The Future Of Faster Data Coming To An Arizona Street Corner Near You

By Mariana Dale
Published: Tuesday, May 23, 2017 - 5:00am
Updated: Tuesday, May 23, 2017 - 10:18am

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Galtronics facility in Tempe
(Photo by Mariana Dale -KJZZ)
"Here they do rapid prototypes," Wittwer says of Galtronics' Tempe facility. "We want you to be able to do simulation, to create drawings and test as fast as possible."

Smart cars, the internet of things, 5G — they are the exciting technology of the future.

But before these technologies can become widespread, companies need to build and deploy a network of camouflaged antennas and cables in cities everywhere.

“Every municipality has its own zoning and that tends to be the largest barrier when it comes to getting technology rolled out,” said David Wittwer, chief technology officer at Galtronics, an antenna manufacturer with a facility in Tempe.

Supporters of a new Arizona law say it will reduce those barriers to installing small-cell technology in the state.

“The process for a small cell absolutely has to be streamlined,” said Jamie Hastings, senior vice president of external and state affairs with CTIA, a group that represents the wireless industry.

Arizona is one of 18 states where CTIA pushed for legislation to standardize rules for small-cell installation.

Gov. Doug Ducey signed House Bill 2365 into law on March 31.

It requires cities to establish rules for small-cell installations and reasonable application rates. The process has to be quick — municipalities have 75 days to review applications from providers. 

Previously, it could take up to two years, according to a study from Accenture, commissioned by CTIA.

“We know the rules, it’s streamlined, the costs are managed, the cities still get to manage their right of way, so I think it’s a win-win for everybody,” said Arizona and New Mexico AT&T President Jerry Fuentes.

A Hunger For Wireless Data

The first cellphone call was made in 1973 and Galtronics was founded five years later. The now international company worked on Motorola’s first two-way radios.

The industry has changed a lot in 40 years. Giant cell towers are no longer enough to support America's hunger for wireless data. Providers are relying more on small installations.

“That means we have to have more and more transmitters and they have to be where people are,” Wittwer said.

Galtronics now expects a growing portion of its business will come from manufacturing small cell and DAS (distributed antenna system) technology.  

An 18,000-square-foot Galtronics location opened in Tempe in March. Galtronics plans to double its workforce in the city by hiring about 30 people.  

Installing small cells requires cooperation from local municipalities because it often piggybacks on existing structures such as light poles.

“Probably unique to small cells is the aesthetic aspect,” Wittwer said. “The users are more aware of their presence and that causes a whole list of concerns.”

An example of small cell unit mounted on top of a light pole.
(Photo courtesy of AT&T)
An example of small-cell unit mounted on top of a light pole.

For example, a Florida antenna design he worked on was once rejected because it didn’t do enough to deter osprey from roosting on them.

“In all of the classes I took, no one ever explained to me that I would have to design antennas that not only looked pretty, but also prevented animals from nesting on top of them,” Wittwer said.

In Tempe, city staff are planning for how small cells deployments will fit in downtown or in historical areas.

“The term is actually conceal and stealth, which means blending it into your neighborhood,” said Kris Baxter-Ging, a Tempe spokeswoman.

The word small is pretty ambiguous. Some installations might be pizza-box sized and others could look like kitchen trash cans. Arizona’s law caps the installations size at 6 cubic feet.

Baxter-Ging said the city supports the new network and the connectivity upgrades it should bring. With 5G comes the promise of videos and web pages that load in milliseconds.

“Tempe is a very young town our median age resident is 28 years old,” Baxter-Ging said. “They’ve grown up with the internet. They’ve grown up online.”

One Tempe target for cellphone companies is Arizona State University.  

“We have close to 90,000 students that roam our campuses and the demands on bandwidth and data and communication is growing immensely,” said Assistant Vice President for IT Operations Jay Steed.Right now, the school is designing 34 small cells to install on campus grounds in partnership with wireless infrastructure company Crown Castle.

“Our president is very keen on the fact that students should have access to information and data wherever they are on our campus,” Steed said. 

Arizona’s legislative website shows the League of Arizona Cities and Towns, Maricopa County and Paradise Valley among supporters of the legislation.

Phoenix’s intergovernmental affairs liaison signed in against the measure and City Council’s legislative summary said it was based on the “pre-emption of the city’s ability to manager our right of way.”

Phoenix’s public information office declined a KJZZ interview but said in an email “the city is a strong supporter of the deployment of small-cell technology.

“In fact, prior to the passage of HB 2365, the city already had a strong working relationship with wireless communications companies for many years and worked in partnership with those companies to efficiently deploy over 100 small-cell technology installs within the city.”

Phoenix and other cities will have six months after the law becomes effective in August to adopt new rules.

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