How to Create Smarter Smart Cities

American Infrastructure

By working to understand all facets of the issues inherent in building and sustaining urban, small cell wireless infrastructure, we can make cities smarter for future generations

By David A. Wigdahl

Wireless mobile network operators will soon launch the first 5G networks. The new networks, which have higher speeds, lower latency, and more bandwidth, are going to change everything for the millions of urban citizens using increasingly data-hungry devices. The demand is expected to increase 800 percent within the next five years.

The 5G networks will enable the Internet of Things (IoT) to become a reality, with access to information at incredible speeds via in-phone apps and online websites. There’s the potential for a host of future enhancements, too, and eventually it will enable things like self-driving cars, high-res video multicasting, networked robots, virtual reality and more.

Key to implementing the IoT are small cell wireless networks, strategically placed throughout populated urban and suburban centers. They allow mobile network operators the ability to provide the required bandwidth, and with a much smaller footprint than the tall “macro” cell towers familiar to most people.

Indeed, small cells are not macro towers, placed on the back end of a parking lot or on top of a water tower. To be effective, small cells must be located close to the ground in the middle of everything. In other words, where the users are. In many cases, this means right in a front yard.

Sadly, small cell deployments vary widely in appearance because the industry has no set standards. In some communities, small cells have been expanding with little regard to site selection or aesthetics. The need to “build now” has outrun the need for thoughtful and deliberate planning. As a result, ugly or poorly sited installations have led to “not in my front yard” ordinances and litigation, conjuring up the NIMBY fights that took place over the macro cell towers in the 1990s.

Meanwhile, the “take it or leave it” attitude of some mobile network service providers has created an adversarial relationship with community officials who, while recognizing the need to implement it, feel that it’s being forced on them with little or no input.

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