The fifth generation of wireless technology, known as 5G, is coming, fast. They say it’s going to change everything, and the city of Canby wants to be ready for it.
The Canby Planning Commission spent a work session earlier this month discussing the technology, what it might mean for the Garden Spot and how its infrastructure should be regulated.
The benefits of 5G are fairly obvious: It supports up to 1,000 times more traffic and devices, with speeds 10, 50 or even 100 times faster than 4G. A 5G device could download an entire HD movie — or, I don’t know, the past 150 episodes of the Canby Now Podcast — in less than a second.
It does this by using small cell technology, which is very different than what we see today. Unlike current technology, which relies on tall, high-powered “macro” towers like the 130-foot 4G wireless communications monopole near Highway 99E the Canby City Council recently approved, 5G uses small, clustered networks of wireless transmitters and receivers designed to provide coverage to smaller areas.
As Canby Senior Planner Sandy Freund explained during the Feb. 10 work session, she believes 5G will bring a “paradigm shift,” and it’s about much, much more than just a faster phone.
“Smart cities,” they call it, powered by the Internet of Things, with embedded and interconnected digital sensors that would automatically alert the humans when a streetlight goes out, or a waste water pump has reached capacity. Imagine ODOT knowing about the new pothole on Highway 99E before anybody else — not because they saw it posted on Canby Now — but because Highway 99E told them.
It might sound like something out of Star Trek, but it could happen with 5G. So, what’s the problem?
Unlike our new “monofir,” these 5G small cells will not be disguised as trees (or even the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man). They are visually unobtrusive, resembling an electrical transformer or other utility component, and small enough to simply be slapped on an existing street light, telephone pole, or even a building (one Canby staff member joked that perhaps they could be made to look like gargoyle statues and added to the Dahlia).
The size and visuals are not the problem with 5G technology from a city planning perspective — it’s the sheer number of transmitters and receivers that will be required. One of the downsides to wireless signals is that they can be blocked: by buildings, trees, pretty much anything. That’s why 4G towers have to be so tall.
That’s not an option with 5G small cells, so the only solution is just to make a lot more of them. According to Planning Director Bryan Brown, “they’re going to be everywhere.”
Though it may seem like we’d be way down on the list for integrating such technology, Brown said the city has already received five inquiries from prospective service providers about bringing 5G technology to Canby. The FCC has also reached out, wanting to know information about the city’s review process, fees, turnaround time and siting and other code requirements.
Right now, there is no language in the Canby Municipal Code concerning 5G, hence, the work session.
Exactly where these small cells would go is an open question. The most common location for them is on telephone poles, but all of Canby’s poles are owned and operated by Canby Utility, which has never share their real estate with wireless communications providers in the past.
Commissioners and city staff discussed various concerns about the 5G revolution, including the noise that small cells may generate, their exponentially higher rates of energy consumption and the possible health impacts of the increased wireless signals. Planning staff will continue to work on draft regulations, to be presented for consideration at a later date.
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