The advent of 5G represents an immense opportunity for smart applications based on the Internet of Things. As we know, 5G radically improves speed and latency of data transfers, and it allows to seamlessly handle many more devices within the same area, which is pivotal for its use in cities and urban environments.
Despite the technological progress, lots of Cities around the world are opposing or delaying 5G deployment because wireless densification digs some public health or aesthetics concerns up. In anticipation of a massive national rollout of 5G in the US, the FCC has decided to make 5G implementation easier by limiting the influence local governments have over whether the wireless infrastructure is too unsightly or obtrusive.
Recent rule changes streamline the approval process for mobile network operators deploying new networking gear or modifying the existing infrastructure. The FCC rules provide for a 60-day “shot clock” on applications, meaning that municipalities must issue their approval or denial within that time frame, and early disclose any aesthetic condition. As reported by Network World, many municipalities are unhappy with these revised rules, saying they accelerate wireless densification by eroding their legal authority over infrastructure build-outs. Also, the timing of this decision – with Cities largely focusing on Covid-19 response and recovery – contributes to make them particularly unwelcome.
Some Cities strongly disagree with tech companies over the placement and size of 5G equipment, arguing it is obtrusively placed, unsightly or too close to the public. It’s true that deploying 5G services is much more complicated for urban planners than it was for prior wireless generations, and municipalities should plan for maximum wireless densification in the districts and areas where they most need smart services.
Manufacturers of 5G infrastructure are looking for materials and form factors that can make the equipment perfectly safe and invisible to passersby while not impacting the technology performance or coverage. But the solution might be easier than expected: as most neighborhoods have existing street furniture, specifically streetlight poles, they can be leveraged as the backbone of the 5G network.
Streetlight poles combine all the power and electronics needed for 5G, and can host the devices to enable a number of smart applications, including public lighting, traffic video surveillance, public Wi-Fi and other sensor-based services. In Florida, the municipality of Coral Gables is working on an engineered pole concept that consolidates smart technologies such as 5G antennas, traffic cameras and WiFi hotspots into a single apparatus. This is part of a larger plan to create an aesthetically pleasing prototype for 5G and smart poles, setting industrial design standards that other cities can adopt and reuse.
5G wireless densification might be challenging for Cities, but its generational jump in bandwidth, connectivity and opportunities should not be spoiled. As the infrastructure becomes widespread, it will increasingly support smart applications to improve traffic movement and congestion, monitor air pollution, improve public safety and optimize the use of city resources, while offering a much faster access to online educational, business and entertainment services. Isn’t this the fulfillment of the Smart City promise?