How some cities are attracting 5G investments ahead of others
As communities across the United States wait to learn how high-speed mobile networks will figure in a long-promised infrastructure plan, some cities are already attracting private investment in next-generation 5G networks. They are doing so by finding new ways to collaborate with network and equipment providers, creating a set of “best practices” that other local governments can follow.
The new networks will be critical for handling the sevenfold increase that Cisco projects for mobile Internet traffic as well as the billions of new connected devices attached to the Internet of Things and connected local infrastructure, or what is known as “smart cities.”
A major stumbling block, however, is fitting new 5G investments into local zoning, permitting and other regulations optimized for prior network architectures. 5G’s architecture is radically different from its earlier counterparts. Instead of widely spaced large cell towers, 5G relies on smaller but denser configurations of shoebox-size antennae, many of which will be attached to existing buildings, streetlights and utility poles.
Mobile industry trade group CTIA estimates about 300,000 small cells will be needed in the next three to four years to support the evolution to 5G, 10 to 100 times more antenna locations than 4G or 3G. Though densification, as the name suggests, implies more equipment, its smaller size, lower height, and ability to be attached to existing infrastructure should ease aesthetic concerns of residents. New “smart” LED lighting poles from Philips Lighting and other vendors, for example, are being designed specifically to unobtrusively house 5G equipment.
These differences mean that today’s policies regarding oversight of mobile infrastructure are often obsolete or inefficient. Using macro cell tower procedures to review permits for small cell build-outs, for example, would create massive backlogs, delay deployments, and unnecessarily tie up both public and private resources.
Forward-thinking officials at the federal, state and local levels are hurrying to update their processes, looking for new approaches that maximize community value and minimize delay. Based on what we’ve seen successful cities do, here are key recommendations for communities seeking to accelerate their transition to become a 5G smart city:
1. Preempt unnecessary intergovernmental conflict — Carriers need networks that serve large populations, often involving multiple communities. But overlapping authority and jurisdictional turf fights between different layers of government are deadly. Winning communities avoid those disputes by forming new public-private partnerships early in the game, innovating solutions that get network infrastructure installed with the least inconvenience to residents and businesses.