Calgary now taking applications for 5G cell locations

The City of Calgary set a goal of being 5G-ready by 2020. With the prep work done, it's now telling wireless companies that it's ready to roll.

A blanket of new cells needed to provide access to next generation wireless service

Bruce Cullen, Calgary's director of corporate analytics and innovation, outlined measures underway to get Calgary 5G-ready by 2020. (Scott Dippel/CBC)

The City of Calgary set a goal of being 5G-ready by 2020. With the prep work done, it's now telling wireless companies that it's ready to roll.

5G networks are coming to Canada. The technology is the latest generation of wireless service which promises faster connections and greater data capacity.

It's also said to be critical for the development of smart cities and can support technologies such as the Internet of Things and autonomous vehicles.

But 5G requires a lot of new and smaller cells to blanket the areas where the service will be provided.

Cells would be placed every couple of hundred metres. That's where the City of Calgary comes in.

It's offering up space on the thousands of streetlights, power poles and buildings that it owns to the wireless companies where they can place cells for their networks.

Now taking applications

Bruce Cullen, Calgary's director of corporate analytics and innovation, said part of being 5G-ready for 2020 is that the city is set up to process applications from wireless companies.

It now has a website where companies can see what city infrastructure is available for cell installations and submit their applications for spots.

For each application, they can choose up to 20 street light pole locations or one city building or one parcel of land for their own cell tower.

The plan is only one company can set up on any given pole.

So far, only one application has been submitted for 5G cell space on city property. But he said more are expected in future years and the city has plenty of locations to choose from.

"I think they're saying it's roughly the size of a pizza box or a little bit smaller. They are fairly unobtrusive, but you will see them," said Cullen.

"To get 360 degrees (of coverage), you'll have three antennas." 

Mapping the entire process also allows the city to ensure no single company will lock up all of the best spots, no matter when they apply.

City is charging fees

The city is charging a fee for companies to place their gear on streetlights and municipally-owned buildings.

That fee is for processing applications, doing inspections and attaching private equipment to city property.

But it won't open up a gusher of new revenues for city hall.

"We're not going to be making a profit. That's not our motive," Cullen said.

"It's more to make sure that the taxpayer remains whole and that we're recovering our costs of basically working around their equipment when we need to."

He expects the initial interest from wireless companies will be for cells in the downtown area. 

"Where you want to have 5G is where there's lots of people and/or lots of things that are going to be using that bandwidth. So if you think of the [downtown] core, you think of event centres, malls, [business revitalization zones], those kind of things. Where there's going to be lots of activities and lots of people using cellphones," Cullen said.

He adds that having 5G service would be a draw to companies to central Calgary and that could create jobs or add to the property tax base in Calgary.


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