites in hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico. American Tower and SBA spoke with Inside Towers last week to give their assessment of the damage and their efforts in trying to turn chaos back into order.
American Tower
“Of the sites we’ve been able to gain access to and inspect, it appears that the structural integrity of our towers has held,” Matt Peterson, Vice President, Communications, American Tower told Inside Towers. “However, a substantial amount of the carrier customer equipment on the towers and at the sites is badly damaged. This damage to carrier equipment and the loss of electrical power has resulted in very few cell sites being operational. American Tower has resources on the ground now who are helping with recovery efforts, performing full site audits on our 118 towers and identifying priority projects. Peterson said they are in active discussions with all of their customers to determine their priority sites and are working with the FCC, FEMA and the Department of Homeland Security on a coordinated response. “There is a lot to do and we are working closely with these partners to get as much done as soon as we can,” Peterson said. Continue Reading