Examining visual pollution in terms of macrosites, rooftop sites and small cells
The prospect of massive site grid densification is responsible for recent concerns regarding visual pollution. Operators will achieve this densification by deploying a combination of traditional multi-band macrosites, and for the first time, introducing scores of small cells in extremely close proximity to maximise capacity and improve signal quality.
Multi-band and multi-operator macrosites, as mentioned above, will continue to play a fundamental role in network design. This is acutely true in rural and sparsely populated regions, where the height of these lattice and monopole structures enables excellent signal propagation with low-band spectrum.
In urban regions, meanwhile, a dramatic increase in the number of large macrosites is not anticipated because of the prohibitive cost of deployment and planning restrictions. It is widely recognised that these sites are major sources of visual pollution given their obstructive and unappealing nature.
Rooftop sites are similar in their function to macrosites, but crucially, they are often more inconspicuous and confined to the densest of areas within an urban setting. Unlike macrosites, the density of rooftop sites is likely to grow significantly with mid and high-band spectrum, aided by the proliferation of deeper in-building fibre.
The visual advantage of these rooftop sites compared with macrosites is that only active equipment (such as the antenna) is usually visible from street level. This enables them to conform to the urban skyline more easily, and reduces the severity of reductions in land valuation.
Small cells, which vary in use case scenario based on specifications such as output power, are inherently less visually polluting thanks to their smaller form factor. They can be disguised more easily and will be deployed on street furniture such as lighting and bus shelters, as well as being cable or strand-mounted.
Notably, the progressive use of higher frequency spectrum in mid and high-bands will permit the miniaturisation of small cell antennas.
Of course, however, the process of accessing publicly-owned street furniture to deploy privately-owned wireless network infrastructure is a minefield. Local authorities will be keen to minimise the duplication of small cells where possible and to also monetise their assets by charging a recurring fee for access.