June 14, 2016 | by Wayne Smith

Deploying Outdoor Access Points in Urban Areas: What You Need to Know

In this article we will address the basic elements of deploying of wireless infrastructure in metropolitan areas that every company whose plans include outdoor access points needs to know. Each city is unique, but the general process is similar. Here, we detail and discuss the challenges and steps that are both common and critical to building a macro cell site or a small cell site in an average US municipality.

Every company wants to deploy its services applications in the least expensive manner as possible. One of the first questions that arises is: Does the company want to deploy its solution on its own or with someone else’s infrastructure?

The least expensive solution will lay somewhere on the spectrum between lower capital costs and higher operating expenditures on one hand, or higher capital costs and lower operating expenditures on the other. The former favors deployment on one of the current wireless mobile phone networks. The latter would require the deployment of one or more radio technologies on one or more free or very low cost radio spectrum bands.

A potential game changer may be the advent of the future 5G network solutions that could possibly reduce the operating expenditures of the mobile phone networks to a point that considering deploying an alternative physical radio network will be unnecessary. Just about every outdoor deployment in a metropolitan area will face the same project challenges. Deploying a physical access point that requires an antenna tower in downtowns, along roadways and in general neighborhoods employs a common step-by-step approach. Some large venues such as stadiums and densely populated outdoor malls may differ due to complexity and the particular set of relationships between property, access equipment and easements ownerships.

The fundamental project phase for the deployment of any outdoor access point includes initiation and approval, budget approval, radio analysis, site selection and acquisition, permits, obtaining easements, budget validation, and construction

. We will not get into the construction phase since there are multiple approaches, depending on whether the points are free standing towers or located on existing buildings. However, every project will have to progress through each of the other phases.

Budget Approval
The starting point of just about any deployment should be the development of a budget. Once the budget is completed, then funds can be sought out, approved and allocated to activities. Yes, it takes money to build things, and every project should have some assurance it can proceed before it gets too far along.

Radio Analysis From a technological point of view, the starting point for most radio technology deployments is some analysis of radio wave propagation, traffic volumes, and coverage requirements. These activities may be conducted by in-house operations or radio engineering, equipment manufacturers, certain general contractors, or by third parties. These services are performed by sophisticated advanced technologies that provide high quality results.

Site Selection and Acquisition

Site selection and acquisition activities are an extremely important, necessary and time-consuming processes that all deployments must consider. All private, not-for-profit, and public organizations will want compensation for providing land or facilities to support an access point. Specialized site acquisition personnel must locate available facilities, contact property owners, negotiate contracts, etc., for each selected access point. This is a slow and tedious process involving several specialties such as legal, engineering, construction, and potential stakeholders.

Permitting and Government Approvals

As site negotiations progress and appear to be successful, construction and/or project management begin researching requirements for local permits, environmental requirements, obtaining easements, and other logistical issues for building an access point. A related issue --and one that will grow to be a major concern in the near future-- is how local municipalities will want to allocate, manage and control the proliferation of small cell sites in any particular area. It is only logical to assume they will not allow providers to place antennas on any pole selected without considering the visual characteristics of the area.

Of course, if site negotiations breakdown, related permits and approval activities will be suspended and the focus will shift to other candidate sites. Once real estate activities have been completed, this process proceeds with actual construction plans, obtaining permits, etc. At this point, several weeks to months may have passed.

Budget Validation

Now that a site has been selected, construction estimates can be revised to validate that the construction project is within budget. If the revised estimates exceed approval limits, then the project may be returned for financial approval. If the estimates remain within acceptable limits, construction may proceed to the execution phase.


We have only addressed the highest level issues inherent to deploying an outdoor radio access point in a typical metropolitan area. It is imperative that any company contemplating such a deployment should employ the appropriate expertise to get the project completed on time, within budget and to the specifications of all of the interested parties.

The deployment process is often far more complicated than the technology being deployed. This is especially true for any company that is bringing new technology solutions to the wireless world. To request Vertex’s guidance for your deployment process, click here.