Colorado Springs, Colo., Increases Small Cell Tech in Anticipation of 5G

The small cell towers play a huge role in expanding the high-speed network that will debut in Colorado Springs and other cities early next year.

by Wayne Heilman, The Gazette / May 23, 2018

(TNS) — Unless someone points it out, most people wouldn't notice the cell towers that Crown Castle International Corp. owns and leases to major wireless carriers in southwest Colorado Springs.

That's because the 20-foot "small cells" are attached to street lights, utility poles and other streetside structures, including one across Broadmoor Valley Road from the Cheyenne Mountain Resort. The towers play a key role in adding capacity to the wireless network and will play an even bigger role in the so-called 5G network that will make its debut in parts of Colorado Springs and other cities early next year. The 5G promises blazing-fast download speeds and enough capacity to handle the rapidly growing number of Internet-connected devices.

Houston-based Crown Castle, which operates a regional office in Englewood, already has 32 such towers near the Broadmoor hotel and nearby neighborhoods and plans to build 37 more later this year or early next year in adjacent areas once agreements are signed, said Scott Harry, manager of government relations for small cell and fiber solutions in the company's western region. The company recently added more pairs of small panel antennas to 13 of its small towers to serve a third major carrier that wants to upgrade its network. He declined to name that carrier.

Traditional large cell towers serve as a hub for a series of small cell towers that expand capacity within an 800-foot diameter. The small towers are connected to the hub tower through fiber-optic lines and are a key element to prevent network slowdowns or outages when bandwidth demand exceeds the large towers' capacity, Harry said. Such towers will play an even bigger role for emerging technologies such as autonomous vehicles that require a seamless network with huge capacity so the vehicle never loses its connection to the wireless network, he said.

"We will need millions of these sites [nationwide]. It is like extending power and water lines to every house," Harry said. "These sites serve a smaller number of people than the large towers, but the [bandwidth] demand for each individual is three to five times as much as it was five years ago."

All wireless carriers are trying to add capacity to their networks through their own and shared towers to support the growing number of customers that want to play games and watch movies, television or live video. The demand for capacity is expected to explode over the next few years with the growth of Internet-connected devices, called the "Internet of things." The growing network of small cell sites or towers will help deliver that capacity and much faster download speeds that will allow customers to watch video on their smartphones at speeds now available on DSL or cable connections.

"It will be like going from black-and-white to color TV," Harry said, describing the difference between current 4G and the soon-to-arrive 5G network. That bandwidth "really comes into play for Internet-of-things applications that require a huge data capacity. Autonomous vehicles uses thousands of times more bandwidth than watching video. You probably will begin seeing 5G service in early 2019 on a limited scale, probably starting downtown. But it will become much more widespread over the next five years."

©2018 The Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colo.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.