San Francisco boasts a young, diverse and highly educated workforce. The Bay Area receives a whopping 45 percent of the total venture capital investment in the entire United States, and residents are embracing everything from robotic deliveries to autonomous cars. It seems like a no-brainer that San Francisco should lead in the deployment of the next generation of fast, reliable, state-of-the-art mobile technology known as 5G. But as it stands today, San Francisco doesn’t even have a commitment from all major 5G infrastructure providers to deploy in the city.
So, what is 5G? 5G is the next evolution of mobile technology, which Accenture projects will create up to 3 million new jobs and boost GDP by $500 billion. 5G could be up to 100 times faster at data transfer and significantly more reliable than our current 4G, or LTE, standard. 5G is also expected to reduce latency, the time between clicking a link and the page loading, to around a millisecond. Further, Accenture estimates that cities deploying 5G networks in conjunction with the Internet of Things (IoT) will have shorter commute times, improved public safety and other efficiency improvements.
The first step in realizing our 5G future is robust infrastructure deployment. 5G requires the installation of thousands of small wireless antennae known as “small cells.” 5G needs an immense amount of capacity and close proximity to the end user, so it requires much denser networks than what we currently have powering 4G and LTE services. Small cells typically are installed on utility poles, street lights or other existing right-of-way infrastructure. Because small cells are much smaller, easier and cheaper to install than a traditional macro site, and can be camouflaged to mimic the aesthetic of the areas where they are placed, the technology is the ideal solution to meet 5G’s capacity requirements.
However, instead of creating the proper conditions to foster a highly competitive environment for 5G build out in San Francisco by encouraging small cell deployment, the city is throwing up unnecessary roadblocks. To be fair, companies such as Verizon and Mobilitie are building out 5G infrastructure in San Francisco, but several other big providers have not yet started to build in the Bay Area due to unreasonable fees for small cell attachment to municipal infrastructure. Without robust competition in small cell deployment from all of the major players, it is highly unlikely San Francisco will be able to deploy the number of small cells necessary to be at the front of the 5G line.
To date, San Francisco hasn’t been willing to make the full commitments to 5G but the city certainly isn’t alone. While San Francisco has chosen slow deployment with high fees, other municipalities have made it difficult to install small cells through long wait times for permits or unreasonable aesthetic guidelines for the devices. One wireless CEO lamented that in some cities, small cells require only two hours to install, but need 18 to 24 months for a permit to be issued. Other Bay Area cities, such as Mill Valley and San Rafael, are passing laws designed to entirely block the installation of 5G small cells.
San Francisco hasn’t attempted to ban small cells and in fact its permitting process, run by the Department of Public Works, is smooth and efficient. But the price of $4,000 for each small cell attached to non-wooden utility poles is acting as a serious deterrent for deployment.
However, change is coming in the way of a new Federal Communications Commission (FCC) order aimed at streamlining small cell deployment for 5G.
On January 14th, 2019, new rules governing the installation of 5G infrastructure officially went into effect which, in theory, will drastically reduce the fee San Francisco will be able to charge for small cell attachments and create more competition.
Only time will tell how San Francisco officials will choose to react to the new FCC rules, but there is no doubt that creating an environment where all the major players are deploying next generation infrastructure in San Francisco can only be a positive for businesses and residents as the city continues to try to maintain its competitive edge in our connectivity driven global economy.