After anticipating a flood of applications from small cell vendors over a year ago, the city of Aspen is preparing to install the first potential 5G towers in the city.
When cell phone companies told the city their plans to install 5G technology and their rights under federal government regulations, local planners had to quickly think of it Design guidelines in an attempt to contain potentially negative aesthetic effects.
But the urgency of wireless carriers has subsided, giving city planners time in recent months to work with AT&T on its Aspen infrastructure plans.
AT&T is the only provider to date to apply for 5G infrastructure, according to Ben Anderson, the city’s main long-distance planner.
The company plans to install infrastructure in five locations across the city that will mimic the look of the city’s light towers as closely as possible.
But instead of 19 feet tall like the current ones, they’ll be up to 25 feet tall and some equipment will be visible.
“These are near where people walk and drive, and in some cases where they live, so these facilities are visible,” said Anderson, adding that the false light poles are the same color as the ones real will be deleted but will have a different format. “We couldn’t recreate the existing historical-looking lamp, if we had tried it would have looked like a Frankenstein staff.”
State law gives providers the right to place small cell systems on light poles, traffic lights and public paths in a city.
While the city is constrained in many ways because the FCC has significantly reduced local control over the small cell wireless infrastructure in recent years, Aspen’s strict land use regulations protect the community from the unrestrained development of the wireless infrastructure.
Under federal law, the masts could be up to 50 feet tall, but the city’s land use code only allows 25 feet.
The Land Use Act also mandates that equipment must be underground so that no cabinets or other related infrastructure are attached to the masts.
“That was one of the rules that many churches didn’t obey,” said Anderson.
Aspen’s locations where these new lighting towers will be installed in the coming weeks or months are at bus stops on Lone Pine Road in the East End and McSkimming Road in the Mountain Valley area.
Others are planned for the southwest corner of First and Main Streets; one along the pedestrian and bike path on Ute Avenue; and at the Rio Grande recycling center.
Upgrades expected in Aspen, including Pitkin County, will include network upgrades from older technologies for AT&T to become more efficient with faster technologies, including 5G and LTE capacity expansions that will increase speeds for customers, according to a company spokesman.
The improvements also bring the Band 14 spectrum into the area. Volume 14 is a nationwide, high quality spectrum made available by the government specifically for FirstNet.
FirstNet is the only nationwide high-speed broadband communications platform designed specifically for America’s first responders and the expanded public safety community, according to AT&T.
Anderson said he is awaiting a second batch of requests from AT&T for additional wireless devices.
He said the infrastructure to be installed is not directly related to 5G technology as these types of facilities need to be close together.
“I don’t think the technology will be here for some time, so with these 10 facilities across town at AT&T, they can get the level of service they are looking for,” said Anderson. “This first rollout is to simply take our existing bandwidths and radio frequencies that we’ve had in town for a decade or more, improve that service, and fill those gaps.”
City guidelines require transport companies to publicly announce residents in areas where a facility is to be installed.
Within 15 days of an application being approved, carriers must put up a poster showing the technology and post a notification to residents within 90 meters.
In the coming days, the city will also keep the public informed through advertisements in the local newspapers and other means, emphasizing that this is not a reissue or building permit.
“One of the great things about contacting us while we learn that these requests are approved is to remind people that this is not a brand new conversation and that it has been a while because of the process we went through is through, ”said Denise White, the city’s communications director.
Anderson said the message from the city is that public hearings have already been held on design guidelines related to 5G technology.
“We want to make sure people understand what these things are, how we got here, what kind of relationship our permits have with the federal and state rules within which we work,” he said.
During the public meetings last year when Aspen City Council approved the wireless technology design guidelines, some citizens expressed concern about the potential health effects of 5G.
The city is limited in setting regulations due to health concerns and radio frequency emissions. However, AT&T has agreed to produce reports on electromagnetic emissions.
The first requirement is attached to the application that Anderson said the city received.
It explains the equipment, radio frequencies, and its performance along with a letter of conformity from an engineer saying it meets FCC requirements.
The second is a test request that is carried out by either the city or a consultant hired by the city administration to test the facilities to ensure that the radio frequencies being broadcast match those advertised.
The city is looking for ways to find a neutral host that minimizes the impact on the city’s aesthetics.
A neutral host is a company that builds, operates, and maintains facilities that it rents to cellular operators and network operators, much like cell towers currently do.
The city has signed a host Crown lockin an effort to minimize the number and size of small cells by incentivizing cellular operators to operate using shared facilities rather than each operator having their own.
City officials said hopefully it would be more economical for airlines to sync on the same location, but if not, some incentives could allow infrastructure to be placed on top of existing public buildings or public land.
“Our IT department is working hard to expand fiber connectivity as it reduces the demand for wireless infrastructure,” said Anderson. “Because each of those poles that will emerge will likely be a single support pole in the right of way.”