Verizon installs 5G in Denver in special ‘smart poles’

The Boulder, Colorado-based company Comptek Technologies has designed stand-alone poles to house wireless small cell equipment that is completely hidden within the poles. The City of Denver has approved the design of these Comptek City Poles, and Verizon is now deploying them in Denver for 4G and 5G small cell equipment.

In addition to Verizon, Comptek is also working in different parts of the country with all the other major wireless carriers either directly or through their deployment partners. For instance, Comptek is working closely with its customer Xcel Energy, which has an eight-state footprint. Xcel is helping carriers to deploy their small cells on the utility’s existing vertical infrastructure. And in some cases, Xcel is taking down existing light poles and replacing them with Comptek poles that combine small cell equipment along with a streetlight.

The company has a national agreement with Verizon. Besides Denver, Comptek is working with Verizon in other cities including Columbus, Cleveland and Cincinnati, Ohio; Anaheim, San Diego and Los Angeles, California; as well as Salt Lake City. In the Denver/Front Range area, the company has about 350 poles under contract. And across the U.S. it’s got contracts to erect about 1,000 poles by the end of 2019.

But Denver is an especially active market for Comptek as it installs its City Poles for Verizon. Jim Lockwood, CEO of Comptek, said his company caught a break in Denver in 2016 when “the city council was categorically rejecting other companies’ 4G poles being in front of the city council building.” Verizon asked Comptek to come up with a pole design that was aesthetically pleasing enough that the city council would be willing to accept it on its own property. “We developed a prototype, and it went right through,” said Lockwood.

The City Poles for Denver are designed to blend in with other municipal infrastructure, such as light poles that have a vintage look. It also helps that the wireless equipment is housed inside the pole and not hanging off of it.

RELATED: Editor’s Corner—Small cells can actually be quite big

Asked if the City Poles might eventually have equipment attached to them on the outside, Lockwood said, “Never say never. They’re not designed for that. But the Xcel pole has a provision to attach one backpack to the outside. Xcel does not anticipate having to use that.”

The poles are designed in modular sections. There’s a foundation, base cabinet, shroud, upper pole and top antenna section. They’re custom-designed to incorporate various wireless equipment configurations, cabling, power supplies and antennas. In addition to the physical pole itself, Comptek also provides electronics and environmental controls. The poles can support single or multiple carriers.

City Pole 1
Lockwood said that for 5G, Ericsson’s mmWave equipment is mounted in a tri-sector format, meaning that the radios and antennas are integrated with each other and they’re mounted at the top of the pole in three panels that face in different directions. Representatives from Ericsson and Verizon could not verify the "tri-sector format" or provide any additional information about it.

Competition in the pole industry

Verizon last week said it had turned on 5G in Phoenix. And it did not use Comptek for its small cell poles in that city. Verizon's spokespeople could not confirm what pole vendor it was working with in Phoenix. But a photo of one of its poles in that city did show an antenna section at the top that seemed to point in at least two different directions.

Comptek’s poles are fairly unique, but in terms of competitors Lockwood mentioned Conceal Fab, a company in Colorado Springs that is also doing some 5G small cell “concealment solutions.” And he said the manufacturing giant Valmont Industries is also doing some innovation for small cell infrastructure.

NIMBY (Not in My Back Yard)

Although it seems that the City of Denver and Comptek have made an effort to find an aesthetically-pleasing solution for deploying small cells, still there are citizens who feel double-crossed. An article in the Denver publication Westword profiled a homeowner who tried to fight the installation of one of these 30-foot poles in the sidewalk easement right in front of her home. And who can blame her? Even the Denver City Council, itself, was reticent about having to look at a small cell pole on its own property. 

City Pole 2
A look inside a City Pole

Lockwood said, “Everyone’s intentions are good, but there are unintentional oversights. All of the sudden it’s ‘we approved one right in front of someone’s view of the mountains.’” He added that some residents have contested poles on their property to city council. And as a result, Verizon had to remove five poles last year.

The Wall Street Journal recently published a story “Cities Are Saying No to 5G, Citing Health, Aesthetics—and FCC Bullying,” noting that multiple cities and states are filing lawsuits to protest the FCC’s rule that makes it easier for carriers to deploy their small cells.