Downtown Fresno image via wikipedia user JMora24
Written by David Castellon
As fast as you now can order a car and driver, share a selfie with friends or check out your blind date’s Facebook profile on your cell phone or personal computer, the major cell phone carriers are looking to make your mobile data connectivity faster.
And while so-called 5G data isn’t year here yet, the Fresno City Council has put the city on track to have a lead in getting that faster online capability, said Monnie McGaffigan.
She’s president of Irvine-based 5 Bars, a wireless infrastructure company that she described as a go-between between municipalities and counties and any of the nation’s four major wireless companies – Sprint, AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile – that want to construct or deploy upgraded infrastructure for wireless in communities.
On May 25, the Fresno City Council approved an agreement with 5 Bars to do that here, as well as to market the city to receive technology that could fill gaps in wireless coverage around the city and increase download speeds, which eventually will provide the carries to provide 5G coverage here over the current 4G coverage now available.
“As far as your users are concerned, it means better coverage for them,” McGaffigan said, adding that the carriers could begin installing the new technology here within the next four to six months.
First, her company will do a “benchmark” study to determine how well and how far existing cell towers cover Fresno and where any deficiencies may exist, though city officials acknowledge that they do exist.
The city is able to take this action because of technology improvements in the wireless industry that make it unnecessary to build large “macro” cell towers to improve or expand wireless coverage.
Now the carriers can install smaller antennas called “small cells,” that can be attached to utility poles, tops of buildings, bus benches and street kiosks at various locations to expand and improve — “densify” — coverage.
“It’s providing infill. It’s providing additional network,” McGaffigan explained.
Bar 5 will negotiate with the carriers to install cells throughout Fresno, mostly on street poles, McGaffigan said. In turn, the wireless providers would pay lease fees to the city for each cell mounted, which could earn the city more than $2.6 million in revenues over the first five years, according to a report to the City Council.
“This plan allows the City of Fresno to move forward in our ‘smart city’ efforts while identifying innovative funding streams that are a part of our ongoing strategy of prudent management,” Mayor Lee Brand said in a press release.
Part of the agreement also is to have 5 Bars advise city leaders and help them develop policies for these small cells that would include where they can be installed and ways to hide or cover them, so they don’t significantly harm the aesthetics of some neighborhoods.
“As wireless carriers look to densify existing networks, it is estimated that the wireless industry will deploy hundreds of thousands of small cells, making it increasingly difficult for cities to manage the application and installation process,” Fresno officials said in a press release.
“In collaboration with the carriers, 5 Bars … will streamline applications with a predictable process while preserving aesthetics.”
And the wireless companies will be looking for that predictability, which includes having people representing the city to communicate with who know the industry and technology and can help them get through the government bureaucracy, McGaffigan said.
Fresno and 5 Bars came together after the City Council issued in October a request for recommendations on how to best use city assets to make available or improve broadband connectivity here.
The city received 13 responses, and 5 Bars was chosen due to its “unique” proposal to develop and implement a marketing program in which the company markets Fresno’s assets for lease or license at no cost to the city, the Council report states.
The company also will represent the city in helping negotiate agreements with the wireless companies.
And in lieu of Fresno paying a set fee for these services, under the agreement 5 Bars will receive 25 percent of the lease fees paid by the wireless providers.
“The decision for Fresno to partner with 5 Bars … was based on maintaining local control, preventing visual blight and increasing connectivity for businesses, residents and citizens. The solution will be the basis to deploy Smart City and enhance business investment and be used to improve city services,” the city’s press release continues.
“I would compliment the city of Fresno for being very forward thinking,” not only for getting the ball rolling on improving wireless coverage here but also because the council’s action may help the city maintain control on small cells installation despite state and federal bills in the works that would limit such controls for cities and counties, McGaffigan said.