Trump pledges to help speed up small cell siting processes

President Donald Trump received a quick explanation of 5G from AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson and heard Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure describe some of the hassles of small cell siting in a meeting with tech industry executives at the White House on Thursday.

The U.S. wants to be a leader in 5G, but the process of getting small cells approved by cities and other jurisdictions across the country is onerous. Some cities take 30 days and some take two years to get a site approved, Claure told Trump.

The president said his administration sees huge delays in getting roads and highways approved which it’s trying to bring it down to one year, maximum, and “this is really much easier, believe me” to get the process of cell siting more streamlined and faster.

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Referencing a model of a small city (complete with a sign pointing out a data center) set up on a table, Stephenson walked through the process of deploying 5G, where small cells are augmenting existing macro cells to create much faster speeds and low latency to support autonomous cars. With 5G, “you no longer need to run fiber” to all of the locations and at the street level, the customer will be put on whatever network gives him the fastest speed—it could be an autonomous car or any number of things, Stephenson said.  

Claure showed Trump a small cell that can be installed on a utility pole and said the problem is it takes a year to get approval to deploy and one hour to install it. Unless the industry can install them really fast, the U.S. is going to lose the leadership that it has in 5G, he said.

Trump asked if they were mostly local permits and expressed a desire to help the carriers deploy the cells much faster. “We can do a recommendation to the cities all over the country to get it going,” he said.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai is fully on board in trying to make siting easier. “To get to the 5G future that will make the Internet of Things fully possible, we’ll need much more infrastructure than what today’s networks demand,” he wrote in an op ed. “5G will require companies to deploy hundreds of thousands of small cells (operating at lower power), and many more miles of fiber to carry all of the traffic. That’s why the FCC is working on modernizing the rules for that kind of infrastructure. We shouldn’t apply burdensome rules designed for 100-foot towers to small cells the size of a pizza box. If America is to lead the world in 5G, we need to modernize our regulations so that infrastructure can be deployed promptly and at scale.”

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Drone companies were also a big part of the meetings at the White House, which were held as part of a Technology Week. Greg McNeal, J.D., Ph.D., co-founder of AirMap, a company that makes mapping and alert software to manage drone flights, told Recode that one of the main points discussed was how the FAA might adopt a more flexible, localized and risk-based approach to regulation.

“We asked why autonomous cars weighing 3,500 pounds can drive next to hundreds of pedestrians, but a three-pound drone can’t fly over people,” McNeal told Recode. “The FAA follows a legacy approach to regulating aviation that requires everyone to ask for permission.”

Recode published a list of Thursday’s attendees, as provided by the White House, and that list included T-Mobile COO Mike Sievert, Verizon President John Stratton, GE’s Jeff Immelt and others.