Alexandria, VA

Alexandria officials have voted to allow mobile carriers to start installing what’s billed as a faster, and smarter, cellular network.

The Alexandria City Council voted during its meeting this past Saturday, October 19 to approve a 5-year agreements with Verizon and AT&T, allowing the company to install small wireless equipment on street poles to boost 5G cell networks to the city.

Experts say that 5G technology promises data speeds ten times as fast as the existing 4G network. The technology also has the potential to make real-time data sharing things like for “smart city” infrastructure possible, potentially enabling drivers to connect autonomous vehicles to the city’s infrastructure. However, 5G requires cellular companies install many backpack-sized signal devices with antennas across an area to form a network.

The city’s newly-approved agreements require the cellular companies to pay a one-time $750 fee to the city to host the cellular equipment on the public land next to streets, and requires companies pay for whatever electricity is used to power them. The poles themselves can be light, traffic signal, or utility poles — as long as the small equipment doesn’t interfere with existing utilities.

Members voted 6-0 in favor of the contracts after a quick deliberation, with Councilman Mohamed Seifeldein abstaining.

“Alexandria business, residents, visitors, and commuters depend on this enhanced service and connectivity during normal communication use and emergencies especially in critical services in fire, police, and ambulance, and hospital calls,” said Verizon Wireless Real Estate Manager Jeff Ott on Saturday.

The vote makes Alexandria the third Northern Virginia community to permit 5G small cell technology.

“We look forward to deploying the next generation of wireless technology throughout the city, and working again on future collaborations,” said Genelle Newhard, AT&T’s senior real estate and construction manager.

Residents elsewhere have opposed the technology over concerns about health effects of low levels of 5G radio wave emission. Paul Dugan, a Pennsylvania-based consulting engineer at Millennium Engineering, P.C. who testified Saturday, noted there was “a lot of misinformation being circulated among communities” regarding health effects from small cell technology and emphasized that studies have not shown the radio waves cause harmful effects.

“There’s nothing that suggests that the introduction of these small cells is going to elevate the electromagnetic exposure around these facilities,” he said. “These facilities are transmitting on the order of five watts or less. We’re talking about the power of a residential nightlight.”

The permit given to Verizon and AT&T specifies that the companies’ technology installation can “not result in human exposure to radiofrequency radiation in excess of the applicable safety standards specified in Federal Communications Commission regulations.”

When asked by City Councilwoman Redella ‘Del’ Pepper who benefits from the technology, Dugan replied that anyone who lives in Alexandria will be served by the stronger, faster network. Dugan also added that industries like healthcare may be able to innovate with systems like telemedicine systems thanks to 5G.

“It’s going to revolutionize whole industries, healthcare, agriculture, you name it,” he said. “It’s going to transform society.”

“I think we want to see new technology deployed too,” Mayor Justin Wilson told the Alexandria Times last week. “The last thing we want is to be left behind again on broadband deployment. This is the next step to that.”

Pepper thanked the Verizon and AT&T representatives for their work with the city on the initiative and urged them to continue to “work very closely with the city” on 5G going forward.

“In Alexandria, we have an opinion on everything right down to the last curb and last curb cut,” she added. “In your case, it will be every pole that gets removed.”

Image via Christoph Scholz/Flickr

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