Verizon wants to expand its data bandwidth in Astoria to meet growing demand and prepare for the rollout of fifth-generation mobile communications.
The cellular giant approached the City Council on Tuesday about forming a franchise agreement to install small-cell transmitters along utility poles and lines in areas of high cellphone data usage.
The company has been expanding its use of small-cell transmitters, about 2 feet tall, on existing infrastructure. The new cellular network has come to some large metro areas but has not been announced in Oregon.
Steven Coon, a small cell strategist for Verizon, said the company would want transmitters with 5G capabilities about every 500 feet in high data-traffic areas such as downtown, with fewer or 4G-only transmitters on the outskirts.
“Data’s doubling every two years, and we’re just trying to keep ahead of it, so people have a robust cellular network,” he said.
Data consumption is projected to grow fivefold by 2021, according to Verizon. More than half of American households are wireless-only, and the average household has 13 connected devices.
City councilors raised concerns over the aesthetics of cells going on historic-looking light poles. Councilor Joan Herman asked Coon if it would be too limiting to avoid that.
That depends on how many cells Verizon needs, Coon said. The company also has poles without lights it can construct for the cells, he said. Placement of cells on the tops of buildings would be too far from where people are consuming data.
The City Council could direct staff to avoid placement on historic-looking structures as much as possible, Mayor Bruce Jones said.
Some people have raised largely debunked concerns over the health impacts from radio frequencies used by wireless communication networks such as 5G and Pacific Power’s new smart power meters. There will need to be a robust education campaign to avoid emotional arguments, Councilor Tom Brownson said.
Councilors also questioned how the city would accommodate Verizon’s competitors as they roll out new cellular networks.
“We have Verizon wanting to do this,” Brownson said. “When’s AT&T going to be after this?”
Despite concerns, councilors assented to the demand for more data and OK’d staff to start exploring a franchise agreement. The city is trying to attract high-tech jobs, and people want the new cellular capabilities, Jones said.
“I don’t want to be the one who voted to keep the horse and carriage when we’re trying to shift to the automobile,” he said.