Cox Business will deliver turnkey small cell services through industry partners

Cox Business joined a growing group of wholesale providers in offering small cell backhaul to wireless operators, but it is also going to take advantage of the emerging need for turnkey services.

While wireless operators have resources to build out small cells, a number are turning to third-parties like Cox Business to have them perform other functions like site acquisition on existing utility poles or rooftops, surveys, permitting and even managing the devices in some cases.

Brian Rose, director of product development, networking services for Cox Business, told FierceInstaller that turnkey services would be complementary to the set of transport and powering services it will offer wireless operators deploying small cells.

"Obviously, there's the connectivity play and you overlay that with 'I can do the power to some extent with either commercial power or pull power off the cable plant.' And the next thing is 'I can work with you on trying to secure space on our assets we have,'" Rose said. "Some of the wireless operators [say] 'I want somebody that's going to do all of this,' but it depends on which mobile network operator (MNO) you're talking to. But some of them we're pushing down the road of 'we really want it turnkey.'"

In order to deliver turnkey services to its wireless operator customers, Cox Business is not entirely going it alone.

As it responds to requests for proposals (RFPs) and requests for information (RFI) for these services, the service provider will work with a series of local and national partners to help it meet these needs.

"What we did is we signed some agreements with some companies that do site acquisition and site development work since that's their core business," Rose said. "As the MNOs decide what they want to do, we can respond to those RFPs with saying, 'If you want us to do this part, we can do that part. And if you want us to do the whole turnkey, here's what it looks like.' So it gives all of the tools in the toolbox to respond however the market evolves."

Despite all of the talk and some aggressive deployments from large operators like Sprint (NYSE: S) and Verizon (NYSE: VZ), the small cell model is still very much in the embryonic state.

While it has not revealed who its partners will be yet, the overriding theme with Cox Business' small cell approach is on being flexible.

"The big key in this space is remaining flexible because the model is relatively immature, but we're cautiously optimistic in pushing forward because something has to change in the model," Rose said.

Rose added that, like other wholesale providers, it is seeing small activity but the level of deployments depends on the particular carrier.

"We're definitely seeing some little pockets there and it definitely depends on each one of the MNOs and how they run their business," Rose said. "Some are more regionalized in their decision making and others are more centralized so that has a big influence on timing and where, but as we move into 2016 you should have finally started to see some momentum around small cell. And we're in a position to catch some of that."

Cox Business is hardly alone in providing turnkey services for wireless operators deploying small cells. A growing base of ILECs like Consolidated and Lumos and aggressive insurgent providers such as Zayo Group are moving in a similar direction to capitalize on what could be a lucrative revenue opportunity. Zayo recently announced that it now provides 1,200 small cell sites in its territory with a mix of fiber and turnkey network solutions.

Having a set of turnkey services on hand will complement Cox Business' ability to respond to a number of key small cell deployment scenarios.

Given the diversity of wireless operators' networks that it serves, the service provider will not dictate how to roll out the small cell. Initially focused on outdoor deployments, Cox Business is offering three options for the small cell solution: strand mount, pole mount and ground cabinet. 

Customers can also choose from a number of connectivity options, including traditional HFC, Ethernet or fiber. 

"We're not trying to choose the small cell so we know that that has to fit into their macro network and we're not trying to dictate that at all," Rose said. "We're really focused on how we have a number of backhaul options like fiber, HFC, Internet or Ethernet."

The other issues in dealing with small cells is getting power and finding space to install the small cells. In a number of cases, Cox Business can provide necessary power from the existing HFC plant, while being able to mount the small cell in various site configurations, whether that is on a pole, a strand or a ground cabinet.  

"How can I make sure I can provide power, which is a bit unique for the cable space since because the HFC network is powered and we're able to pull power off of the plant and provide power within limitations to the small cell," Rose said. "The hardest one is really the space problem -- where am I going to put these things and be able to move quickly with that? So under the right circumstances there are use cases and we're trying to show we can hang this on a strand [or] on a pole, and there's a lot of options about how we're able to participate in that."

While Cox Business is aware that a number of wireless operators may deploy small cells in buildings, the service provider is mainly focused on the outdoor opportunity.

"Some are more public about what they are going to do and you get into the discussion of when they say they're going to deploy this many small cells, and if it's indoor small cell we'll provide traditional backhaul, but we're not going to deploy -- or at least that's not the plan right now -- to do indoor deployments of small cell," Rose said. "The one we were trying to solve was more in the outdoor scenario and how we can leverage the assets we have to get faster, more efficient and cheaper than they could do themselves."

For more:
- see the release

Special report: Concealed towers and small cells: Safety and regulation in a growing industry

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