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What Colorado local governments need to know about small cells as wireless technology booms

February 21, 2018, 7:55 am

Wireless technology continues to play a more integral role in our lives. Smartphones and other connected devices – from navigation systems to fitness trackers – allow us to stream videos, get directions, monitor our activity, conduct business, and stay in touch with our loved ones. They also keep us safe.

In the U.S., nearly 80% of adults own smartphones and more than 80% of 911 calls are made with wireless devices. Access to mobile technology is no longer a luxury—it is a necessity for citizens and first responders as well as local government officials, who all depend on wireless connectivity daily.

A survey by the National Center for Health Statistics found that over 50% of American households are wireless only, and of households with landlines, 38% report receiving all or almost all calls on wireless devices. Additionally, Cisco predicts that mobile data traffic will increase sevenfold between 2016 and 2021, which is due largely in part to the “Internet of Things” (IoT).

As our world becomes increasingly connected, it is critical for local governments in Colorado and across the country to understand how wireless technology – specifically, “small cell” solutions – will expand cellular coverage and network capacity, and serve as the backbone for 5G and IoT.

Small cell solutions are smaller than traditional towers or rooftop installations and are often installed on existing right-of-way infrastructure like street signs, telephone poles, or streetlights. They are being deployed successfully all over Colorado.

Many cities and counties have collaborative relationships and signed agreements in place to ensure a streamlined deployment process. When local governments understand the public benefits of working collaboratively with infrastructure providers, deployment is swift and the outcome is a more connected, safer community.

One example of a successful collaboration between a local government and an infrastructure provider is when Crown Castle, the nation’s largest communications infrastructure company, deployed small cells in support of the 2015 Alpine World Ski Championship in Vail, CO.

Public safety officials and other stakeholders, led by the state of Colorado FirstNet team, wanted a wireless infrastructure solution that was capable of supporting 4G LTE applications to monitor activities during the event.

Crown Castle worked closely with the state of Colorado to set up a public safety network demonstration that enabled officials to test applications in practical situations, including real-time video, push-to-talk, Voice over IP (VoIP), situational awareness, and others. The network was designed to improve wireless coverage and provide much needed data capacity while preserving the beauty of Vail.

As part of a larger, nationwide small cell deployment effort, Crown Castle is currently upgrading Denver’s existing wireless infrastructure by deploying a robust small cell network and over 130 new miles of lightning-fast fiber optic cable that will pave the way for next-generation networks such as 5G, which promise to turn innovations including autonomous vehicles and citywide data sharing into reality.

Working closely in partnership with city staff, Crown Castle intends to enable improved wireless broadband service while keeping Denver’s character intact.

Scott Harry is the West Region Government Relations Manager for Crown Castle.

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