Wireless infrastructure in cities

Wireless connectivity is a problem that cities across the country are currently facing. This is not something that is going to happen in ten years, but a revolution that is happening right now. No one could have predicted that wireless technology would explode in the way that it has.

Do you think of wireless coverage as part of your city’s infrastructure?

We need to start thinking about wireless technology as infrastructure, the same way we think about water and sewer systems. Four in five Americans say that mobile connectivity is a necessary part of their daily lives. Let’s be clear: mobile Internet access is not a luxury, it’s a necessity. Time after time, study after study on this topic, multiple sources say the same thing: Internet connectivity is NOW an essential element of modern life. Connectivity is a fundamental part of private enterprise, home life, and effective governance. We should do everything possible in our cities to encourage the deployment of wireless infrastructure.

The pressing need for a robust wireless infrastructure is only going to increase. It’s hard to keep up with the demand for additional wireless infrastructure to serve the businesses and residents of our communities, but the demand will continue to increase. When you think of wireless technology, do you only think of mobile phones? It really is much more than that. Includes water meters, gas meters, all electricity meters. Almost all new cars being delivered today have a cellular-enabled modem on board. Traffic lights, streetlights, iPhones, even iWatches.

In less than 12 months, major carriers will begin rolling out 5G in select US cities, including California. Most of us have heard of 5G. While the exact specifications have not yet been released, the general idea is to provide mobile data at the same speed as current residential broadband connections. This means wireless Internet on our mobile devices at almost the same speed as we have at home. This will change EVERYTHING. This is the most important trend in modern infrastructure since the massive deployment of broadband Internet. Imagine a world where having a super-fast Internet connection no longer requires a wired connection. The enterprise and services this infrastructure will support will revolutionize the way we collect data, conduct business, and conduct our daily lives.

Many of us here remember the introduction of the Internet into people’s homes. Initially, the Internet was seen as a novelty. Most companies didn’t take it very seriously. Even when we got to the point where most businesses had a website, they were pretty static and there was still a lot of debate about how useful the internet was to the average person. Today, I think there is no doubt that it is a critical component of modern life. Now the vast majority of businesses don’t just have a website, they have mobile versions of their websites with built-in e-commerce. Billions are sold over the Internet. The apps are optimized to work on mobile devices right out of the box. In January 2018, a whopping 95 percent of active Facebook users accessed their account through mobile devices at least once. There are dozens of similar pressures on mobile data driving the need for an expanded wireless infrastructure.

Mobile video is a large component of this demand. Video streaming already accounts for more than 75% of total data consumption. People near or below the poverty line are much more likely than upper-middle-income Americans to have only one source of Internet access.

That source is almost always a mobile phone. For them, the lack of quality data coverage is not only an inconvenience, but can be the barrier between them and critical health, banking, job search and government services. We really need to spend more time thinking about how wireless infrastructure plays a key role in serving low-income residents living in our cities.

80% of 9-1-1 calls are made from mobile phones. Can you imagine if it was as difficult to make that emergency call as sending a photo from a crowded stadium? Investing in wireless infrastructure is more than just an income opportunity. Cities should encourage their proliferation. A robust wireless infrastructure supports public safety and can save lives.

Cities can take advantage of private sector investment to build the best wireless infrastructure at no cost to taxpayers. This is where leadership is needed. Cities need to adapt to the world of connectivity to meet the needs of the community.

After nearly a decade of working in this field, we still can’t tell you what the right and wrong answers are because each city has its own unique profile and needs. What I can tell you, however, is that cities must explore every opportunity to provide their constituents with the infrastructure they need to improve the economy, public safety, and our quality of life.