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Updated October 24, 2018

Montgomery County Coalition for the Control of Cell Towers

September 17, 2018

What’s all the hype to quickly pass (another) ordinance allowing Big Wireless unfettered access to build 
close proximity cell poles in residential neighborhoods?

Big Wireless 5G Myths

The Three Questions the County Council has NOT asked:

1. Why does Big Wireless have no near-term plans to make 5G services commercially available in Maryland, let alone Montgomery County?

Nothing the Council does now to change zoning ordinances will speed up 5G technology for which testing is still incomplete, new 5G radios and antennas are not yet being manufactured (beyond early stage prototypes,) and none of the Big Wireless carriers have announced plans for 5G deployments in Maryland. Likewise, we are in no danger of being “left behind” by a technological wave that is several years away from arrival - at very earliest.

Fifth Generation (5G) wireless technology is undergoing testing by several wireless carriers in various cities around the country – but definitely NOT in Montgomery County. Further, as can be seen in table (shown below) NO wireless carriers have any plans to make commercially available mobile 5G wireless services available in Maryland, nor Montgomery County until 2020 at the earliest.

Lessons can be learned from earlier rollouts of new wireless technology. Wireless 4G service was first tested in 2009 but was not widely available commercially for four more years until after 2013 - by some, but not all wireless carriers.1

5G technology uses extremely high frequency millimeter waves on very different spectrum than 4G. This, in turn, requires updated radios and antennas. Those radios and antennas are being tested but are unlikely to be ready for installation in Montgomery County for several more years. 2

2. When will first commercially available mobile handsets be widely and affordably available that are capable of transmitting and receiving 5G wireless signals?

Of greatest impact to consumers, none of the major cell phone manufacturers have a production model of a mobile handset that is capable of reliably sending and receiving 5G signals. None. And, no such handsets are likely to be available anytime soon...

One Chinese manufacturer announced plans to launch a 5G compatible cell phone in mid-to-late 2019, but it is unknown when that device will be commercially available – or affordable - to US consumers.3  One major US carrier just announced a 5G “upgradable” phone via an attachment to handset. But, that attachment modification will NOT be available until 2019 and will only actually work in just four test cities – none of which are anywhere near Montgomery County.4

The absence of inexpensive, widely-available 5G compatible handsets may be one of the contributing factors to very bleak forecast of 5G adoption. Industry trade group GSMA, which represents nearly 800 operators and some 300 suppliers of mobile telephony equipment, forecast recently that 4G would still account for more than half of mobile subscriptions in 2025, (that is 7 years from now) while 5G would only be at 14 percent!5 

In other words, the adoption curve for 5G is likely to be long and very slow.

3. Why must cell poles be allowed just 30 feet from residences, if typical 4G “small cell” transmission distances are
650 to 985 feet (or more) and recent 5G tests are showing even greater effective transmission distances?

 No specific rationale to this obvious issue has been provided by County Staff. Although the County's FAQ does point to unidentified "research" saying that 30-foot residential pole setbacks will make virtually all the existing poles in the County suitable for wireless installations!  

County Council has previously relied on transmission ranges cited by legislative aide Jeff Zyontz, who advised that 4G small cell transmission ranges are between 200 to 300 meters. That translates to 650 to 985 feet.
6  Currently, minimum setbacks in residential neighborhoods are 60’ from walls of nearest dwelling, although County has, unfortunately, has previously allowed antennas inside of those minimum setbacks without notice, and without hearings.

“Small cells” are base stations that have been deployed in and adjacent to Montgomery County residential neighborhoods (mostly atop wooden utility poles) since first being introduced in 2011.

While transmission and reception distances between 4G small cells to mobile devices vary depending on such factors as terrain and height of surrounding buildings, the typical effective ranges of 4G small cells are more than 20 to 30 times the 30’ distance being proposed for positioning of cell poles inside neighborhoods. And, as discussed above, equipment using 4G technology is likely to be the only antennas and radios installed on small cell installations in Montgomery County for at least the next two years - and probably longer.

At some point in the future, when 5G technology eventually becomes  commercially available in Montgomery County, the effective transmission ranges appear to be increasing, significantly. The CEO of a major US carrier boasted in May, 2018 that “…In the 200 feet from a home - we’re now designing the (5G) network for 2000 feet from transmitter to receiver, which has a huge impact on our capital need going forward.
7  In other words, Big Wireless is already projecting huge capital cost savings because testing indicates that 5G nodes do NOT need to be as close to homes, nor as closely spaced together as previously estimated. 

This was further amplified in a recent YouTube video posted by the same major US carrier claiming successful 3000-foot transmission distances with “low latency” and superfast speeds. These very impressive 5G transmission distances are 100 times the proposed 30-foot setback and were achieved despite foliage and even a building between the 5G transmitter and mobile receiver.8

As 5G testing continues, can we assume these distances are likely to further improve and increase? Why then are we being told by County officials that distances between cell poles and homes must be shortened to accommodate future technology?

1 Wired Explains: Everything You Need to Know About 4G Wireless. WIRED. Priya Ganapati. June 4, 2010
2 How are 4G and 5G Different? Lifewire. Tim Fisher. September 12, 2018
​3 AT&T reveals 3 cities that will get 5G this year (even though phones won’t connect to it). Android Authority, C. Scott Brown. July 20, 2018
4 Moto Z3 phone sells at Verizon Aug. 16, with 5G to come. cNet. Jessica Dolcourt. August 3, 2018.
5 Fast 5G beckons, but still far off for most mobile users. Reuters Technology News. Eric Auchard. March 2, 2018.
6 ZTA 16-05 Transmittal Memo to Montgomery County Council Jeff Zyontz. Footnote 9, Page 11. September 8, 2016
7 Transcript: Verizon Chairman & CEO Lowell McAdam Speaks with CNBC’s David Faber Today. CNBC News. May 15, 2018
8 The Power of Millimeter Wave | Verizon. YouTube. Published on May, 23. 2018.

Cities with Publicly Announced 5Gs Rollout during 2018 and 2019
(Maryland and Montgomery County are NOT on these Lists!)