Cities need to make way for our 5G future
By Tracy Hernandez
When the history of the 21st century is written, the greater Los Angeles region will be a central topic. We boast the United States’ largest port complex and a world famous entertainment industry. Last year alone, the 100 biggest tech companies in Los Angeles and Orange County — which include powerhouses Google, SpaceX and Netflix — reported having more than 48,000 employees. Outside of the top 100 largest companies, Los Angeles is also home to hundreds of tech start-ups that have flocked to our flourishing innovation hub now known as Silicon Beach.
Our reliance on smartphones and other “connected” technology is growing, and we must do our part to support all forms of high-speed internet (small cell, fiber, satellite) to meet today’s needs and the demand of tomorrow. There are currently more than 262 million smartphone users in the U.S., in addition to over 180 million other connected devices (fitness trackers, smart home devices). Mobile data traffic has increased 238 percent in the past two years alone and is expected to continue to increase at an aggressive pace. According to National Emergency National Association (NENA), 80 percent of all 911 calls are made from a smartphone.
Not surprisingly, this insatiable appetite for more and more mobile data has overburdened our existing communications infrastructure. Haven’t we all experienced the frustration when at a sports event or concert we have five bars but can’t make a call? To keep up with ever-increasing demand, we must upgrade and density our communications infrastructure so more of us can connect to the technology on which we increasingly rely.
This is where local electeds need to step up. By charging exorbitant fees and creating new burdensome regulations as they go, local city councils and mayors are holding our data hostage. The FCC recently recognized the hurdles that local governments were creating, so it decided to cap at $270 the amount that cities can charge for leasing publicly owned utility poles to install wireless technology. While this is helpful, additional policy changes and expedited permitting processes will grant the greatest wireless speed and access to all.
What does this “densification” look like? It starts with the robust deployment of next generation infrastructure known as “small cells.”Small cells are aptly named — small, low-powered nodes, connected by lightning-fast fiber-optic cable. Due to their small size and ability to be camouflaged,
they are typically installed on existing infrastructure such as streetlights or utility poles, which allows them to be located closer to the end user — businesses and residences — helping to relieve network congestion and leading to a superior wireless experience.
The most exciting part about small cells is not their immediate benefit in today’s 4G networks, but that they will serve as the backbone for tomorrow’s network, known as 5G. While 4G ushered in the era of mobile internet, we must continue to support all types of high-speed internet to meet today’s demand. 5G will power future innovations such as autonomous vehicles, smart energy grids and more smart community applications that stand to make our community smarter, safer and more efficient.
5G will also be a major economic engine. According to a recent Accenture study, 5G will be responsible for 3 million new jobs, $500 billion in new GDP and $275 billion in infrastructure investments. The entire Los Angeles region is poised to capitalize. But to do so, cities need to embrace the future.
Local governments should embrace the new paradigm of small cells and do all they can to support policy changes that encourage deployment, and the industry should collaborate with cities and share best practices on small cell deployment. By doing so, we will help position the region as the national leader in small-cell deployment. When this occurs, we all win. Businesses and residents get infrastructure that’s better, stronger, faster and in more places (including communities that lack good coverage now). Local governments gain additional revenue and improved technology such as advanced metering, enhanced public safety and other smart city technologies.
Small cells are an opportunity for the Los Angeles region to not only enhance improved communications infrastructure today, but also to lay the foundation for tomorrow. In the global race to connect all our citizens faster and more reliably, the United States is behind compared to other parts of the world. The Los Angeles region can lead way, if we choose to do so.
This Opinion was originally published in Print, in the Los Angeles Daily News/Long Beach Press Telegram/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Torrance Daily Breeze.