June 2, 2021

Wireless technologies have become a fundamental part of daily life in the 21st century – they enable us to connect with one another in unprecedented ways, make efficient use of our time, and, broadly speaking, serve to improve our lives in innumerable ways.

To function, wireless devices must be able to connect to cellular sites that provide reliable coverage both indoors and outdoors. To do this increasingly requires the placement of sites near densely populated urban areas – and, in the process, creating new challenges for both the wireless industry and local governments.

The prospect of next generation cellular technologies – notably, 5G – will enable greater functionality, but their complexity has resulted in increased burdens being placed on municipalities and government agencies.

Looking ahead, as demand for 5G capabilities continues to rise, it’s critical that key stakeholders in the cellular ecosystem work hand in hand to streamline permitting and licensing negotiations and, ultimately, deployment planning and activation.

How 5G Will Benefit Citizens

I often refer to wireless communications as the “Fifth Utility,” as it’s just as important as electricity, water, gas and sanitation.

Smartphones are truly ubiquitous and, of course, we access the Internet constantly. We tend to take for granted that our daily lives are contingent upon access to information provided via reliable and effective Internet access.

Unfortunately, the pandemic has laid bare the digital equity problem in the United States; many refer to this as the Digital Divide.

Consider the fact that – in the midst of the pandemic –  59% of U.S. parents with lower incomes said their children would likely face digital obstacles to remote schooling. So, it isn’t a stretch to say that not having wireless communications capabilities in the 21st century is analogous to not having a car; you can’t get to work if you don’t have a car – similarly, you can’t attend school remotely if you don’t have Internet capabilities.

So, when we talk about next generation wireless communications networks implementation, it’s of the utmost importance that technologists, carriers, policymakers, etc. remain cognizant of the fact that these telco solutions must be deployed equitably.

Doing so has the potential to improve the lives of tens of millions of Americans lacking reliable wireless communications capabilities at a fundamental level – it will enable them to better participate in an increasingly global economy, keep pace with educational innovation and change and, last but not least, connect with friends and family.

The Role of Local Government in Bridging the 4G/5G Gap

The days of yesteryear, where local government officials were primarily focused on zoning and planning with respect to telecommunications deployment, are over.

Having moved firmly into the 4G era – and with one eye on future networks – local governments are now more involved than ever in deployment, which now occurs mostly on public property – on light poles and utility poles – as opposed to private property, which is where deployment historically occurred.

This shift has had several notable impacts:

  •  The number of applications for localized telecommunications solutions has dramatically increased. It’s expected that this trend will continue to increase, as our use of wireless communications has grown exponentially over the past several years – and certainly over the course of the pandemic.
  •  Public Works are now the primary drivers of telecommunications deployment as opposed to planning, zoning or real estate entities. This has fundamentally changed the dynamic of network deployment, as cities are now responsible for something that is, on the whole, relatively new – cities tend to be effective at managing parks, sidewalks, streetlights, waste management and all of the things that we typically associate with local government, but local governments are relatively inexperienced when it comes to wireless facilities in the public rights of way.

Local governments are not only responsible for working with the wireless industry seeking to deploy future networks – they’re also on the hook for approving and permitting upgrades to existing 3G and 4G networks, which poses additional challenges.

And, of course, on top of all of this, challenges associated with funding the staff time to manage these programs will always exist.

It is clear that public officials at the local level will bear additional responsibility for network deployment moving forward – thus, it’s important that policymakers understand the language, so to speak, of telecommunications.

IEEE Future Networks proudly established the Deployment Working Group, which is focused on serving as a conduit for municipal stakeholders to communicate their goals and concerns to the wireless industry vendors that are specifying and designing future network products, equipment and systems.

The IEEE Future Networks International Next Generations Roadmap

At IEEE, we’re always looking forward.

The IEEE Future Networks International Next Generations Roadmap (INGR) is a project that is focused on stimulating an industry-wide dialogue amongst key stakeholders to address the many facets, opportunities and challenges related to the development and deployment of future network technologies – beyond 5G and even 6G, which is still only a concept at this point.

Telecommunications is far too important in our daily lives in the 21st century to be left to chance. Thus, the ultimate goal of INGR is to develop a roadmap that looks forward at three, five and ten-year timeframes to speculate on how the technology will evolve so that we can collectively begin thinking about what must be done to reach critical junctions in telco deployment in a seamless, efficient and equitable fashion.

To be clear, INGR’s work is not focused on predicting the future, as that’s impossible. Rather, INGR is focused on asking questions that will reveal technical roadblocks that industry and society are likely to encounter. These warnings can give industry a head start on solving the problems, creating a feedback loop that allows industry and INGR to define future wireless telecommunications toward a shared vision of what success means in the 21st century and how we go about attaining that.

Learn More about the Telecommunications Roadmap for Implementation

To learn more about next generation wireless communications systems and their deployment, consider attending  Bridging the 4G/5G Gap: Telecommunications Roadmap for Implementation, a two-part virtual course program, with the next one scheduled on June 9th, 2021 at 1 pm ET. Attendees will have an opportunity to ask questions about 5G deployment, and the course program will also be available after the live event. The event is hosted by IEEE Educational Activities and the IEEE Future Networks Initiative. You can also check out these courses to take a deeper dive into 5G.

IEEE Impact Creator David Witkowski is an IEEE Senior Member and Co-Chair of the Deployment Working Group at IEEE Future Networks, Co-Chair of the Global City Teams Challenge Wireless SuperCluster at NIST, on the Board of Expert Advisors for the California Emerging Technology Fund and is a Fellow in the Radio Club of America.


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