While it is true that every Cell Site is a unique entity, (entitlement constraints, available lease area, network requirement, etc.), it is also true that every cell site is basically the same. (antenna mounts, equipment placement, power requirement, etc.) So, how can we reconcile these opposing factors in order to minimize the number of recurring deficiencies found at newly constructed sites? There are three main areas that should be addressed before, during and after the development process. We will examine each area and propose a few suggestions to improve the quality of the end product.
The Design Phase:
As stated above, although each site is unique in some ways, there are enough common elements at every site that should dictate an overall consistent design process. Since we know that each site will require certain key elements in order to operate, these elements should be consistently put at the top of the design requirements of every proposed new site. Each of these key elements needs to be prioritized according to the operators’ network strategy. What makes up network strategy?
- Overall Market Share (size DOES matter per market, region, national)
- Customer Base (who do we want to sell to)
- Technology (based on the first two, current equipment vs. emerging trends)
All of these factors need to be considered during the design phase. It’s one thing to create an overall network design but it’s entirely another thing to realistically deploy that design in any given market UNLESS all of the constraints have been carefully integrated into that design. Each discipline involved in the design process, (Marketing/Sales, RF Engineering, Finance, Etc.) will need to understand the real world conditions in order to add value to the design.
The Development Phase:
In almost every case, this phase is the most time consuming in the schedule. Wireless communication development/deployment has matured exponentially during its’ relatively short life. The early days of the “free for all” development mentality has evolved into a more complex process. Where we once were able to site almost anywhere at will we now must contend with a more sophisticated landlord base who understands our more definitive need for exact locations for each new cell site. We now must assuage the local jurisdiction by providing a more aesthetically pleasing end product that their ever more involved constituency now demands. The amazingly technological equipment requires that site locations are now restricted to within more precise geographical locations than they once were. Gone are the days that allow for a site to be placed “near” its’ original design. In some core areas of the network, the proposed site location cannot be moved more than several feet from its’ design if it has any chance of integrating into the network.
What this all amounts to is much more time in the schedule to accommodate these ever increasing constraints to development. Because of this, the entitlement personnel in each discipline, (Site Acquisition, Zoning, A&E, Construction, Etc.) need to be more experienced and proficient than perhaps they once were. Although this type of work is not “rocket science”, it is relatively specialized and generally cannot accommodate “on the job” training.
Construction and integration Phase:
Our world today is motivated and controlled more by finance than at any time in the past. The need to improve the “bottom line” has become the superseding driving force in almost every commercial enterprise, including cell site development. There is an ongoing effort to cut costs, improve efficiencies and compress schedules. While all of these efforts are reasonable to strive for, it should be recognized that the site development process is not the same as producing “widgets” in a factory. Site development cannot control where a site will be. Factories are built and do not move. Site development requires that every site be entitled by the local jurisdiction, without guarantee of approval. Factories, once entitled, continue to produce multiple widgets ad infinitum without interference from the jurisdiction. The list of differences goes on and on. So, how can we accommodate finance and still function efficiently in the real world of the construction process?
- Have a realistic Budget.
- Determine actual pricing of each element of construction
- Qualify your vendors
- Research the local talent
- Interview each vendor as to experience
- Understand the local codes/inspections process
- UBC vs. IBC
- Inspection lead times
- Hire an experienced Project Management Team
- Strong construction background
- Lots of field exposure
- Insist on daily site visits by in-house personnel
This brings us to the post-construction portion of the process. This portion involves the Quality Assurance and ultimate Integration portions of the development process. As we have discussed, each site will have unique qualities that can complicate the Q A process. However, the rule of thumb is that if any given anomaly is basically cosmetic in nature then it can be ignored. This does NOT mean that we should look for and focus on anomalies but, if they do appear in the final product then the experienced reviewer will evaluate the overall impact against the network standards and determine what, if anything, should be done about them. Ultimately, Network Operations personnel inherit every new site. It is the responsibility of the development team to insure that the final product is worthy of their acceptance.
In conclusion it seems prudent to insure that everyone involved in the design, development and deployment of cell sites, be aware of what it takes to make this arduous task possible. By recognizing, from the beginning of the process, that every decision that is made along the development way has a direct impact to the overall outcome. Can every cell site be identical? Not realistically. But, the number of residual problems and anomalies occurring at the end of the development process can be minimized if each person would take a greater interest in the final product.