Small-Cell 5G Technology Sweeps into Pasadena, Backed by New Federal Regulations

Published : Monday, December 10, 2018 | 5:43 AM

Small cell (circled in red) on a pole-to-pole strand in Torrance, California; at right, a small cell mounted onto a pre-existing light standard. Photographs courtesy of the City of Pasadena

5G “small-cell” technology is sweeping through Pasadena. Experts say the revolution could see as many as 60 5G cell sites per square city mile accompanied by eight miles of underground fiber optics per square city mile — and that’s for each carrier.

Forty-three sites have been installed City-wide already, with 50 more applications now under process, a report by the Pasadena Department of Public Works said.

In the next three to five years, the Department anticipates hundreds more applications for new wireless sites will be submitted.

Assuming all four of the major U.S. wireless carriers – AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, and T-Mobile – apply to install the maximum number of small cell sites, that would mean up to 240 cell sites could be built per square mile.

Now, a new federal regulation requires cities to fast-track approval of the burgeoning number of small-cell coverage facilities, to expedite appeals of negative decisions.

The issue is up for discussion Tuesday, December 11, at the City Council’s Municipal Services Committee, where the Public Works Department is set to recommend amendments to the Pasadena Municipal Code, particularly Chapter 12.22. The chapter regulates the setting up of wireless sites in the public right-of-way.

An Agenda report by the Public Works Department said the proposed amendments should make the City compliant with federal and state regulations, which primarily dictates the City’s procedures for processing wireless facility applications.

The report said the Federal Communications Commission, on September 30, approved an order restricting local government authority over the deployment of small cell facilities within the public right-of-way, which becomes effective by January 14, 2019.

The order will require that the City of Pasadena not only process the application within a timeframe of as short as 60 days, but also address any administrative appeals all the way through the issuance of construction permits.

Non-compliance with the timetables could result in federal penalties against the City, Public Works said.

The department also explained there have been substantial changes in the size of wireless site configurations since 2009 when the City Council adopted wireless technology regulations under Chapter 12.22, and therefore is recommending amendments “to incentivize wireless carriers to deploy ‘smaller footprint’ small cell installations with less visual impact.”

Under the FCC’s September 30 order, small cell sites are mounted on structures that are 50 feet tall or shorter, have a total equipment volume of 28 cubic feet or less, and with an unlimited number of antennas whose volume should be three cubic feet or less.

In the report, Public Works said they would prefer new small cell sites that are “strand-mount” devices – installed on existing steel cables between poles, which should have one of the smallest footprint – and on replacement light standards or light poles.

Strand-mount cell equipment were not considered back in 2009 and are not currently permitted.

The department is also recommending that the permit processing steps and the appeal process be adjusted to speed up approval of the small cell site applications. Their recommendation is to allow three tiers of the approval process, with the ease and speed of approval depending on the size of the installation.

Modern small cell sites such as those the U.S.’s top wireless carriers are installing are evolving to be ready for the 5G (the fifth generation) standard of wireless communications which is currently in network trials in the U.S., China and South Korea.

When 5G launches, it is expected to result in higher data rates, reduced latency (meaning faster speed), more energy savings at lower costs, and higher system capacity which should allow for more devices to be connected to a single gateway.

At Tuesday’s Municipal Services Committee meeting, Public Works is expected to recommend that the City Attorney draft the amendments to Chapter 12.22, and return to the City Council with a new proposed ordinance.

The meeting begins at 4 p.m. at the City Council chamber, Room S249 at City Hall.

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