This has been an impactful year. With a pandemic that has left many people working and learning from home, it became clear that without internet connectivity and bandwidth, tasks such as video conference calls or submitting a final homework assignment were nearly impossible.
Luckily, our federal legislators, including Senator Maria Cantwell, are working to identify next steps to get us back on track. And, as legislators work on a solution – both locally and statewide – they should look to prioritize policies that fast track the permitting and deployment of telecommunications infrastructure to lay the groundwork for 5G, the next generation of wireless network.
5G networks look to enable futuristic advancements in technology like autonomous vehicles, remote surgery, and smart city developments; similar to what 4G/LTE networks did to 3G networks, 5G will build on existing networks to enable lower latency, increase download speeds, and provide increased capacity for wireless technology. We could also see advancements in new healthcare treatments and innovations for communities throughout all parts of Washington State.
Advancements in technology aside, 5G will also be a major economic driver. According to industry reports, 5G will be responsible for $500 billion in new GDP and $275 billion in infrastructure investments – $93 billion of which is expected to be spent on construction.
Additionally, 5G will add 3 million new jobs. It’s predicted that communities with a population between 30,000 to 100,000 could create approximately 1,000 new jobs; and in some larger communities, we could see as many as 90,000 jobs created. A study conducted by Accenture estimated that accelerating infrastructure deployment by one year could drive an additional $100B in economic impact in the following three years.
Yet as the world becomes more connected through smart phones, our current wireless networks are struggling to keep up. Today, most people rely on their smartphones for daily communication and internet access. That means the more devices connected to a network, the slower the network will respond as each device competes for data. That equates to longer buffering times, dropped calls, and unsent text messages. And while the stresses of those things happening can be problematic, there is a serious public safety implication to dropped calls – 80% of 911 calls are placed from a wireless device, making reliable service more important than ever before.
Clearly, there is a real need to activate 5G networks. But in order to unlock the many benefits of 5G, legislators need to pass common-sense policies that will enable deployment of telecommunications equipment, specifically small cells. Currently the country’s wireless networks are supported by a network of fiber optic cable and cell towers. However, to supplement the increased capacity needs, additional technology is needed. That is where small cells come into the picture. Small cells are smaller than traditional towers or rooftop installations and are often inconspicuously installed on existing right of way infrastructure: utility poles or streetlights.
Small cell networks underpinned by fiber have become the preferred way of expanding coverage and network capacity, rather than building additional cell towers. Fiber is attached to each small cell perfectly complementing each other to connect communities that can be continents apart by moving data at the speed of light.
Our state has been at the forefront of technological progress, hosting companies like Microsoft, Amazon, and Boeing, but cities in the Evergreen State are falling behind. At the moment, Mercer Island is the only municipality making a real effort when it comes to 5G installation. And Mercer Island only has a population of 26,000 residents. Simply stated, we need to catch up.
Washington State has all the tools and the history as a groundbreaker, we should be leading on 5G deployment. Our elected officials should follow other cities and states, streamline the deployment of small cells, and make 5G a reality.
Kathy Putt is the Government Affairs Manager at Crown Castle.