AT&T is trying to accelerate its 5G network deployment by incorporating small cells (think mini cell towers) into streetlights. This initiative will allow AT&T to expand 5G coverage quickly while also reducing costs, all in about 15 minutes or less in some cases.
Gordon Mansfield, VP of Mobility Access & Architecture at AT&T, recently penned a blog post discussing the prototypes of the streetlight-powered small cells in 2021 and that AT&T is currently testing and commercially deploying live units in several cities across the country. AT&T has been mum on the cities but that the select locations were chosen “because of need and because they have government and local utility and lighting providers with procedures and practices in place that make the deployment faster.”
Deploying a 5G network is no easy feat, and one of the biggest challenges most carriers face is deploying the necessary infrastructure to make it work. It’s not something that happens in just a few days, as it takes a lot of time to acquire new network sites, secure permits, engineer designs, with most sites averaging 12 to 18 months.
AT&T’s plan to incorporate 5G small cells into streetlight operators can significantly reduce deployment time, so it’s such an appealing option. Streetlights make for a great small cell spot because they already have electricity, have a common electrical socket (NEMA), and are close to fiber for backhaul. Additionally, streetlights are anywhere from 8 to 10 meters tall and 50 meters apart- the perfect height and distance for small cells.
The initiative came about three years ago when Mansfield spoke with Ubicquia about integrating small cells with streetlights. Ubicquia then partnered with Ericsson to develop the Ericsson Street Radio 4402, a small cell that can be deployed into streetlights with a NEMA socket. The small cell blends into the streetlight because it sits just above the streetlight shield next to the light. These small cells support low or mid-band 5G, with an integrated 4×4 MIMO antenna system.
5G is poised to make cities more innovative, and these 5G small cell sites attached to streetlights can bring us one step closer to that reality. The 5G-enabled streetlights can detect when a light isn’t working. Mansfield said, “This helps us in quickly assessing damage and dispatching crews for repairs or alerting the power provider of an issue.”
Another plus to Ericsson’s Street Radio is that the existing light bulbs can be replaced with LED lights, reducing power consumption and aiding sustainability.