FCC paves way for cheaper, faster 5G deployments

A new plan could help states looking to pass laws to make it easier and cheaper for wireless carriers to deploy 5G 'small cells.'

Marguerite Reardon Former senior reporter
Marguerite Reardon started as a CNET News reporter in 2004, covering cellphone services, broadband, citywide Wi-Fi, the Net neutrality debate and the consolidation of the phone companies.
Marguerite Reardon
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FCC Brendan Carr announced a plan Tuesday that gives states guidance on how to implement rules to make 5G deployments faster and less expensive for wireless carriers. 

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The Federal Communications Commission wants to make it easier for wireless carriers to deploy 5G across the country.

FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr on Tuesday announced a new plan, which the FCC will vote on later this month, that gives states guidance for passing laws to help streamline the approval process for deploying new gear that delivers 5G service. The announcement was made on the Senate floor of the Indiana Statehouse in Indianapolis.

The new rules are based on bills passed in 20 states throughout the country, including Indiana, that make it easier to put up so-called small cell radios. Traditionally, carriers used 200-foot towers to broadcast signals throughout an area. But because 5G technology transmits signals over shorter distances, cells are smaller and so are the radios -- about the size of a small backpack. Because more radios are needed and because they're so small, they're often deployed on existing structures, such as light poles or buildings.

To help carriers cut through red tape to make deployment of this infrastructure faster and cheaper, states have passed laws that limit the fees that localities can charge to process construction and permit applications for small cells. They also require local governments to approve or disapprove of small cell deployments in a set period of time.

The item the FCC will vote on later this month updates federal rules to give states more flexibility so they can pass laws to encourage 5G deployment.

Watch this: The race for 5G, and a promise to keep it cheap

Carr noted that AT&T and Verizon have each chosen Indianapolis as one of their first cities to get 5G. He credited the state's 5G-friendly laws as a big reason why these carriers came to Indianapolis first with this new technology.

"Indianapolis, not New York, not San Francisco, is number one in the country for most intensive 5G investment," he said. "That's because of this state's innovative leadership."

5G is the next generation of cellular technology, which is expected to greatly enhance the speed, coverage and responsiveness of wireless networks. To put it in perspective, you'll be able to download a season's worth of any TV show in just seconds.

The promised speeds are far faster than what most people can get at home, but 5G will also better power the growing family of connected devices in our lives. The launch of 4G gave us Uber, Snapchat and livestreaming video -- 5G potentially opens the door even wider to new innovations, like remote surgery and self-driving cars .

But because more than 80 percent of the 5G deployments will require small cells, Carr said that process reforms are necessary to make building these networks faster and less expensive.

Specifically, the FCC's proposal will do four things:

  • Bar municipal rules that have the effect of prohibiting deployment of wireless service.
  • Allow municipalities to charge fees for reviewing small cell deployments when such fees are limited to recovering the municipalities' costs, and provide guidance on specific fee levels that would comply with this standard.
  • Require municipalities to approve or disapprove applications to attach small cells to existing structures within 60 days and applications to build new small cell poles within 90 days.
  • Place modest guardrails on other municipal rules that may prohibit service while reaffirming localities' traditional roles in, for example, reasonable aesthetic reviews.

Carr said the FCC's proposal is designed to reaffirm local control over approval for wireless deployments, but it's also supposed to offer commonsense guidelines to help reduce the cost and time for deploying this new infrastructure.

The proposal will be voted on at the FCC's next meeting on Sept. 26.

Coming next year: Qualcomm is making 5G in phones a reality.

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