Unite Private Networks says Tier 1 wireless carriers want small cell backhaul, turnkey installation services

Small cell deployments may still have a long road ahead until they reach a critical mass, but Unite Private Networks (UPN) says interest in backhaul and turnkey installation services is growing among the top five wireless operators.

As wireless carrier small cell deployments have ramped, UPN has complemented its traditional lit services like Ethernet and dark fiber to include turnkey services.

This includes everything from obtaining rights of way, obtaining local permits, networking maintenance and dealing with utility to get access to existing poles.

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Jason Adkins, president of UPN, told FierceTelecom that it is talking to all of the top five wireless operators, including AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile and US Cellular, about small cell deployments.

Adkins UPN
Jason Adkins

“There’s a lot of RFPs out now looking for small cells,” Adkins said. “We’re in various levels of discussion with all five of those carriers.”

Despite the potential wireless operators see in deploying small cells, Adkins says it can also help its wireless operators wade through the challenges, from getting the permission of local municipalities to getting permits to install small cell infrastructure.

“Small cells continue to be time and labor intensive,” Adkins said. “Local municipalities are looking at how to allow them and what regulations to apply, but we feel like we continue to be successful because of long-standing relationships with municipalities in our area.”

UPN’s timing could not be better. About 90% of mobile operators have already deployed small cells and the rest plan to do so by the end of 2017, according to IHS Markit’s annual small cells strategies study.

While Adkins is being realistic about small cell deployment expectations, he said it is an emerging part of its business.

“It never goes as fast as anybody predicts, but certainly there’s a lot of good momentum,” Adkins said. “There seems to be more and more coming and when you look at what Crown Castle is doing by buying all this fiber, they’re placing a big bet on it.”

Deployments growing

Proof of this thesis came recently when the service provider recently secured a small cell expansion project for a large wireless operator in Grand Island, Nebraska.

The new infrastructure extends throughout the Fonner Park campus, home to the Nebraska State Fair.

“This expansion will assist not only our visitors, but our existing business community to continue to connect during high traffic times,” said Mary Berlie, executive vice president at the Grand Island Chamber, in a release.

For this deployment, UPN is providing dark and lit fiber transport, while the wireless operator is supplying the equipment.

“This is a bit of a hybrid where we provided fiber transport and we worked closely with the state fair,” Adkins said. “We don’t own the small cell equipment on this particular one, but we did everything but put up the equipment.”

Bolstering business services

Similar to other small cell and macro cell builds UPN has done in other regions, this latest small cell contract will also complement its business-grade fiber.

UPN currently serves over 300 communities across 20 states, with over 7,600 metro fiber route miles and 4,500 on-net buildings.

Specifically, this small cell build adds to UPN’s existing fiber network in Grand Island, giving business customers more access to dark fiber or lit services that are scalable from 100 Mbps to 100 Gbps, as well as a suite of other products.

“The more fiber we build, the more it creates other on and off points for businesses,” Adkins said. “You’re building fiber in and out of the state fairgrounds and it helps drive fiber deeper into the neighborhoods and we’ve seen a lot of our small cell builds either spawn other business builds or vice versa.”

But Adkins said that UPN has also seen the opposite effect where wireless operators will approach the company about installing small cells in buildings it equipped with fiber for business services.

In one case, a wireless operator approached UPN about installing a small cell in one of Nebraska Furniture Mart’s locations in Dallas. UPN had already been serving the furniture chain with fiber-based services so the carrier could leverage the installed infrastructure to enhance wireless coverage.

“We serve Nebraska Furniture Mart as a customer and when we built fiber in that building, a wireless carrier approached us and said they wanted to put in a small cell in that store,” Adkins said. “They used the fiber we already built to light a small cell in the store, which illustrates how much traffic is generated out of that store.”