Los Angeles starts softening up the ground for 5G

15 November 2015 by Steve Blum

Give it a couple of days and you’ll forget that it’s even there.

If you want to see what a 5G mobile broadband world will look like, check out the Gizmodo article about the new combo street light/cell site equipment that’s being planted in Los Angeles. For now, the poles support 4G service – because nobody will know exactly what 5G is for a few years – and will be installed at the rate of about 100 a year for the next five years.

The Gizmodo article leans heavily on the City of Los Angeles’s spin that the poles include more energy efficient, LED-based streetlights – true enough – and that it’ll be a vital communications link when the Big One hits, which might or might not be true. It doesn’t look like the design includes back up generators or any other kind of emergency power, so it won’t function independently after a major earthquake. The more you install, though, the greater the odds that some will be functioning, so it probably does improve disaster readiness to some degree.

But touting something in ecological purity and earthquake preparedness terms is the Californian equivalent of wrapping it in the flag. That’s the first clue that there’s something else going on. Digging into the press release put out by Ericsson, a mobile infrastructure manufacturer and partner in the LA SmartPole project, you’ll find the real purpose…

To meet the demand for coverage and capacity, mobile operators need to improve, densify and add many more radio cell sites in dense areas. The new connected street light pole, designed to house Ericsson’s cutting edge suite of small cell products, offers network operators new possibilities to find the right site location. It will also help to scale the deployment of mobile broadband technology beyond traditional sites – a key enabler for evolving heterogeneous networks.

The one thing we do know about 5G networks is that they will involve deployment of lots and lots of small cells, particularly in urban areas with dense mobile broadband traffic. Getting past the objections of cranky Nimbys and the tin foil hat brigade will involve a combination of good design and easily communicated benefits. Los Angeles is getting a head start on both.