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TRAI wants to streamline access to ‘street furniture’ for rollout of 5G networks

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) sought details on how to streamline access to street furniture — billboards, lamp posts, mailboxes etc — for the rollout of 5G networks in a supplementary consultation paper published last month.

Relevant stakeholders are requested to submit their comments to TRAI by June 3 and counter comments by June 10. Comments should be emailed to Sunil Kumar Singhal, Advisor (Broadband and Policy Analysis), TRAI at: advbbpa@trai.gov.in with a copy to ja3-nsl@trai.gov.in.

Definition of street furniture: TRAI has defined street furniture as “objects in public spaces that—in the context of wireless infrastructure—house small-cell units in boxes and are considered visually commonplace and acceptable to the public. Street furniture must have a power source for the wireless equipment to function.” Examples of street furniture include utility poles, billboards, lamp posts, lit signage, mailboxes, park benches, and traffic signals.

Why use street furniture?  Mobile service providers have typically deployed large macro-cellular Base Transceiver Stations (BTS) onto very-high telecommunication towers. But service providers also use smaller wireless equipment (commonly referred to as small cells), which are low-power, easy-to-deploy and have a range varying from 10 meters to a few hundred meters. In addition to being used to offload traffic from the macro-cellular network in a high-density, short-range environment, small cells are commonplace in 5G networks, TRAI stated. Using existing street furniture to deploy small cells is cost- and time-efficient in comparison to constructing new infrastructure.

“5G will require massive addition of both above and below the ground infrastructure, both in passive and active categories. These include backhaul radios, antennas, towers, street furniture, and ducts, etc. In the long term, 5G infrastructure densification can exceed 1,000 Base Stations per Sq. Km.” – Make in India 5G Ready report from August 2018 cited by TRAI

Small cells can be deployed on existing structures like government buildings, railway stations, metro rail stations, airports, stadiums, malls, theatres etc.

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Uniform process for access to street furniture need of the hour: Currently there is no uniform system across states and local bodies for granting access to public spaces and structures for installing small cells. Also, no central agency has information on the exact issues and challenges in getting access to street furniture. “Putting in place a uniform, simple, and efficient process for granting access to street furniture for installing small cells is need of the hour,” TRAI stated.

Access to government structure at reasonable cost: TRAI stated that access to public places like “government buildings, railway stations, metro rail stations, airports, and stadiums” and street furniture like “bus stop shelters, utility poles, lamp posts or traffic lights, owned by municipalities” should be granted at reasonable cost in order to remove significant hurdle in 5G site deployment.

What process to use to grant permissions to street furniture? TRAI raised two important questions: 1) how to permit the use of public places and street furniture for the effective rollout of 5G networks and 2) what process can be used by local bodies to grant permissions for use of street furniture and the associated policy and regulatory interventions.

List of questions on street furniture asked in the consultation paper

  1. What are key issues and challenges in getting access to public places and street furniture for installation of small cells? Kindly provide the State/ City wise details?
  2. How to permit use of public places and street furniture for the effective rollout of 5G networks? Kindly suggest a uniform, simple, and efficient process which can be used by States/ Local-Bodies for granting access to public places and street furniture for installing small cells. Kindly justify your comments.

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