Small cell antenna an alternative to poles for DC’s 5G infrastructure

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An antennae affixed to a street light pole near Dupont Circle. Image credit: Kate Michael

Local tech executives have been urging D.C. leadership to speed up the regulatory process of laying the groundwork for 5G.  The placing of 5G could take as many as 750,000 cell towers via “small-cell” solutions, a network of low-powered antennas — called nodes — that can handle large amounts of data at high speeds and are often installed in public right of ways, like utility poles and streetlights, or on roof tops.

D.C.’s Department of Transportation began the licensing and design process over three years ago to prioritize the deployment of 5G’s infrastructure, including either tall poles or these small cell stations.  While the infrastructure cost is not the city’s to bear — telecom companies will pay — it is up to the government to decide where and how to allow companies to place 5G cell stations. 

Georgetown’s elected officials, as are many other District officials, have consistently been opposed to the telephone type poles several telecom firms, including Verizon and AT&T, have said they want. The officials fear it would take away from the area’s beauty and also be inconsistent with the requirements of the city’s historic districts. 

A possible supplier of antennas to accommodate 5G recently described his company’s approach at a community meeting attended by local press, Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Joe Gibbons, and Georgetown activist Charlene King.

Shervin Gerami, the chief executive officer of TeleWorld Solutions, a national engineering organization, hopes to put small cell antennas on top of roofs to supply e-mail and cordless telephone service to customers of the five telephone/e-mail firms with which his company has contracts.  Each company would have its own 2 to 3 foot tall antenna, so in some cases a building could accommodate all five of the firms his company represents, and in other cases only one or two.     

Gerami said the firm has installed its antennas atop roofs in parts of New York City and several other communities. It has also used billboards, which were previously in place.     

TeleWorld would sign up the owners of both residential and business buildings for five year renewable leases and then make arrangements for one or several of the firms it represents to put in an antenna atop them. 

The building owner could decide not to renew the lease after the five year period, Gerami said. Should the building be sold before the five year lease is up, the lease would still be in force.     

Typically, he said, the building owner would probably be paid about $100 a month per antenna. Previous to the Federal Communications Commission’s demand that cities allow telephone type poles on their streets, the typical price was $200 per antenna per month, he said.       

Activist Charlene King emphasized that Washington is not the only city pushing back against the Commission’s order allowing telephone type poles to accommodate the telephone/e-mail firms antennas. 

Commissioner Gibbons emphasized that he is not yet in a position to endorse Gerami’s technology. “We want 5G,” he added. “Our walkways are narrow. We like the idea of (putting antennas on the) rooftops. … This is an alternative.”     

He urged Gerami to provide a mock-up of what his clients’ antennas would look like atop a roof so the advisory neighborhood commission could show it to City Council members.     

King pointed out that the approach that is first approved and first in operation will have a major advantage in signing up customers over competitors whose operations are approved at a later date. She urged Gerami to move quickly with a mock-up.

When asked how roof top antenna would work where there are a lot of trees, Gerami answered, “The condition of the trees’ foliage will matter.” King added that with the large number of trees in Georgetown, “there will be a need of a lot of small cells.”      

Gerami said his firm would get only a small amount of the revenue generated by the system.

Homeowners, he added, could have a problem selling their homes in the future if they could not accommodate 5G as younger buyers would not be as apt to be interested. “Young people want 5G. … 5G is going to change the country we live in.”