What Are 5G Cell Towers?
5G cell towers are telecommunications sites that could boost wireless signals by ten times the current speed of 4G. 5G operates in a high-frequency band of the wireless spectrum. Because high frequency waves have a harder time traveling over distance & through objects, the 5G network will be built on small cell site technology with antennas as close as 500 feet apart.
Everyone’s buzzing about 5G technology. At its most basic level 5G is simply terminology for the next generation of mobile connectivity.
Certainly, the telecommunications companies are boosting the hype: citing increased speeds and lower costs. Just how fast? A 3D movie could download in approximately 30 seconds rather than the 6 minutes it takes on a 4G network.
Benefits & Changes
Speedier connection is just one benefit. 4G servers don’t have the capacity to handle the bandwidth of a fully “smart” world (cars, sensors, robots, etc). 5G will. Plus, 5G will all but eliminate lag time. This is remarkable for new technology like remote surgery and wireless virtual reality.
In other words, 5G will have tremendous impact on both economic and social structures beyond inconsistent coverage. While revolutionary to say the least, it’s an expensive transition. As previously mentioned, the super-high frequency airwaves 5G requires cannot travel through walls, windows or rooftops and get considerably weaker over distance.
This means wireless carriers have to upgrade their technology infrastructures, adding thousands (if not millions) of cell towers. Many of these may be small cells, which are like mini cell towers that can be place rather inconspicuously on top of buildings and light poles. It may mean more landlords or urban home owners are contacted about placing these small cells on their property.
Another action will be updating existing cell towers with 5G technology. Old cell towers may eventually become obsolete, but that would happen very slowly and until then, they will be used to continue increasing coverage into areas where it’s needed. In other words, cell towers will remain integral until completely replaced.
Are They Safe?
The safety of cell towers continues to be hotly debated. According to the American Cancer Society, there is no direct correlation between cancer and the radiofrequency waves (RF) from cell towers at this time. However, there are also a limited number of studies focused specifically on this correlation.
The studies that have been done do seem to indicate a higher risk from cell phone use than from living near a cell tower. This is because the risk of exposure from phone use appears to be higher than from a tower itself.
More Exposure to RF Radiation?
With the addition of thousands (or again millions) of small cells though, this is a growing concern among citizens. Will the additional small cells mean there are higher amounts of RF waves surrounding people at all times? More transmitters mean more an increase in the amount of signals constantly being sent to cell phones and other devices.
In early 2018, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences released a report showing that high exposure to RF radiation in male rats was linked to tumor activity. Female rats and mice appeared unaffected and the levels of RFR were significantly higher than those of cell phone use. The report further states:
“The levels and duration of exposure to RFR were much greater than what people experience with even the highest level of cell phone use, and exposed the rodents’ whole bodies. So, these findings should not be directly extrapolated to human cell phone usage,” said John Bucher, Ph.D., NTP senior scientist. “We note, however, that the tumors we saw in these studies are similar to tumors previously reported in some studies of frequent cell phone users.”
The bottom line is that nothing conclusive has been ruled out or in and the long-term effects remain unknown. It’s no wonder then that cities and residents are skeptical. As the public increases awareness about the number of small cell and cell tower sites, residents in cities such as Danville, CA are pushing back. Opponents are organizing to attend city council meetings to express concern.
Security and Privacy
Health concerns aren’t the only potential increased risk with 5G. Another unresolved issue is over security.
Cell towers don’t have the same level of security as a wifi network so malicious parties can intercept the signal to get significant data, like GPS info. Experts wonder about the security threats and risks associated with a massive number of devices that are interconnected.
As cars, homes and businesses join this new network, it will be essential to have stronger methods of authentication in place as well. The risks for cyber attacks and identity theft alone will mean unauthorized access must be prevented via more complex authentication processes.
Privacy will also be tantamount to security.
With 5G it’s possible that nearly every part of human life will be accessible via the cloud. Though this might be great for customized user experience – think enhanced shopping tailored unequivocally to you – what’s overall cost for personal privacy? Once third party companies have access to personal data, there is no guarantee their privacy standards match yours.
The recent Facebook privacy breach has merely opened the door to these conversations as well as opened up discussion regarding the role of the government in addressing privacy issues.
The waters are already muddy here too. For example, according to a recent USA Today article about one-fourth of law enforcement use cell phone data to help place people at the scene of a crime. While this might seem appropriate for that purpose, what is the cost to personal privacy?
Stingrays & Other Fake Towers
In addition to privacy concerns over legitimate towers, there is a growing concern over how fake cell towers, known as stingrays, may proliferate with so many 5G cell sites. Stingrays send signals to cell phones to track people and intercept phone calls, emails, and messages.
Modern standards are already out of date for wireless security.
Security and privacy requirements, often viewed as burdensome, will need to be built into the design from the beginning. Adding to the complexity is the need for different architecture for different access technologies. In other words, there may be a number of clouds running separate network functionality within the 5G network.
With so many potential safety concerns, why do we continue to push for more towers? Because advanced technology promises a more connected world than ever before.
Smart Cities & the Internet of Things
Defining the term “smart city” is not easy. Essentially, it’s a term used to describe cities that employ technology for information and communication, thereby enhancing the overall quality of life for its government and citizens.
The definition is broad and allows for city representatives to use the term freely, whether referencing sensors that increase efficiency throughout a city or for projects that simply uplift residential life.
To do this, smart cities rely on the Internet of Things (IoT) for information. Using IoT, cities can collect data to make improvements, cut costs and improve infrastructure. Everything from government systems to reduce wastage can be streamlined with IoT.
With the promise of a next generation of connectivity, any city interested in being a smart city will want to add 5G to its infrastructure. As of this year, T Mobile announced building out 5G into over 30 major cities, with Sprint and AT&T soon to follow.
Inevitably, each carrier plans to aggressively expand into this market sooner rather than later despite the 5G-enabled phones not even being sold until next year.
Whichever carrier completes the infrastructure and connectivity first stands to be an early leader for return on investment, with consumers and businesses willing to pay a premium for early access.
5G project to long term revenue growth and and profitability, so who decides where these towers will go?
Who Decides Where 5G Towers Go?
Existing cell towers are being revisited to alter for 5G capability. They will remain a base for the networks.
New towers will also be explored, with property owners and landowners receiving requests to build new towers to help extend existing coverage. However, with the limitations of larger towers it’s small cells that will begin popping up in cities across the US.
Telecommunications companies are racing to be the first to expand these small cells in major cities. By adding these small cells throughout highly-populated urban areas, coverage gaps may be eliminated. So, where exactly will they go?
Legislation has been proposed, and in some cases passed, to prevent local governments’ ability to regulate these installations on public property.
That means traffic lights, light poles and public buildings could be sites for small cells. This also means revenues from these small cells or cell towers is limited, which reduces the amount of money the city can then receive for the devices.
Concerned citizens and residents are taking note.
Worries include the health, privacy and security risks as well as the overall aesthetic concerns to a community’s landscape. Some cities are attempting to reject these proposed towers to protect residents from these factors and any other unforeseen negative consequences that could be associated with the growth of 5G.
Ultimately, the 5G networks are on the horizon and the technology is coming. The real question is: are we ready?