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Inside the complicated 5G equipment disguise business


Across the United States, clunky 4G cell phone towers are often “in disguise” with regional foliage. The conifers are attached to sites in the northeast. In the south, they are decorated to resemble palm trees. And then there are the cacti in the West. In some cases, the equipment is tucked away in the bell towers of existing churches, the town square signs and on the side of historic monuments. On agricultural land, 4G compatible water towers are installed as props to give the impression that they are part of the landscape.

But with the deployment of 5G, the next generation of wireless speed, cities like Scottsdale will rely less on elaborate cover-ups and more on architecture that has been a mainstay of urban and suburban environments for over a century: street lights.

It’s not as creative as hiding the technology in a fake factory, but change is happening all over the world right now. “Design will be just as important going forward with 5G installations, but our focus will be more on streetlights than cacti,” said Keith Niederer, telecommunications policy coordinator for Scottsdale.

This is because 5G radio signals for small cell sites operate at a higher millimeter wave frequency than 4G, making them more easily blocked by objects, such as light fixtures or sheets of wood, and certain materials. . Therefore, installations must be installed every two hundred feet – and that distance will decrease even more as technologies requiring data such as self-driving cars take to the roads. They also need to be close to street level so people can access the signals, and the antennas, for the most part, need to be kept exposed.

All of this to say that you can’t quite put 5G in a pretty box. Technology needs to be out in the open – on main streets, residential roads and, frankly, everywhere.

“In Scottsdale, aesthetics are pretty important. Each street has a different theme and the lampposts vary, ”added Niederer, pointing out the technical limitations. “We want them to blend in as much as possible and not stand out.”

With speeds nearly 30 times faster than 4G in the United States, 5G promises to handle much more internet traffic and bandwidth with zero latency, enabling immediate response times for data transfers. 4G has made services like FaceTime or Uber a reality, but 5G intends to do even more, like helping self-driving cars process all the information they need to make life and death decisions in one. wink or allow robotic surgeries. But in the short term, the rollout of 5G presents an opportunity for companies that hide the technology.

Wireless operators in the Phoenix metro area, including Scottsdale, are working with Valmont Industries, one of the world’s largest concealment companies and the first manufacturer of the pine tower camouflaged almost 30 years ago on the Denver Market, to ensure the colors, designs and use cases fit the neighborhoods. (Valmont just completed a similar project with the city of San Antonio, TX, swapping out its signature splined poles with plunge arms for those with a similar style but a stronger base and thicker steel to support 5G equipment. .)

Inside the complicated 5G equipment disguise business

“There is no form factor that we won’t consider using,” said Mark Schmidt, general manager of communications concealment at Valmont. “Our goal is to bridge the gap between aesthetics in a community, what a jurisdiction would like to see and what the wireless service provider requires as a form factor. … But the most natural solution here will be traffic lights and street lights. ”

Verizon (VZ), T Mobile (TMUS) and AT&T (T), which owns CNN’s parent company WarnerMedia, is investing billions of dollars in 5G. New networks and associated technologies are expected to add $ 17 trillion to global economic growth by 2035, according to ABI Research, a technology market company. Carriers continue to roll out their networks across the United States despite some disruption from the Covid-19 pandemic, such as solving engineering issues and installing new cell sites as workers maintain social distancing and that the city’s licensing offices were closed in the early days of the outbreak. However, tech companies like Cisco say the pandemic has highlighted the need for high-speed and high-speed 5G connections.

Replacing older street lights with 5G compatible street lights to support this growth may seem like a relatively minor process, but it will be a big step forward for many communities to become smart cities.

According to Dean Tan, analyst at ABI Research, having a streetlight connected to a power supply will make it “an integral part of any smart city project.” They can also serve as electric charging stations, security camera installations or LED screens for advertising. The Japanese government tested this approach in Tokyo, where smart poles have public Wi-Fi, cameras, provide real-time traffic updates to help the local government manage city traffic, and have digital advertising and information boards.
Inside the complicated 5G equipment disguise business

Tan said there is a “growth opportunity” for cover-up companies as they play an important role in the global rollout of 5G. “Other potential options [beyond smart poles] include bus stop displays, manhole covers and even traffic lights, “he said. However, street lights are ideal because they have elevation and an existing power source.”

Tom Kuklo, global product manager for radio frequency systems (RFS), who is already deploying components for smart streetlights in some international cities, agrees that streetlights will soon become crucial communication hubs. “We are already seeing this in China and other places where smart poles are very prevalent,” he said. “They’re now part of the landscaping; you walk right past them and don’t even know that’s what gives you a 5G signal unless you’re looking for it.”

He said there was growing interest in cover-up for security reasons as well. Some groups in the UK have vandalized 5G streetlights, knocking them down or setting them on fire, over unfounded fears about health risks and conspiracy theories that it is linked to Covid-19.

“Cover-up is absolutely the buzzword and what everyone is trying to do right now,” Kuklo said, highlighting the different reasons for the deployment. “We have at least double the interest in 5G that we did last year, but we are still rolling out 4G concealment. Not everyone in the world is in the same place when it comes to it. wireless connectivity. “

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