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Friday, September 20 • 11:55am - 12:20pm
Imagining Future Cities: Design Guidelines for Wireless Small Cells in Urban Landscapes

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Wireless towers with big antennas and large equipment shelters are decreasing as the primary type of wireless infrastructure in favor of more diversified designs, varying in size, network architecture, and capacity. The definitional boundary between typical macro sites of the 1990s and increasingly popular small cell networks are slowly blending as the backend architecture and the equipment on a site are designed to meet a greater variety of capacity and coverage needs through heterogeneous networks.  

As the design of wireless network architecture is changing, so are their appearance in our surrounding environment. As a result, municipal authorities are increasingly under pressure by the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) and wireless carriers to adapt and evolve their siting and permitting practices to accommodate a variety of different types of facilities. This paper will evaluate how innovation in LTE and 5G equipment is changing the design of physical wireless networks, establish an understanding of ‘contextual appropriateness’ in the blending of new small cells with the previously built environment, and prescribe aesthetic design guidelines for improving people’s experience with new urban wireless facilities. 

The methodology will include identifying technological trajectories and possibilities in wireless small cell designs, categorization of existing available assets for their deployment, an analysis of contextual appropriateness, and the development of objective design principles that will facilitate structured guidelines for network deployment. First, the paper will consider how wireless network equipment is evolving in different types of network topologies. Second, as small cells are typically placed on poles, these deployments will be categorized based on commonly available vertical assets in the Rights of Way, types of street furniture available for small cell integration opportunities, and other types of design ideas that leverage existing structures. Third, the definition of contextual appropriateness will be examined through city planning and architectural integration principles and typical constraints within the urban landscape. This paper will heavily utilize visual examples of previously deployed designs to analyze their technological components, design elements, and methods of construction and composition. Many of these visual examples are available in FCC docket filings relating to the recent relevant proceedings (WT Docket 17-79 and related), as well as in many articles and online government resources. Fourth, this research will contribute to a systematic method of evaluating the quality of small cell designs on a methodical basis, replacing the existing common practice of relying on subjective, improvised, and often contradictory aesthetic preferences.  

The resulting design recommendations and architectural best practices will facilitate many local efforts to develop preferential guidelines that achieve long-term compromise between preserving the character of their community and advancing to the smart cities of the future. The guidelines will also promote a more positive public perception and a more welcoming attitude toward the widespread integration of wireless facilities. The way that wireless technology will become deployed in the future of a given urban neighborhood will become its history, its character, and its legacy for advanced technological systems yet to come.


Jason Whalley

Northumbria University


Irena Stevens

University of Colorado Boulder

David Reed

University of Colorado Boulder

Friday September 20, 2019 11:55am - 12:20pm PDT
NT01 WCL, 4300 Nebraska Ave, Washington, DC