The upcoming transition from 4G to 5G cellular technologies has consumers eagerly awaiting the chance to get their hands on smartphones with extraordinarily fast internet speeds. In the meantime, city mayors are grappling with how to get their citizens access to 5G service as soon as possible, without getting bulldozed by telecom companies.
In a blog post written by AT&T executive vice president Joan Marsh, the carrier detailed why it decided to work with three cities — Indianapolis, Minneapolis, and Little Rock — on testing its “5G Evolution” networks, the last “4.5G” step before full 5G. AT&T is using these cities to demonstrate the regulatory conditions that mayors and city councils should create if they want to get early 5G coverage, which will rely heavily upon new networking gear, including small cell transceivers.
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All three cities highlighted by AT&T made it easier to deploy small tech in a variety of ways. Indianapolis, Minneapolis, and Little Rock all expedited the small cell permitting process, allowing companies to obtain a permit for small cell deployment in 45-60 days in Indianapolis, versus up to 90 days in Minneapolis. It’s unclear how long it took companies in these cities to obtain a permit before the process was expedited, but in other municipalities, it can take up to a year to get a permit.
In Little Rock, the permitting form AT&T and other companies needs to fill out to deploy a small cell shrank to just two pages, and the city allowed companies to use one permit for the deployment of up to 25 cells.
The state of Indiana also passed legislation last year that capped the maximum attachment rate for small cells at $50 a node. According to the American Enterprise Institute, some municipalities had been asking deployers to pay $4,000 per year for each small cell. The legislation has made Indiana a popular 5G testing ground for other telecom giants, not just AT&T. In May, Verizon conducted a residential test of 5G at a complex in Speedway, Indiana, home of the Indianapolis 500.
For the cities and states that are already thinking about 5G deployment, one of the biggest questions that remains is whether permitting processes should be decided by the state or the municipality. In October, California Governor Jerry Brown (D) vetoed a bill, backed by the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association, that would have set statewide standards for small cell deployment.
In particular, the bill would have capped the fee for using city property at $250 per device each year and barred municipalities from imposing additional fees — which the sponsors of the bill said would have encouraged more investment from telecom companies. But 300 mayors who opposed the bill said those fees were too low and would have allowed telecom companies to “use public property practically [for] free.”