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5G is coming: How is the Midwest preparing for this potential quantum leap in cellular communication?

by Jon Davis ~ March 2019 ~ Stateline Midwest »


1. What is 5G and how does it work?
5G is shorthand for the “fifth generation” of cellular communications technology. Boosters say it’s a potential world-changing leap up from current 4G systems because it will theoretically be up to 100 times faster, with higher data capacity and lower latency (delays) in transmission. The website “How-To Geek” describes in detail how 5G networks will do this:
“Small cells” — miniature base stations placed about every 820 feet throughout dense urban areas — will transmit and receive at the same time, on the same frequency, using millimeter waves broadcast at frequencies between 30 and 300 gigahertz (GHz) that were previously only used for communication between satellites and radar systems. They’ll require dozens of antennas on each station so they can talk to multiple wireless devices at once rather than quickly switching between them; and “beamforming,” which directs a wireless signal in a beam pointing at the device in use rather than beaming the signal in every direction, which reduces interference for other devices.

2. When will 5G be up and running?
Verizon launched 5G service for homes (not cell phones) last year in four cities, including Indianapolis. Also in 2018, cell phone companies announced plans to roll out their 5G networks starting this year (AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint), which means widespread 5G service won’t be available until 2020 at the earliest. Of course, you’ll have to replace your 4G devices with new, 5G ones; the Consumer Technology Association estimates that by 2022, more than 75 percent of smartphones in the U.S. will be 5G devices.


3. Which states have laws or are considering bills to regulate 5G infrastructure?
More base stations in denser networks means that each service provider must install its 5G network where it can. Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota and Ohio have already enacted small-cell legislation that streamlines regulations to facilitate the deployment of 5G small cells; Nebraska legislators introduced LB 184 (the Small Wireless Facilities Act) in January. While all 5G infrastructure-related laws and legislation are unique to their states, they do embody common elements, including:
• caps on the costs and fees local governments may charge cellular providers for permits to locate or co-locate small cells on utility poles,
• streamlining the application process to access public rights-of-way (where the small cells are located), and
• streamlining the timeline for consideration and processing of those applications.
KansasHB 2131 of the 2015-16 session was one of the first small-cell-related laws in the country. It lets companies build and operate wireless support structures on public rights-of-way and enter into lease agreements with local governments for access to public land with lease terms of at least 10 years. The law also caps fees for co-location permits at $500, and caps fees for building new wireless support structures.
In 2017, Iowa legislators approved SF 431, which limits local governments’ ability to prohibit or restrict small-cell deployments and prevents them from requiring wireless providers to get land use permits for putting base stations on public rights-of-way or government-owned utility poles. It also gave local governments 60 days to respond to applications for permits for co-locating wireless facilities, and specified that any application not answered within that window is deemed granted.
Sen. Jake Chapman, chair of the Iowa Senate’s Commerce Committee (which sponsored the bill), says municipalities pushed back against some provisions but didn’t oppose. “I think they wanted to protect their turf, but they understood that this is something their residents will want, too,” he adds.
In 2018, similar laws were enacted in Illinois (SB 1451), Indiana (HB 1050), Michigan (SB 637) and Ohio (HB 478). Legislation failed in Nebraska (LB 389) and Wisconsin (AB 348 and SB 425). Illinois’ law exempts any municipality with a population of 1 million or more people (Chicago) from its limitations.


4. What’s happening at the federal level?
The Federal Communications Commission at the end of September issued a ruling restricting cities’ abilities to regulate 5G facilities. Like state laws, the new rules give municipalities deadlines to approve or reject the installation of 5G equipment and limit how much cities can charge wireless firms for the privilege of putting their hardware in public rights of way.
A previous order issued in March 2018 exempted small cells from environmental and historical reviews because they’re not “major federal actions” or “federal undertakings,” under the National Historic Preservation Act or National Environmental Policy Act. It also removed a requirement for Environmental Assessments “solely due to the location of a proposed facility in a floodplain” under certain conditions.
No 5G-specific legislation has been introduced yet in the current Congress. In the previous Congress: