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Frequently Asked Questions about 5G Cellular Networks


What is 5G?

5G is the “fifth generation” of cellular networks. The ultra-fast wireless technology has been hailed as a major technological breakthrough. In the short term, 5G will allow for more reliable internet service as well as the almost instantaneous downloading of large files like movies. In the longer term, 5G likely will help facilitate the mainstream emergence of innovations such as autonomous vehicles. Other future practical applications of a 5G network could include doctors remotely performing surgery with the assistance of internet-connected robots and traffic signals that read the flow of traffic and respond to accidents in real time.

When did Sacramento begin installing a 5G network?

Under former Mayor Kevin Johnson and current Mayor Darrell Steinberg, Sacramento has worked to position itself as a testing ground for new technology, helping to foster innovations that improve the quality of life in Sacramento and strengthen the local economy.

The City entered into a public-private partnership with Verizon in June 2017 and part of that agreement included the City allowing Verizon to install small antennae, also known as small cells or “nodes,” on approximately 300 utility poles across all eight Council districts. In October 2018, Verizon began offering its 5G home broadband internet service in Sacramento.

What other cities currently have 5G?

In addition to Sacramento, Houston, Indianapolis and Los Angeles also launched Verizon’s 5G home broadband internet service in October 2018.

In April 2019, Chicago and Minneapolis began offering Verizon 5G for mobile phones. That same month, Verizon announced 20 other cities that would begin offering 5G mobile later in 2019: Atlanta, Boston, Charlotte, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Dallas, Des Moines, Denver, Detroit, Houston, Indianapolis, Kansas City, Little Rock, Memphis, Phoenix, Providence, San Diego, Salt Lake City and Washington D.C.

AT&T launched its 5G network in several cities in late 2018, including Dallas, Houston, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, Los Angeles, Louisville, Nashville, New Orleans, Oklahoma City, Orlando, Raleigh, San Antonio, San Diego, San Francisco, San Jose and Waco.

T-Mobile and Sprint, which are set to merge, also have plans for a 5G network, which likely will roll out in 2020.

How is 5G Network different from other wireless networks?

Updates to wireless networks usually come once every 10 years. The 4G network, for example, was introduced in 2010 and allowed for much faster wireless than 3G. The 5G network can transmit data by using radio waves higher on the electromagnetic spectrum, while other wireless networks, such as 4GLTE, use lower radio frequencies. In addition, many 5G networks are created by installing multiple small cells, which will complement large cell towers called macro sites, to provide seamless coverage.

How do small cells work?

Small cells are around the size of a pizza box or smaller and can be attached to utility or light poles or to buildings. The cells work collectively to create radio access networks (RAN) and transmit data via electromagnetic radio waves (also known as radio frequency energy). The cells have a much shorter transmission range than traditional cell towers, typically 500 to 1,000 feet. Small cells can house 3G, 4G, 4LTE, and /or 5G networks. To date, all of Verizon’s 5G home broadband is provided by small cells.

The Federal Communications Commission estimates that about 80% of all new deployments of personal wireless service facilities will be small cells. (FCC 18-133.)

“To support advanced 4G and 5G offerings, providers must build out small cells at a faster pace and at a far greater density of deployment than before,” the Commission said. (FCC 18-133.)

Who is responsible for regulating small cells?

Overall, the federal government is responsible for regulating small cells.

Finding wireless telecommunications to be critical national and international infrastructure, the federal government centralized most of the regulation under the FCC to make this type of communication as available as possible, prevent discrimination against inaccessibility and promote the safety of life and property. The FCC regulates interstate and international communications by radio, television, wire, satellite, and cable in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and U.S. territories. As an independent U.S. government agency overseen by Congress, the FCC is responsible for implementing and enforcing the nation’s communications laws and regulations. (47 USCA sections 151 and 390.)

The City can regulate the placement, construction and modification of small cells if the regulations do not unreasonably discriminate among providers of the same services, and do not prohibit or have the effect of prohibiting the provision of personal wireless services. (47 USCA section 332(c)(7)(A).)

The FCC’s regulations include a definition for small cell that has height restrictions, antenna size, location specifications and a prohibition against human exposure to radio-frequency radiation in excess of the FCC’s safety standards. (47 CFR section 1.6002(l).)

The City cannot regulate personal wireless service facilities (which include small cells) based on environmental effects, including health effects, of RF emissions if the facilities are operating in compliance with FCC regulations.

Who determines safety standards for 5G?

The FCC, in consultation with numerous other federal agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency, the Food and Drug Administration and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, determines safety standards for wireless networks.

The FCC says that its standards “incorporate prudent margins of safety,” adding that “radio frequency emissions from antennas used for cellular and personal communications service (PCS) transmissions result in exposure levels on the ground that are typically thousands of times below safety limits.”

The FCC provides information about the safety of RF emissions from cellular base stations on its website.

The World Health Organization (WHO) established an International Electromagnetic Fields Project to provide information on health risks, identify research needs and support efforts to harmonize RF exposure standards. The project’s website provides additional information on RF exposure and mobile phone use.

Thus far, the weight of scientific evidence has not linked exposure to radio frequency energy from mobile devices with any known health problems.

Can the City remove -- or require a carrier to remove -- a small cell from the public right-of way?

Generally, no. The City authorizes installation of small cells in the public rights-of-way through its encroachment permit process. (Sacramento City Code chapter 12.12.)

Small cells installed and maintained in the public rights-of-way must not: endanger lives; interfere or damage public improvements; or unnecessarily obstruct the free use, or cause interference with, the rights and reasonable convenience of neighboring property owners.

In applying for an encroachment permit, the carrier must provide a predictive radio emissions report on the small cell to verify compliance with the applicable FCC emission rules. If the carrier’s emission report provides evidence that the small cell will not operate in accordance with the applicable FCC emission rules, the City has a basis for denying the permit.
Once the small cell is installed in the public right-of-way and it is operating in compliance with applicable FCC rules, the City cannot remove or require the carrier to remove the small cell from its location unless the movement is required to avoid potential conflicts with a proper governmental use of the public right-of-way. (47 USCA section 332(c)(7)(iv), Sacramento City Code section 12.12.110.B.)