The transition from 4G to 5G will and already is requiring a significant amount of new equipment and infrastructure throughout cities across the country. Municipal leaders see big promise and revenue opportunities in this emerging technology – such as smart communities and self-driving cars.
However, in September 2018 a mandate by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) streamlined fees municipalities can charge wireless carriers to install and maintain the small cell antennas required to roll out 5G capabilities. The FCC also shortened the timeframe for cities to approve installation permits. As a result, municipal leaders are taking a sober look at infrastructure requirements; seeking a path forward that is financially viable and technically feasible.
Below we examine the role of 5G, how the capabilities will impact our cities, and what this legislation means for your community. We also reveal five ways you can prepare for 5G in the face of new legislation and a still uncertain timeline.
Here are just a few of the predicted benefits of 5G if it’s rolled out in a way that is advantageous to municipalities, their residents and partnering telecommunication companies – and if the legislation issues discussed below are resolved in a mutually beneficial way.
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1G: 1980s – Phone calls
2G: 1992 – Text messaging, phone calls
3G: 2001 – Internet browsing, text messaging, phone calls
4G: 2012 – Increased bandwidth, 10X faster speeds, LTE, video streaming
5G: 2020 – 5-10X faster speeds, greater reliability, 100% coverage, 1,000X bandwidth, 1 millisecond latency (response time), smart cities
Cellphones were born in the 1980s with what amounted to 1G (first generation) capabilities, which only allowed phone calls. More than 35 years later 5G networks are expected to provide greater coverage, bandwidth, speed and reliability than we’ve ever seen before. The graphic above provides a breakdown of the evolution from 1G to 5G.
5G operates in the “high-frequency spectrum.” Unlike 4G, which functions through dozens of large cellular antennas on towers and buildings placed across great distances, 5G’s high-frequency phones use millimeter wave technology. These short waves require hundreds if not thousands (depending on city size) of small cell antennas attached to telephone poles and light posts – through fiber optic cable – throughout a block, downtown or neighborhood.
The promise of this new technology brings excitement, but also angst for municipalities regarding the installation process, timelines, costs, rights-of-way and who owns this hardware when it comes to operations and maintenance.
In September 2018, the FCC passed the Declaratory Ruling and Third Report and Order; a mandate that limits cities’ ability to regulate 5G infrastructure, infrastructure in local rights-of-way, and makes it easier and less expensive for telecommunication companies to move forward installing necessary equipment throughout cities. Following legal proceedings, the effective date to comply with the mandate was April 15, 2019.
Under the new regulations, local governments face tighter deadlines to approve or reject the installation of the equipment needed for 5G. The federal mandate also puts a limit on how much money cities can charge telecommunication companies for the privilege of placing hardware in public rights-of-way.
Municipalities share a number of concerns when it comes to implementing the FCC mandate, including:
Failure to comply within the specified time limits opens the door for telecommunications companies to undertake legal proceedings. If you want to learn more about the laws in place within your state, BroadbandNow has provided a state-by-state overview.
Network installations pose a number of technical challenges. Stated simply, municipal leaders want to build infrastructure well; they want to be strategic and proactive so that efforts don’t cripple a community financially and so that infrastructure effectively lasts for many years.
While a 4G tower might cover a dozen city blocks, 5G’s millimeter wave frequencies demand a small cell site for each block, give or take. In fact, an Accenture and CTIA study estimated that there will be more than 800,000 small cell deployments in the U.S. by 2026. To provide context, there were a total of 86,000 small cells in the U.S. at the mid-point of 2018.
Experts predict an 830 percent increase in the number of small cell deployments over the next seven years throughout the U.S.
Small cell sites can be as compact as a pizza box and are typically installed on utility poles or buildings. However, the significant number of installations makes meeting the processing deadline a challenge. It also makes it difficult for municipalities to meet the demand to prepare infrastructure for implementation of the network nodes – especially when municipal leaders want to be strategic and proactive with regard to the planning of future infrastructure.
Some city poles are unable to handle the extra weight and electricity of a small cell site. Other cities don’t have enough places for them to be installed. In others, stakeholders worry the drastic increase in small cells creates a health risk, particularly given how close some pole-mounted antennas are to homes. In addition, while metro areas might have the opportunity to move forward quickly, rural areas may struggle to catch up – leaving them even further behind technologically.
While not a technical hurdle, liability is an issue between municipal leaders and telecommunications companies. Both sides are asking questions during negotiations: Who will be responsible for compliance, aesthetics, operations and maintenance? Who will be responsible should a car crash knock down a pole, injure a community member or damage other infrastructure?
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What can you do now to prepare for the impact of 5G and impending changes to your community? Here are five ways to make sure your community is ready:
Local government leaders, city planners, legal staff (concerning jurisdiction issues, ordinances, etc.) and other key parties need to join together and discuss the important questions:
From here, it’s important to communicate the findings and what’s potentially ahead then begin planning for an entirely unique future. Second, talk to other communities about your situation – especially about potential fees and lease agreements. Ask neighboring communities if there’s an opportunity to partner in developing a solution (potentially saving time and money). Ask your A/E consultant partners what they’re seeing and what they expect in the months ahead.
Keep an eye on rollouts, tests and progress nationwide to gain deeper insight into timelines and what to expect within your community. It may help you avoid similar hurdles. For example, Sacramento was expected to be one of the first cities with commercially available 5G, selected by Verizon for early rollout. But as of early 2019, only 10 percent of the antennas needed to provide City-wide coverage have been installed and reports say full coverage is still 3-5 years away. T-Mobile has delayed its full 5G launch until the back half of 2019 after initially announcing the first half of 2019. And Apple plans to wait until 2020 to release a fully 5G iPhone.
Inventory and evaluate whether the current cell sites within your municipality are capable of hosting 5G antennas. Understanding your current status can help you prepare for what might need to be adjusted, updated, replaced or expanded. While it falls on the telecommunications carriers to address need and evalute siting options, you can prepare by gaining insight into what's in store for your community then begin to align future projects with changes brought by the transition to 5G.
5G has the opportunity to bring new business opportunities, more jobs, smart city infrastructure and beyond. The challenges are many, but so too are the opportunities. Preparing for both places you in a unique, future-forward state of planning.
Depending on the state of your municipality, construction disruptions might be significant as 5G rollouts begin to take place. Evaluate your capital improvement plan over the next 3-5 years to determine how your capital investments might align or conflict with 5G implementation. If you have infrastructure capable of housing 5G small cell antennas, the impact may be less. Still, as cables are cut and wireless begins to reign, poles and/or small cell antennas will need to be installed.
Are you as prepared as you want to be for the transition to 5G? Do you know everything that you need to know in order to take the first few steps? Start by having important conversations, take stock of your current state and seek insight from within and outside your city, state or region. Ask the important questions and connect with your neighbors and other key groups to learn all that you can. If there’s more you want to learn today, we’re here to help.
Dale Romsos has been in the wireless telecommunication industry for more than 20 years. His experience as a project manager has enabled him to bring proactive approaches to this innovative and evolving technology deployment and businesses. Contact Dale
Dan Zienty is a telecommunications expert who believes a proper understanding of 5G regulations now will help cities be successful down the road – by providing infrastructure to meet the growing communications needs of cities’ residents and businesses. Contact Dan