Site acquisition is one of the biggest bottlenecks in building wireless networks. From surveying the right sites to negotiating lease rates, there is a risk of exceeding predetermined budgets and deadlines. In this post, we discuss and debate two different strategies for acquiring cell sites, uncovering the pros and cons of each. In a follow-up post, we will offer recommendations on a hybrid approach that blends the benefits of both while minimizing their respective drawbacks.
Top-Down Site Acquisition
In a traditional top-down approach, meticulous RF planning and analysis precedes site acquisition. As a result, a list of ideal site locations is typically created without knowing the feasibility of securing these sites. Then the perfectly crafted plan starts to break down when property and business owners do not agree to site leasing terms.
As frustrating as it is, site acquisition specialists often find workarounds by securing alternative sites that are close enough to target locations. In the world of 4G networks, which utilizes macro cells, this is not too big of a deal. That’s because macro cells can propagate signals across multiple miles, so selecting an alternative site is typically acceptable. For example, an alternative site that is a quarter-mile away is still within a fraction of the overall signal range.
However, in the world of 5G networks, which utilize micro cells due to higher frequency and bandwidth requirements, this problem is more pronounced. Many 5G small cells have signal ranges of one-tenth of a mile or less, which means many alternative sites simply won’t work. In other words, site acquisition issues become a bigger problem for many 5G network deployments.
The top-down approach is seemingly well-planned and controlled, but limited site options negatively impact budget and deadline.
Bottom-Up Site Acquisition
Given the limited range of 5G small cells, let’s evaluable a bottom-up site acquisition strategy. A pure bottom-up approach accumulates as many sites as possible before determining if it is usable as a network. It typically does that by allowing all locations to become sites and dangling the carrot for future income.
With meaningful incentives and simple requirements, a bottom-up approach is able to achieve virality and organic network growth. Another key benefit is the ability to deploy multiple sites at once. And by setting standards for equipment and connectivity, sites can even launch without the help of professional installers.
While this decentralized approach may sound appealing, it is nearly impossible to predict the outcome of the overall network. There will also likely be many areas of redundant coverage and others with sparse coverage. Ultimately, without some form of centralization, a bottom-up strategy will not provide the contiguous coverage to be consistently useful.
The bottom-up approach enables decentralized site propagation but lacks the assurance of continuous coverage to be consistently useful.
What About a Hybrid Approach?
At this point, it seems the top-down strategy is more acceptable, but still not great. And the bottom-up approach just doesn’t seem feasible. But what if there was a way to combine the benefits of a bottom-up approach with guardrails to protect against drawbacks? And how about maintaining control of the most important top-down workflows, without strict limitations on target site locations? In the next post, we introduce a hybrid approach with several important rules to automate the site acquisition process. As we’ll discuss, the key is leveraging technology to combine the benefits of decentralization with top-down controls, without the friction of manual processes.