A new fifth-generation (5G), small-cell wireless technology is on the way in the next couple of years to Kent and other cities around the world, and local governments are trying to figure out how to regulate the equipment companies install on utility and light poles.
Public Works and City Attorney’s Office staff presented a 45-minute workshop Tuesday night to the City Council to let it know about the new technology and what type of regulations the city might be able to require.
“They are short-range cell sites and mounted to utility poles or light poles,” said Assistant City Attorney Christina Schuck, who worked with the city of Mercer Island on telecommunication franchises and license agreements prior to coming last year to Kent. “They complement macro (large cell) towers in smaller geographic areas. They have lower power. They use smaller radios and antennas and are designed to enhance capacity in high traffic areas in dense urban and suburban neighborhoods.
“The purpose of small cells are to provide additional capacity for emergency services, increased data use, telecommunication and all of our connected devices. … It enhances networks to meet consumer demand today and prepares for technologies of tomorrow with 5G, the Internet of Things (connecting devices with appliances, etc.) and self-driving cars.”
In a National Geographic website article in January, Marcelo Claure, CEO of Sprint, explained the new technology:
“5G can perform up to 10 times faster than the current 4G networks and enable a tremendous boost in data speed, meaning content that takes minutes to download now will be available in a matter of seconds,” Claure said.
People aren’t expected to be able to buy 5G technology for another year or two, but telecommunication companies are getting the equipment ready. Antennas and an equipment box will be the most visible new objects on a utility or light pole.
Three companies – Verizon, AT&T and Mobilitie – have contacted the city of Kent about installing cells on utility and light poles. Verizon so far has asked for 200 to 300 city and Puget Sound Energy poles; AT&T 18 poles and Mobilitie has made three requests.
“We need to get some feedback from council because we need to set up some rules,” said Chad Bieren, city Public Works engineer, who added companies initially contacted the city in 2016 about permits for installing the new equipment. “Once they come back around, it’s going to get serious.”
Representatives from the companies were at the workshop, so Bieren said the firms are ready to move forward.
The city has limited control about what can go on PSE poles, but can potentially set up design standards, height limits and restrictions about how many carriers per pole, Schuck said. The city would sign a license agreement with the telecommunication firms. Federal and state rules also restrict what local jurisdictions can do.
“This is new to us and we want to make sure we do it right,” Council President Bill Boyce said. “We need more data before we choose A, B or C. I know I want them to look nice. But we want more information before we tell you to go further.”
City officials have more control over its own light poles. Councilman Dennis Higgins said he wants to make sure the public gets a chance to comment about the issue before any decisions are made.