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Dec. 4, 2021

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Vancouver approves small cell antennas on utility poles

Clark Public Utilities works on plan for public right of way installation

By , Columbian staff writer
Published:
2 Photos
An example of how small cell equipment could look. A box on the pole contains part of the equipment, while the antennas are mounted at or near the top.
An example of how small cell equipment could look. A box on the pole contains part of the equipment, while the antennas are mounted at or near the top. City of Vancouver Photo Gallery

Cellphone coverage will likely become more reliable around Vancouver over the next couple of years.

The city of Vancouver recently approved, and Clark Public Utilities is drafting agreements with telecommunications companies, an increase in the number of antennas within the city. The agreements allow the companies, including Sprint, Verizon Wireless and AT&T, to install cellular equipment in the public right of way, typically on a power pole, a street light or traffic signal pole or, if necessary, a street light-sized pole built specifically for the cellular infrastructure.

The cell facilities are much smaller than the tall and easily recognizable cell towers built in various locations around the country. Small cell components can be mounted on a traditional light or telephone pole, with the biggest piece of equipment about the size of two shoeboxes stacked together.

“Historically, a lot of big cell towers had gone up on private property and cellular facilities were installed on sides of buildings — we have a few on water towers,” said Ryan Lopossa, streets and transportation manager for Vancouver Public Works. “(Telecommunication companies) are moving more into the public right of way because some agreements they’ve had in place are coming up for renewal, and they’re finding it challenging to get them renewed. Right of way is something a little more predictable, they think. Plus, the technology is designed to go on any kind of pole.”

During the May 7 Vancouver City Council meeting, an AT&T representative said the company plans to install around 40 small cell facilities in the city; in the next couple of years, the company plans to install them in a handful of major transportation corridors. At the same meeting, a Verizon representative said the company plans to install 50 small cell facilities of its own over the next couple of years throughout the city.

The companies are installing the additional equipment to keep up with a growing consumer demand while at the same time trying to fill weak spots and gaps in their service areas. To do so, the service providers are looking at installing some small cell equipment in neighborhoods as well as main thoroughfares. But stealth and concealment are addressed in the agreements with the city, which also controls design standards over its poles.

“We’re trying to be very careful — especially when we get into the neighborhoods. Everything we’ve seen so far is along arterials,” Lopossa said. “The waterfront is a great example, they wanted to go down the waterfront, and that was a big ‘ah ah.'”

Ben Jarrell, GIS/joint use manager for Clark Public Utilities, said the utility is still working on the details of its agreements with the service providers and nothing will be installed until they are finished.

In the utility’s agreements, Jarrell said, it wants to have say over aesthetics. It also wants to retain the right to find another location if the utility doesn’t like the telecommunication company’s first choice, in addition to other concerns.

“We have to keep our customers in mind as well,” he said. “At the end of the day, these are services our customers want, and we want to work with these companies so these services could be available.”

Chris Rudell, an associate professor of electrical engineering at the University of Washington said telecommunication companies throughout the country are building out their networks in a race to keep pace with increased consumer demand.

“A number of big are things happening: the vast majority of traffic is not voice, it’s data and specifically it’s video — which is very data intensive. Fifteen years ago, people said everyone would have a cell phone, in 10 years that happened. Now everyone is going to have multiple wireless devices,” all of which are going to require dramatically more data in a given area than we currently use, he said. “And we have evolving new wireless applications, plus we have wireless vehicles, drones, they’ll all need multiple communication pipelines.”

But, Rudell said, given the state of small cell technology and the way the facilities are evolving, he doesn’t expect them to be too intrusive in the cityscape.

“I don’t think it’s going to be that bad,” he said. “They’re going to be really small … I’ve seen some a foot square.”

Columbian staff writer
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