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Colorado Springs will soon have ultra-fast 5G wireless service, as Verizon Wireless announced their 5G Ultra Wideband service in January. 5G will dramatically accelerate customer’s digital transformation and revolutionize how they interact digitally.  To accommodate this digital transformation, the City of Colorado Springs has been receiving growing numbers of requests from wireless providers and wireless infrastructure companies to construct small cell poles in the public right-of-way throughout Colorado Springs. Wireless companies are installing the poles, or replacing existing streetlight poles wherever possible, to support existing and future demands for the cell phone connectivity we all depend on daily.   More small cells mean enhanced 4G service, and eventually 5G service that will benefit both residents and the City of Colorado Springs’ smart cities initiatives.  As more small cells go up throughout the city, there will likely be questions.  Here are answers to some of those frequently asked questions.

What is 5G?

5G stands for the 5th Generation mobile network. It is a new global wireless standard after 4G networks, which provide connectivity to most current cellphones. 5G connected devices will be able to download data from the internet much faster than 4G LTE connected devices – no more buffering!  Lower latency means data can be transferred between 5G connected devices almost instantly, increasing capabilities for things like autonomous vehicles and telehealth services.  Another benefit is that 5G has a greater capacity for connected devices, meaning more devices will be able to be connected to the network at the same time.

What are small cells?

Small cells are low-powered antennas installed and operated by private telecommunications providers. Small cells supplement larger cellular networks and improve cellular coverage in small geographic areas. Small cells will meet 4G LTE demands and 5G demands as technology changes. In Colorado Springs, small cells may be located on poles, wires, or buildings.  Cellular companies tell us that eventually a small cell will be needed about every one to two blocks where carriers plan to provide 5G coverage. This will primarily begin in the most densely populated areas such as downtown and near other commercial areas. Currently, there are approximately 250 small cells in Colorado Springs and we expect several hundred more in the next year or two.

Who regulates small cell infrastructure?

Primarily federal and state laws govern small cell infrastructure, with some minimal authority reserved for local municipalities. Federal and state laws require cities to allow small cells to be placed within the public right of way and prevent cities from regulating wireless facilities based on the health or environmental effects of radio frequency emissions, which is regulated solely by the federal Communications Commission (FCC). The City can set standards based on aesthetic values, compatibility with the City’s traffic and utility infrastructure, pedestrian and vehicle safety, and preservation of historic areas, and preservation of views from residences or other sensitive areas. The City’s Office of Innovation is coordinating with providers and other City departments on the administrative review and permitting process to ensure standards are met.

What has the City done to minimize potential impacts?

The City of Colorado Springs, in conjunction with Colorado Springs Utilities, has published design standards to minimize the impact of small cell infrastructure.The standards require as much as technologically feasible all small cell equipment to be housed inside of the pole and for poles to match adjacent poles in height, color, and style for aesthetics.It also requires that there be space on the poles for future SmartCOS attachments. In the majority of cases, small cells will replace existing streetlights or traffic signal poles. If coverage is needed in a historic area or a neighborhood with decorative light poles, you may see a standalone small cell instead. The City has also created a master license agreement, which combines City and Utilities requirements and sets the standards for the small cell installation process from beginning to end, and updated the telecommunications section of City Code to reflect the changing technology and align with state and federal laws.

How will small cells benefit residents and the City of Colorado Springs?

The Office of Innovation encourages private telecommunications providers to deploy the necessary infrastructure to ensure all Colorado Springs residents have access to affordable, reliable, and high-quality telecommunications services, including wireless coverage.Small cells will enhance Colorado Springs 4G coverage and to provide to residents a new 5G network.These advancements will benefit our city by meeting customer demands in our increasingly mobile world with expanded use of Internet of Things (IoT) devices in our community. It will also pave the way for smart cities initiatives – exciting technologies like connected vehicles, smart streetlights, smart trash, smart kiosks and more. 

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