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Let me introduce, “Mr. Boring” – The Utility Pole

Have you read enough about 5GIoTFTTH, and the blazing speeds that will revolutionize every home, business, and industry? The race for CSPs (Communication Service Provider) and Telecom giants to deploy high-end Broadband and Wireless networks are in full swing. Every week we read another provider has partnered with a specific manufacturer to launch a test city or research lab.  

We wait patiently until we can buy that first 5G phone or put our fridge online so that it tells us when we run out of carrots. Or receive that first text from our dryer to let us know the cycle is done so that in turn we can text our 13 yrs old to go downstairs, fold and put away the laundry! Ahhhh, it’s going to be great!

The reality is the infrastructure needed for these next-generation networks has started.  These next-generation networks are going to require the construction of miles of fiber optic cable. Also, the 5G networks are going to require the installation of hundreds of thousands of small cells. A quick wireless analogy would be a current Wireless tower can service an area of 20km to 30km with current 4G and LTE technology. Obviously many factors come into play, but for this example, we’ll go with that. 5G networks will require small cells, or macrocells, every 200m to 400m!

You read that right. In a lot of areas, there could be two or more competing carriers which mean double the elements in the network. Just imagine strolling through your neighborhood and having one or two of these devices every 300 meters. And we haven’t even considered how these devices will be powered.

The Network & Mr. Boring

To support all this new technology and the millions of miles of optic fiber, something has to hold it up, power it, and keep it in place. Which brings us to Mr. Boring, the lowly Utility Pole. You say, “Ah, so what? All the poles are already up”. True, but….

Let me take you back a few years to August 2016, an article from Wired magazine titled, “Why Utility Poles are so important to the future of the internet”. by Klint Finley.  For those of you who remember, Google had it’s foray into providing FTTH Broadband service. It was a splashy news story with competing cities trying to get Google to pick their city in which to roll out Google Fibre. As with all news cycles, the initial excitement faded and Google then found itself in the trenches with permitting,  Make Readies, and the logistics of deploying a new network.

To quote the article,

If a new service provider wants to add its cables to a utility pole, the existing cables on the pole have to be rearranged first. The way it works today is that each company that owns one of those cables has to send out their own crew of technicians. AT&T would send one crew, Comcast would send another, Level 3 would send a third, and so on, until all the necessary cables had been moved. This process is called "make ready," and as you can imagine, it can take months for all the different players to move their cables.

Fast forward a bit and the FCC in the United States entered into the fray with legislation called OTMR (One Touch Make Ready). Without getting into the details, it basically requires the owners of the utility poles to allow a single construction crew to make changes to multiple utility wires. It was like telling all the kids in the sandbox to share and play nice. Well, that went over like a lead balloon. With everything at stake, to this day, this legislation continues to be contested in multiple states.

In Canada, to my knowledge, no such legislation exists. Working in this industry and seeing it first hand,  I can tell you the pressure is mounting. Let’s just say one, maybe more, of the big kids in the sandbox is going to pitch a fit!

In all fairness, the owners of the utility poles are focused on their business, and quite frankly, managing all these requests for attachments is secondary to their core service. In my estimation, I don’t think they fully understand the scope and volume of work that the CSPs have planned and forecast for the next 5 to 10 years.

So, where do we go from here? Could it be that Mr. Boring Utility Pole, who has steadfast stood out there through all weather, conditions, and abuse for over a hundred years, be the one hurdle that brings this race to a grinding halt?

 All hope is not lost. There are many smart people and companies out there who are taking on the challenge. Tune in for part two of my series on Mr. Boring and we’ll explore some of the solutions that are gaining traction to get Mr. Boring Utility Pole into the 21st Century. How Mr. Boring is getting his groove back!

Doug McCluskey, Network & Broadband Specialist Missing Link Technologies Ltd.

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