Update 4 p.m. Thursday: Williamsburg’s City Council approved both requests at their June 14 meeting.
Original story: The foundation for the next generation of cellphone service may soon be laid down in Williamsburg.
AT&T and Cox Communications are seeking permission to build infrastructure on city property that will support 5G wireless networks.
Their requests will either be approved or denied by City Council at its meeting Thursday.
Once they are up and running, 5G wireless networks will offer better speeds and more reliable connections for smartphones than 3G and 4G. Specifications established by the International Telecommunications Union call for 5G networks to provide download speeds of 20 gigabytes per second and 10 GBPS for uploads on mobile devices.
Cox Wireless Access, LLC has requested a franchise agreement with the city to install wireless support structures — up to 50 feet tall — and small cell facilities. Small cells are relatively small cellphone towers that can be placed throughout a community.
AT&T Mobility requested a lease to attach wireless antennas and other small cell structures on city property and buildings, including roofs, poles and traffic lights. Locations could include the Municipal Building, the city’s police and fire stations, Quarterpath and Kiwanis Parks, as well as pump stations and city-owned light fixtures.
“Small cells help advance communities digitally — resulting in more investments, as well as connectivity with macro sites, and paving the way for next-generation technology,” said AT&T mid-Atlantic spokeswoman Dawn Couch in an email to WYDaily. “Small cells enhance existing voice and data capacity for our customers today by carrying LTE traffic and are being designed to ultimately support future 5G service where it is deployed.”
AT&T would have to pay the city $200 per small cell installation each year, and the leases could last up to 20 years if the city picks up options after a decade.
Cox would pay $1,000 annually per wireless support structure and $200 each year per city facility that Cox will jointly use. Cox’ franchise agreement is for eight years.
No structures will be permitted in Colonial Williamsburg’s Historic Area.
Even if approved, residents shouldn’t expect the next-gen network to be up and running immediately.
“The documents before council are simply approving the respective companies to generally install facilities on city property as provided in the agreement/ordinance,” Williamsburg City Attorney Christina Shelton said in an email to WYDaily. “However, the details for each site must also subsequently be approved by Planning, Public Works, and/or the city manager, depending on the facility in question.”
The applicants will also need to obtain right-of-way and building permits, as necessary by city code, Shelton said. If council approves the request, the city manager will have the power to approve or deny installments at specific locations.
Neither company provided a timeline for installation of the infrastructure or deployment of 5G service.
“Cox is currently working to obtain agreements throughout our footprint in Virginia to allow for small cell deployment,” said Angelique LeBlanc, public relations specialist for Cox Communications. “Small cell equipment will enable all mobile operators who are Cox wholesale customers to extend their coverage and will give them the capacity to upgrade to 5G when the wireless industry is ready.”
She added Cox does not currently have any specific plans to install small cell facilities in Williamsburg. They are seeking the agreement now and will work through the permitting process once mobile carriers “establish their need for extended coverage,” LeBlanc said.
Cox reached an agreement with Sprint in January as part of a court settlement. As a result, Sprint will be able to use Cox’s broadband infrastructure to expand its network.
In April, AT&T announced it will launch “5G Evolution” service in more than 140 markets nationwide. 5G Evolution is enhanced 4G and LTE service that does not meet 5G specifications.
Greater Williamsburg was not on the list. Dallas; Waco, Texas; and Atlanta are expected to have full 5G service by the end of 2018.
City staff received requests from representatives of both companies, and multiple city departments were involved in discussions, Shelton said.