The city of San Diego has pledged to streamline the permitting process for rolling out mobile network “small cells” in a deal with Verizon that could help lay the foundation for bringing 5G technology to the city.
Mayor Kevin Faulconer announced the deal in a news conference Monday on Harbor Island. Verizon will spend more than $100 million to install up to 200 power efficient light poles with small cell wireless network gear to improve cellular coverage.
The mobile carrier also will give 500 smartphones to the city’s Police Department and 50 tablet computers to San Diego FireRescue.
In exchange, the city has pledged to streamline the permitting process for the small cell sites and for fiber optic connections to cell sites.
“Verizon is a partner in our effort to enhance wireless capability and lay the groundwork for the future of 5G wireless,” said Faulconer. “This agreement is going to increase services and expand our smart cities capabilities, at no additional costs to taxpayers.”
Small cells -- about the size of a pizza box -- contain lower power radios and antennas. They add density to the cellular network to boost range and increase the number of smartphone users who can get high speed connections to the Internet.
“Most of these small cells essentially they are on poles, and they blend into the areas to provide that coverage, as well as capacity,” said Ed Chan, Verizon’s senior vice president of engineering.
Verizon plans to install 4G LTE small cells in San Diego under the new program, said Chan. But the small cells can be upgraded to 5G technology -- either through software updates or the addition of 5G radio equipment.
Small cells are expected to be a key component of high speed 5G mobile networks, which have just begun rolling out in a few cities in the U.S. and South Korea.
These new networks aim to deliver speeds 10 times faster than current 4G technologies, with imperceptible transmission delays. They are expected to help power ubiquitous mobile video, self-driving cars, smart cities infrastructure and connected health care devices.
Verizon plugged in its first 5G networks last week in neighborhoods in Chicago and Minneapolis. It expects to expand to 30 additional cities U.S. by year end. The company hasn’t named the next 30 cities to get 5G. Chan said to stay tuned. “This will definitely create the foundation to get to 5G” in San Diego, he said.
The city and Verizon have been talking for several months about ways to speed up the permitting process for small cells and fiber optic links. Plans include updating some building codes and allowing “master permits” where the installation of several, similarly designed small cell street-light poles in a neighborhood would fall under one permit, said Ron Villa, assistant chief operating officer with the city.
“We are doing a pilot in Mission Valley where they can permit a whole area all at once, and they don’t have to go through individual permits,” said Villa. “It will be to the advantage of other carriers as well. If we can get this to work, there will be other carriers that will be welcome” to use the streamlined permitting process.
Verizon is providing poles with street lights and will cover installation costs, said Villa. The company will own the poles. In the future, it will provide analysis of traffic patterns and other data to bolster San Diego’s smart cities capabilities.
“From smart streetlights on Mira Mesa Boulevard to weather-based irrigation controllers in Clairemont, innovation is shaping how we are living and working in District 6,” said Council member Chris Cate. “San Diego’s partnership with Verizon will not only benefit San Diegans today, it will help all future generations.”
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