Keep Data Free

Network connectivity is no longer a privilege; it’s expected. When users connect at stadiums or a crowded, smartphone-riddled event, they should thank people like Anthony Lehv

In-stadium football fans used to keep their eyes fixed on the ball in play. But since the advent of smartphones things have changed considerably. Sports enthusiasts now take and post selfies, survey fantasy league stats, and check up on people and things going on outside the stadium.

That creates a flood of digital information that has to go somewhere. The more seats a stadium has translates into a greater load. Consider the number of smartphones at work in the many 60,000-plus seat professional and college football stadiums. During the week of Super Bowl 50 at the 68,500-seat Levi’s Stadium in San Francisco, California, more than 68.6 terabytes of data was transmitted—triple what it was two years prior.

The regular carriers’ cell towers positioned along highways, on church steeples, tall buildings, and even a few scoreboards cannot handle such a concentration of data traffic. This is why companies such as ExteNet Systems, a Lisle, Illinois-based firm, install distributed networks wherever there are large concentrations of people.

Three Tips to Guide Growth
Anthony Lehv says legal teams in growing companies best serve the enterprise when they do the following:

1. Be flexible in a small legal department. Every lawyer needs to handle a variety and multitude of tasks.

2. Work smarter. You have to prioritize, deciding on when to service needs through internal or external resources.

3. Earn trust. The way to reduce risk is to encourage businesspeople to consider legal implications earlier, rather than later.

Source: ExteNet

ExteNet uses public infrastructure such as utility poles and street lamps for its distributed networks. Distributed networks boost wireless network capacity and enhance wireless service and network performance across both outdoor and indoor environments by bringing network elements like low-powered antennas and wireless access points closer to the user. This provides customers with a better mobile experience.

It’s because of this demand for improved coverage that ExteNet’s general counsel, Anthony Lehv, has his work cut out for him. Before fiber-optic cable, antennae, and central hubs can be installed, considerable negotiations and transactions between varied interests must be made. The distributed networks designed, built, owned, and operated by ExteNet might be dedicated to one or multiple wireless carriers such as Verizon Wireless, T-Mobile, Sprint, AT&T, and US Cellular. ExteNet invests in the distributed network, the carriers and even property owners become the paying customer for ExteNet. Historically, the carriers paid the cost for the network but, of late, the property owners increasingly view wireless connectivity as an important amenity for the tenants and visitors and are becoming the paying customer themselves.

What’s clear is that data traffic will only increase for the foreseeable future—if only because no one likes the spinning buffer icons that ask us to wait to send or receive information. But this is more than a matter of convenience. Emergency first responders depend on wireless network performance for life-or-death outcomes. Overcoming those gaps in coverage is the work of ExteNet and its top lawyer.

“Wireless signals were traditionally sent from ‘macro towers,’” Lehv says, about the familiar transmission nodes that provide the broadest level of coverage. “We are building out distributed networks in places where there is a greater data demand or there was no place or way to put in those towers. Consider us as an innovative means of ensuring a top-notch wireless connected experience.”

The way that sports venues, large office towers, subterranean concourses, and public transportation systems accommodate thousands of users is to deploy small cell solutions. They look like smoke detectors or other understated, nondescript features of buildings.

ExteNet By the Numbers

>30
US states in which installations have been completed

250
employees

1,000
antennas on the Empire State Building, which ExteNet serves

120,000
seat capacity of the world-class racing circuit track ExteNet serves, Circuit of the Americas

Already, Lehv and his team have worked out the necessary contracts to build the needed networks at several marquee sports stadiums across the United States that include Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Indiana; Marlins Park in Miami, Florida; Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York; Dunkin’ Donuts Center in Providence, Rhode Island, Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport, Connecticut; and Wells Fargo Center in Des Moines, Iowa, among others. In a process that might take a few months to typically complete, Lehv and the business team at ExteNet establish the remuneration structure, typically with several parties that benefit from the service. Carriers—wireless phone companies—want their customers to receive a strong signal, while venue operators want connected attendees. ExteNet is the neutral host provider of such systems that can cost several millions of dollars.

Municipal installations, such as a city’s subway system, have a different set of players, Lehv explains. For example, with the Chicago Transit Authority, some sections of the “El,” or elevated, system run underground in the downtown Loop area. The city and carriers contribute to the cost of installation so that passengers can now enjoy uninterrupted texts, emails, games, and social media.

In more suburban and rural areas, ExteNet has taken on the responsibility of entire wireless networks. While essential to connectivity, community approval has to be worked out in predictably contentious town-hall-style meetings. In previous employment in the industry, Lehv himself faced community groups who opposed the installation of cell towers. Even now, opponents of distributed network installations invariably cite fears of radio frequency radiation and aesthetic concerns. “Both are invalid arguments,” says Lehv. “According to the American Cancer Society, the public exposure to radio waves is minimal and there is very little evidence to support this idea. Furthermore, the cabling, coupling, and switchers are almost never seen.”

Inside of buildings, connectivity decisions are typically made by property owners. But outdoor systems often make use of public space, such as rights-of-way (ROW) corridors carved out for roads, sidewalks, and railroad tracks. That said, once the systems are cleared for installation things get a bit more complicated.

“We are certified by most state public utilities commissions,” Lehv says, explaining how that provides access to ROWs. But there are additional regulators to satisfy, including the Federal Communications Commission and the environmental protection agencies (federal and state) who want to ensure that digging and the placement of transmission lines have no adverse effect on ecosystems, such as wetlands and endangered species. There are also historical preservation regulators and tribal concerns to be satisfied—all of which falls into ExteNet’s legal department purview.

“Some lawyers have great business instincts. But some need to be ‘unfirmed.’ Law firm lawyers are generally trained to be highly risk averse, but here you can’t be that way.”

Lehv endeavors to forge a team of business-directed attorneys who understand how to circumvent conflicts like these. “Ideally, a legal department should be made up of businesspeople with law degrees,” he says. “While upholding the law and managing risk, in all situations and decision-making they should ask, ‘Is this good for the business?’”

This raises another question: are business-oriented lawyers made or born? “Some lawyers have great business instincts,” he says. “But some need to be ‘unfirmed.’ Law firm lawyers are generally trained to be highly risk averse, but here you can’t be that way.” Lehv says that he encourages his staff to become partners with people on the business side. “It’s a legal-intensive business. Over time, we earn their respect.”

This business orientation isn’t just a matter of company culture or operational expediency. Lehv shares they work in a very competitive industry, with several types of companies vying for market share.

In other words, the attorneys have to think like competitors. Lehv says their contracting process, flexible at assessing the unique set of risks in each installation, as well as familiarity with local government permitting requirements, enables his team to do just that.

It also helps that the market is expanding rapidly. Growth in data usage, the Internet of Things, smart cities, and car connectivity spell a steep rise in demand for ExteNet-enabled capabilities for the next several years. The biggest areas for growth are what the industry refers to as the “NFL cities.”

Which is a bit ironic, given how the fans may watch game highlights a day or two later at work on their smartphones—the same ones they used to take selfies at the stadium.