There’s a consensus that 5G is a vital step forward for the economy and our communities; and the sooner we prepare for it, the better off we will be. But, recent moves by Los Angeles and San Rafael are disappointing to see.
In October of last year, the city of Los Angeles approved a 1,000 percent increase in the fee that companies will have to pay when they dig up or damage streets. That means companies will pay a lot more to lay new cable and utilities under city streets. This price increase makes it increasingly difficult to build and deploy the infrastructure that will enable 5G — ultimately making it more expensive for consumers and businesses to access the technology.
San Rafael, meanwhile, unanimously passed an ordinance that imposes tighter restrictions on wireless companies wanting to build 5G infrastructure. The new ordinance will make small cell antennas significantly more difficult to install in the city because of a stipulation that requires wireless companies only build and deploy within certain geographic boundaries. This will negatively impact businesses, services and residents that rely on this infrastructure by eating into the city’s potential future revenue. Ultimately, San Rafael’s city council preempted the Federal Communications Commission ruling that went into effect in January that limits local authority over the installation of 5G infrastructure.
5G is a necessity; that is clear. The U.S. needs 5G-based technologies to maintain its competitive edge globally. 5G will unlock enormous economic growth, help create new businesses and jobs, improve transportation and public safety, save energy and greatly improve infrastructure. Accenture projects 5G will create up to 3 million new jobs and boost GDP by $500 billion, in part that is because it will vastly increase mobile connectivity and capacity.
Global data traffic is projected to increase from 19.01 exabytes per month in 2018 to 77.5 exabytes per month by 2022, a compound annual growth rate of 46 percent. That’s roughly 800 million times higher than 15 years ago. By the end of 2019 alone, more than 50 billion devices and 212 billion sensors will be connected to network services.
Without new and updated infrastructure, all that data and those connections will make wireless service slow and unreliable. 5G could bring up to 100 times faster speed for data transfer, significantly more reliable than current 4G LTE — especially in densely populated areas.
Furthermore, it is estimated that 5G, in combination with the Internet of Things (IoT), could net $160 billion in economic activity for “smart” cities, through reductions in energy usage, traffic congestion and fuel costs.
But all those benefits are dependent on having a comprehensive and robust 5G network in place. So, what do these two misinformed ordinances have to do with 5G? The fact of the matter is that, in order to achieve this next generation of wireless coverage, we need the right wireless infrastructure, such as “small cells,” to match so we can access 5G capabilities. Small cells are small antennas — about the size of a pizza box — and can be built to mimic the aesthetic of the surrounding area where they are installed and can be attached to existing infrastructure, such as a light pole. Yet many municipalities, like Los Angeles and San Rafael, are resisting them by imposing long wait times for permits or charging unreasonable fees.
Unlike these two cities, the FCC is working to speed up the installation of 5G infrastructure by making it easier and less costly to get networks up and running. On Jan. 15, the FCC’s new rules went into effect, allowing for a drastic increase in deployment of wireless infrastructure across the nation, including in Los Angeles and San Rafael. The new regulations impose tight permit deadlines on cities and limit how much a city can charge to install 5G infrastructure in public rights of way. In the simplest of terms, the FCC is working to ensure a smooth and efficient rollout of 5G.
The FCC rule is a major step forward. Obstructionist regulations by cities, on the other hand, are denying their residents access to the fastest and most reliable wireless networks, forcing local businesses to compete using outdated technology, and costing their first responders the best access to life-saving technology. Without updated infrastructure and policies in place, we’re all going to be losing out.