US operator Sprint’s low-cost strategy for densifying its network is facing local objections, according to The Wall Street Journal.
The US operator wants to install low-power cellular antennas on public land, which typically hold utility poles, street lamps and fire hydrants. In places where it can’t add antennas to existing infrastructure, Sprint wants to put up new poles.
Its wider strategy is to change the balance of its network more towards smaller cell sites by relocating its radio equipment from tower space it currently leases from private companies, including Crown Castle and American Tower, to government owned land, which involves less cost.
In addition, it wants to create a denser network by adding more sites, a move the company says is also about preparing for 5G.
Sprint is working nationwide with US firm Mobilitie, which claims on its website to focus on “driving costs down over time for our carrier partners”.
However, the rollout faces delays as local opponents express concern over what they think are ugly installations, as well as authorities working out new regulatory questions.
Sprint recently reduced its capital spending plans for the year as it hangs on for zoning approvals. Mobilitie says it has about 1,000 permits approved and will roll out installations once more are firmed up.
Placing antennas on existing poles is not a new tactic. In fact, most operators are going the same way, except cash-strapped Sprint is looking to go further. It aims to install as many as 70,000 antennas on public land over the next few years. By comparison, it has 40,000 traditional antenna sites on towers or rooftops.
Sprint aims to cut $2 billion of costs in the 2016 fiscal year.
At a recent JP Morgan Global TMT event, company CFO Tarek Robbiati said a tower site costs “probably a couple of hundred thousand dollars”, including labour and equipment. Small sites are a fraction of that sum, he said, “60 per cent, 70 per cent lower”, representing a significant saving.