The latest wave of wireless innovation is upon us — fifth generation wireless, otherwise known as 5G. The technology will multiply download speeds by 10 times or more, allowing wireless carriers to compete with cable companies for high-speed Internet access. As former FCC trade commissioner Robert McDowell writes in the Wall Street Journal today:

5G will enable advances in everything from driverless cars to the “tactile internet,” in which surgeons can perform operations and builders operate construction equipment remotely, and entertainment can include sensations beyond the audiovisual.

A 5G-enabled Internet of Things will connect people, data and new devices, creating a surge of economic growth. IHS Markit estimates that in the U.S. alone 5G will yield $719 billion in growth and 3.4 million new jobs by 2035.

To deploy the technology, 5G wireless carriers need to deploy thousands of “small cell” antennas the size of pizza boxes. Although these small cells are almost invisible, some state and local governments are treating them as if they are 100-foot towers. Outdated local requirements restrict carriers from placing small cells in local rights-of-way and on government-owned utility poles. Zoning ordinances designed for big cell towers require zoning board approval. Other localities impose prohibitive fees.

It was with a sickening feeling in the pit of my stomach that I Googled “Virginia 5G regulations,” fearing that the Old Dominion still would be living up to the “Old” in its moniker, imposing all manner of unreasonable fees and restrictions. But I was pleasantly surprised. We have been making progress.

Last year Governor Terry McAuliffe signed S.B. 1282, which, according to Wireless Week, removed some regulatory barriers and sped up local permitting processes.

[The bill] stated that localities can’t require special exceptions or special use permits for small cell facilities installed on existing structures where providers already have permission to co-locate equipment, and gives municipalities 10 days to notify carriers of an incomplete application and 60 days to either approve or deny applications. The measure also caps municipal fees at $100 each for up to five small cell facilities on an application and $50 for each facility thereafter. Fees for carrier use of municipal rights-of-way are prohibited, except for zoning, subdivision, site plan, and comprehensive plan fees related to the general application. Additionally, the bill instructs municipalities that “approval for a permit shall not be unreasonably conditioned, withheld, or delayed.”

Consulting firm Accenture had said the wireless industry is looking to make “significant” infrastructure investments in the state, including $179 million in Richmond and $371 in Virginia Beach, reported Wireless Week. The firm also forecast that the investments would create more than 6,000 jobs across the state.

In the 2018 session, the General Assembly passed SB 405, which exempts wireless structures less than 50 feet tall from requirements to obtain special use permits under local zoning laws, as well as SB 823, which establishes an annual wireless infrastructure erected in public rights-of-way. The fee is $1,000 for structures that are 50 feet or shorter.  The bill awaits the signature of Governor Ralph Northam.

Bacon’s bottom line: If Virginia wants to run with the big boys in technology-intensive industries, it needs to encourage wireless operators to roll out 5G as rapidly as possible. What’s extra cool about the technology is that it doesn’t favor just the big metropolitan regions with dense populations. 5G can reach rural endpoints at one-fifth to one-tenth the cost of wireline connections, thus closing one of the big infrastructure barriers to rural economic development.

I don’t see any downside to 5G deployment. It’s driven by the private sector. It will open up high-speed Internet to virtually the entire state. All government has to do is get out of the way. The only losers are crybaby NIMBYs who can’t bare the thought of wireless towers less than 50 feet tall within their line of sight. Waaah. Build, baby, build!

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18 responses to “5G Wireless: Build, Baby, Build!”

  1. Steve Haner Avatar
    Steve Haner

    The roof of our Northside RVA condo building provides one of the highest vantage points for several blocks around, taller than the seminary tower or even some steeples. One big provider is already paying the association rent for an antenna, but it has not been built and I suspect they are waiting to make it 5G instead. If any other providers want a piece of the action up there, the condo board wants to hear from you!

    Of course the local governments are shaking them down for money, or responding to NIMBY voter sentiments. Just about the time this starts to penetrate the market, something else will come along….

  2. 5G – bring it on! Now, about that matter of the ISP’s neutrality toward content . . . .

  3. LarrytheG Avatar

    these are the same NIMBYs to solar!!! 5G is how you wire rural Va. You have to be deaf, dumb and stupid to impede it….NIMBY or govt regs…

    1. idiocracy Avatar

      Based on the ranges I’m seeing, 5G is how you wire a dense urban area, not rural Va.

      Then there’s also the problem of backhaul to all of these densely located cell sites–infrastructure which still has to be put into place, within a mile or two of the user. That’s a cell site AND the high-speed backhaul it needs, all to serve the few rural users within 1-2 miles of it?

      Might as well just skip the 5G and either run a cable all the way to the customer, or use existing wireless technology provided by offerings from Mikrotik, Ubiquiti, or the like.

      1. djrippert Avatar

        It seems to me that carriers like Verizon and AT&T could use their existing infrastructure in their service areas to backhaul 5G. While I’m no expert in wireless networking it seems to me that high-frequency millimeter wave technology is great for high bandwidth over short distances. I just wonder how effective that would be in a rural setting. Maybe some very intelligent network design in conjunction with existing copper and fiber infrastructure would allow 5G to work for fixed data in a low population density environment.

  4. LarrytheG Avatar

    well.. apparently.. there are differing views….

    ” Industry Voices—Rysavy: How 5G will solve rural broadband”

    ” A spokesperson for the Wireless ISP Association (WISPA) estimates that a wireless connection to a rural endpoint costs one-fifth to one-tenth of a wireline connection. ”

    1. idiocracy Avatar

      They’re quoting a spokesperson for an industry that is already deploying wireless connections to rural endpoints using existing, non-5G technology.

      The rest of the article doesn’t begin to explain what benefit 5G offers to rural WISPs, but cites several examples of WISPs offering service using existing, non 5G equipment/technology.

      Whatever the problem of deploying rural broadband is, is not a problem that needs a 5G solution.

      More to the point, it provides neither additional range nor speed over already existing products.

  5. “The only losers are crybaby NIMBYs who can’t bare the thought of wireless towers less than 50 feet tall within their line of sight. Waaah. Build, baby, build!”

    It’s obvious that you are a bit myopic on this topic and haven’t followed the legislation or deliberation very closely.

    I will give you the simple synopsis, the industry asserted that it was constrained by inconsistent and onerous zoning and permitting requirements in many jurisdictions, probably true in some cases. The industry asserted that the deployment of the 5G microcells would solve the “last mile” and rural broadband problems, possibly true to some degree.

    The jurisdictions asserted that residents were complaining in instances where these structures appeared without the public’s or the jurisdiction’s knowledge or approval, absolutely true with Mobilite being the prime violator. The jurisdictions asserted that the General Assembly was stripping them of local zoning and land use authority to benefit a singular industry, absolutely true. The jurisdictions asserted that the General Assembly was setting a fixed price for ROW acquisition regardless of true market value, absolutely true. The jurisdictions asserted that the legislation gave an unfair advantage to the micro tower providers, absolutely true. The jurisdictions asserted that the legislation should not apply to urban areas where the issue of “last mile” and rural broadband were not relevant, largely true.

    The ROVA legislators ramrodded this through as a “cheap” fix to the rural broadband and “last mile” problems, time will tell if it solves them, I tend to doubt it.

    At the end of the day it was simply another instance of the bought and paid for General Assembly representing the interests of its patrons over its constituents. The legislation could easily have been amended to address many of the jurisdiction’s concerns but our wonderful legislators like Del. Kilgore (Hayseed-Gate City) didn’t want to take the time or effort to address those concerns.

    1. Mom, you raise excellent points. Thanks for edifying me. My reaction is that the laws are a good thing in the balance, although I will concede that the issues are far more complicated than I realized. Perhaps some fine-tuning of the legislation can address some of the points you make.

    2. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
      Reed Fawell 3rd

      My visual nerve endings rile easily at roadside pornography. It’s everywhere, this porn in endless disguises in public places, often paid for at public cost stolen from us in many different ways. Take the huge white propellers spinning atop the steel asparagus towers that litter our mountain ridges and Ocean Highways. Passing by, I want to howitzer this monster porn. One porn star erected by goofball professors spins at a local community college near my home. Paid for by us, it signals to all coming down the road the moral superiority of these professors and their masters, the school administrators who put up this visual junk while they spout toxic junk of a different kind, the verbal junk they spout feverishly and madly, trying to erase the history of a nation and its people, such as an event wherein over a million and half souls perished or were maimed, and where many more millions lost homes and families, forever. Now, a 153 years later, these neurotic professors and their puppet masters who suffered absolutely none of those horrors, and sacrificed nothing in that holocaust, lecture us and our children from their ivory towers paid for by us, from where they both hide and spout snide hate worthy of moral dwarfs and twisted midgets to our children at our expense. This is human nature at its worse, a very real dark side, but typical. Witch hunts, inquisitions, idols and idiots, infest every age led by its mad, blind, craven, and foolish.

      See for example:

      Or study up on the many recent events at UVA paid for by your tax dollars.

      Having made my personal opinion on that issue as clear as I can, I see no reason not to be enthusiastic about this 5G technology if it can deploy thousands of “small cell” antennas the size of pizza boxes while removing the threat that older but recent technologies pose to precious landscapes and view-sheds. One is astounded by our government if it thwarts such solutions for no apparent reason beyond incompetence. A fine article, Jim.

      1. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
        Reed Fawell 3rd

        This comment is not intended to disagree with MOM’s comment. Only to say that competent governments and civil servants need to solve issues like he raises in ways that benefit all concerned and minimize costs, equally sharing benefits and costs on both sides. Increasingly these sorts of civil competences seem beyond us. Lkely a significant part of our growing incompetence can be attributed to the gross dysfunction of the institutions that use to educate us – our secondary schools, colleges, universities, and vocationally schools. Those who used to teach and build our youth now are hard at work destroying their culture, while filling their minds with nonsense and toxic hate, while also reinforcing their bad habits, like not working, not learning, but living off others, whether through hook-ups or off society generally, while they generate hate of others based on where they came from, or how they look or think. The poison spreads everywhere now. Into most every issue or endeavor.

        1. Ahh, but we have no competent governments and few competent or unbiased civil servants. Thus we get the Congressional budget bill, virtually everything that comes out Richmond and similar dreck at the local level. In my county for example, there is all manner of sturm and drang about school overcrowding yet while some high schools operate at 140% capacity others operate at 70% or less. Why, because the local School Board lacks the political will to force their constituents to send their children to the nearest school or redraw the boundaries to make the most efficient use of the existing facilities. Instead they point their collective finger at the BOCS and blame them for explosive growth and underfunding the schools. At the same time, the BOCS hides behind a revenue sharing agreement, using it like Captain America’s shield, pointing their collective finger at the School Board for misspending the funds allocated to them. All the while, the staff of the both the county government and the school division use the dysfunction to further their own agendas, furnish their gilded palaces, add to their bloated administrative staffs and bolster their silo walls. As the localities are generally the breeding ground for both candidates for higher office or statewide service, should we be at all surprised at what we get from top to bottom. A pox on all of their houses.

          1. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
            Reed Fawell 3rd

            Fine comment. Let the debate begin.

  6. Bob Matthias Avatar
    Bob Matthias

    The Verizon rep in an email during the GA session stated that 5 G was not to serve underserved areas but to be built in existing service areas where the people/money are.

    1. Verizon said that while others like Mobilite pandered to the ROVA legislators swearing it would be the cure-all for last mile and rural broadband issues.

      1. idiocracy Avatar

        Not knowing a gigahertz from a gigabyte from their butt, the ROVA legislators will believe it.

        1. djrippert Avatar

          Speaking of gigahertz … do you have any thoughts on the link budgets / link margins for non-line of sight 5G? Do those who think 5G will support fixed rural broadband expect to use line of sight?

          Also, isn’t a big benefit of 5G lower latency rather than just increased bandwidth? And isn’t lower latency assumed to be critical for autonomous vehicles? IS the assumption that the autonomous vehicle will flip to manual operation when it runs out of 5G coverage?

          Sorry for all the questions but it’s been years since I thought much about wireless networking.

          1. Excellent questions still, DJR. Latency is reduced with 5G, unlike satellite, but at what networking cost? I have wondered what reliability checks are being built into autonomous vehicles that depend upon external communications, with what communications technology constraints (e.g., line of sight), with what downstream consequences for the taxpayer to ensure blanket, dependable coverage of all roads? You hear nothing about this in the popular press, and the experimenting companies are not talking.

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