As Palo Alto's voracious appetite for wireless data continues to grow, local streetlight and utility poles are transforming into critical tools for telecom giants looking to expand and improve their coverage.
The latest of these, Nevada-based Mobilitie LLC, joined the increasingly crowded field on Monday night, when the City Council unanimously approved a "master license agreement" with the company that will pave the way for it to install cell and data-backhaul equipment on 16 street poles and three utility poles.
The agreement would be similar to those that the city had recently signed with ExteNet Systems, NextG Networks Inc., AT&T Mobility, Verizon Wireless and Wave (formerly known as Astound Broadband) -- companies that between them have either installed or are planning to install cell equipment at more than 200 sites throughout the city, according to a report from the Utilities Department.
The growing reliance on city-owned poles was spurred by several instances in which residents resisted larger facilities such as antennas and cell towers. In 2011, AT&T applied to install a cell antenna at the St. Albert the Great church in Crescent Park but saw its plans falter under neighborhood opposition. Three years later, Verizon encountered heavy resistance and a lawsuit from residents opposing its plan to install a cell tower at Palo Alto Little League field, though the company ultimately received the city's green light and prevailed in court.
Now, the plan for improving wireless service is increasingly moving away from large antennas and toward small cell sites relying on hundreds of local utility poles. According to the Utilities Department, AT&T has already installed 75 distributed-antenna systems (which rely on a scattered network of antennas rather than a single cell tower) and has plans for 16 more sites. Crown Castle has installed small antennas at 19 sites in the downtown area for Verizon and is looking at 16 additional sites next year.
Staff is also working directly with Verizon to install 92 small cell sites on poles throughout the city, according to the report from Utilities.
The goal of the new Mobilitie equipment is to "fulfill capacity objectives caused by the rapid usage of wireless data and technology in the area surrounding the project sites," the report states.
"This hybrid transport network provides even, widespread coverage throughout the neighborhood sites," the report states. "This allows for network densification without adding larger, more traditional wireless facilities.
"As future capacity requirements increase, the existence of these transport sites will allow for more small-cell sites to be utilized to fill in additional coverage gaps," the report states.
The agreement approved Monday sets the "essential terms and conditions governing the deployment of wireless antennas," according to Utilities. It does not, however, actually permit the installations. Mobilitie, which supports data service services for Sprint, would need to secure permits for all specific installations.
According to the staff report, deployment under the agreement will be managed "in a manner that allows Utilities Department's infrastructure to be used for advanced broadband communication purposes, without materially affecting the City's provision of electric utility service to the community, and in a manner consistent with applicable City ordinances, rules and regulations."