5G and Small Cell Infrastructure

Carly Kehoe, Sr. Planner/Project Manager, WSB

The 10 things to know about the world’s newest technology disruptor.

Terms such as 5G and small cell infrastructure are buzz words in today’s ever-changing innovative landscape, but what does that mean for the communities we live and work in?  Federal mandates are constantly being updated and new technology is replacing ‘old’ technology quicker than many can keep track of.  What was once cutting-edge is becoming obsolete faster and faster.  As the world continues to rely on more data, the demand for access to that data continues to grow.  Our technology-reliant world is driving carriers to build more towers and access points throughout the world.  As these initiatives continue to grow, the communities we live and work in are starting to prepare. Small cell infrastructure and 5G preparation can look different depending on the type of community you live in and where you are in the United States.

Here are 10 things to know about small cell infrastructure

  1. First – what exactly is small cell infrastructure? The CTIA, an organization that advocates and represents the U.S. wireless communications industry, defines small cell as: Small radio equipment and antennas that can be placed on structures such as streetlights, the sides of buildings, or poles. They are about the size of a pizza box, and are essential for transmitting data to and from a wireless device.
  2. Today, the United State is at critical mass for data. We play more games, we use more apps and the tools that power our daily lives rely on application-driven data. 5G brings greater speed, lower latency and the ability to connect more devices at once.
  3. Federal mandates surrounding spectrum and capacity availability have been contentious throughout the years as politicians and communities gain more knowledge. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has developed a 5G FAST Plan, a comprehensive strategy to facilitate and accelerate the deployment of America’s high-speed internet access.
  4. While other countries around the globe are advancing their technology infrastructure, the United States is taking steps to lead the world in 5G. The FCC is committed to increasing spectrum availability, updating infrastructure policy to encourage the private sector to invest and modernizing outdated regulations that will promote digital opportunities for all Americans.
  5. Have we seen 5G before? Yes, several test markets have activated for large events, especially events that take place on a world-stage. States like California, New York, Colorado, Minnesota and Texas, all of which have high growth rates, have also been investing heavily in small cell infrastructure and 5G technology. Carriers are aggressively rolling this technology out in densely populated areas to more easily distribute data in high deployment areas. Additionally, large corporate headquarters are working closely with carriers to implement related projects and technologies.
  6. Big goals and big legislation are driving the 5G movement. We’re working closely with municipalities throughout the United States to help them understand the processes that will be required and affected by small cell infrastructure. 
  7. Small cell infrastructure is being implemented where the demand is highest. 5G not only increases coverage and speed but most importantly increases capacity, and that’s why carriers are focusing on densely populated areas first. 
  8. 5G will still come from large cellular towers, but small cell infrastructure will be placed to increase capacity and data availability. Tower companies are working closely with carriers to deliver alternative solutions.
  9. In 2017, the first federal mandate was implemented to say that cities around the country cannot say no to 5G infrastructure. The mandate states that cities and communities are not able to prevent 5G from happening, but they are able to set regulations that a carrier must abide by. The question is not whether communities will choose to participate, but rather if they’re prepared for it.
  10. Small cell infrastructure will affect everyone from the most urban environments to rural towns. Cities are developing ordinances to regulate how small cell infrastructure is implemented throughout their communities. Several cities are developing permits, planner reviews and regulations to ensure that small cell infrastructure is structurally sound, aesthetically-pleasing and are protecting historically significant landmarks. 

Carly Kehoe is a Senior Planner and Project Manager with experience in land development and community planning in the public and private sectors for both major corporations and municipalities. Her expertise extends to public engagement, education, land use development and design.

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