At least two cell phone providers have submitted permit applications with the city of Bellevue to build out small cell tower facilities, which could pave the way for a 5G network.
Verizon has submitted several applications to install the small cell network facilities around the city. In addition, the company Mobilitie, which has worked with T-Mobile in the past, has also submitted applications. A public meeting was held on several Verizon facilities on Aug. 7.
Small cell towers are small versions of cell towers that take up far less space and are less obtrusive. They are often attached to power or light poles or buildings and they are spreading rapidly across the country. A February memo from Verizon stated in 2017, roughly 62 percent of its wireless deployments were small cells — a number they expected to grow as they roll out 5G this year. The small cells Verizon is installing are less than three cubic feet and are usually mounted on existing or replacement poles or devices less than 60 feet tall. Many of the proposed facilities will be installed on Puget Sound Energy poles.
The devices will be critical for the coming 5G network, which could bring in a new age of wireless technology. Analysts are expecting everything from interconnected “smart city” technology, to the Internet-of-Things, to enhanced reality technology to spring from 5G connectivity — which allows devices to connect with each other much quicker than is allowed under current mobile networks. Video streaming will also become much faster and more reliable. The Seattle Times wrote that 5G will push existing mobile devices’ speeds from 100 Mbps to more than 10 Gbps, or a more than 1,000 times faster. It will also facilitate autonomous vehicles navigation systems, smart energy grids and enhanced medical and farming technology, wrote to the Seattle Times.
Cell service providers can use the devices to offload data traffic from their networks into new, complementary networks to make bandwidth available for new users, according to Landmark Dividend. Traditionally, cell phone companies would build new, full-size towers. However, due to the density of modern cities this is becoming increasingly difficult and burdensome when a smaller, cheaper alternative exists.
CTIA wrote that high-density placement is important for the small cells because they transmit a full array of bands, including mid- and high-band signals that cannot travel quickly through the air. Small cells are predicted to increase over the next few years as 5G buildout ramps up across the country from 13,000 in 2017 to more than 800,000 total by 2026.
Competition among companies to build 5G will become more intense and T-Mobile’s CEO John Legere has already compared the effort to an arms race.
Small cell technology isn’t exactly new to the region though. In 2016 Verizon submitted proposals to build nearly 60 of the devices across Bellevue. City documents specified Factoria, south Bellevue, Newcastle and north Bellevue as places where they would be placed.
Verizon has also started the permitting process to build the small cells in Kirkland and has been rolling them out in many cities in California. Issaquah granted permission for Verizon to build small cell infrastructure in January. Mercer Island approved the structures along the public right-of-way in July 2017.