The Post and Courier has reported recently on opposition to the installation of 5G towers for various reasons. These concerns miss the opportunity afforded by Smart Cities technologies and 5G to address many of the Charleston area’s most pressing problems.
A Charleston City Council member wants the city’s regulations on 5G cell tower development to include a no-install zone around school buildings, neighborhoods and day care facilities.
So, what is a “Smart City?” Cities have historically delivered services by creating infrastructure networks over, under and alongside their streets containing water, sewer, utilities, telephone and cable TV/Internet lines. These traditional urban infrastructure networks allowed cities or private licensees to deliver these services cost effectively.
Smart Cities build on the traditional network foundation by collecting and using data to expand network capacity and improve service delivery. Technology (cloud, analytics and IOT [Internet of Things]) and data allow a Smart City to deliver services to residents more effectively. While cities throughout the world have been adopting Smart City technologies, Charleston has been slow to do so.
Waste collection, transportation, parking and drainage are examples of problems that Smart City technology can and has improved. Pittsburgh uses sensors in trash receptacles to adjust pickup schedules. Smart garbage cans alert waste management when waste collection is warranted. That saves money. Amsterdam uses a mobile phone app to help users find parking spaces and pay for access on demand thereby reducing traffic and congestion. Louisville uses an open-source Waze-based system to conduct real-time traffic studies which can be used to change light sequencing in real time to improve traffic flow. Sensors in a drainage system can alert managers when to empty retention areas thereby allowing the new Charleston drainage retention system to reduce flooding. These examples do not include the ability to improve public safety for our citizens.
All of these possibilities require data and 5G, fifth-generation technology, offers the ability to collect and process that data and data is what makes a city smart.
IOT sensors are a key source of data and 5G lies at the heart of a city’s increasing ability to collect data. 5G is 100 times faster than 4G, which, combined with IOT, effectively puts computers on the network’s edge and allows decisions to be made faster and more efficiently.
New technology and the dramatic increase in real-time data availability explode the traditional network paradigm. 5G networks will exponentially increase the availability of real-time data. We are only scratching the surface of possible uses for the volume of data becoming instantaneously available.
5G networks rely on short, high-frequency signals to share data. That means instead of existing cell towers, companies must rely on hundreds of short-range antennas housed in small cells to make 5G work. Delivering on the promise of 5G requires the installation of towers, which use private property, existing utility easements and public rights of way to create this new 5G network.
As cities grapple with how to welcome new 5G or small cell into their public realm, the federal government is providing little to no help, and that should change.
And therein lies the misdirection in the current debates in Charleston. The city, private sector providers and the public should be working together to facilitate the expeditious creation of the network, allowing us to make Charleston a truly Smart City.
We should be facilitating the location of these towers, not looking for ways to prevent their installation. We should be looking to adopt Smart City technology to improve the more cost effective delivery of government services. Moreover, with some creativity, municipalities can also create public private partnerships (P3’s) so that new Smart City technologies can provide a revenue stream for cities instead of taxes.
Smart City technology and 5G are not a panacea; they won’t solve all of our area’s problems. Different challenges such as privacy and cybersecurity accompany the technology. However, Smart City technology and 5G offer a very promising way to address issues such as traffic and drainage more cost effectively and quickly. They warrant consideration.
Morris Ellison is a partner with the law firm of Womble Bond Dickinson where he chairs the firm’s Smart Cities practice in North America.