Telecommunication companies have been saying that Austin is lagging in implementing the next wave of wireless communication, known as 5G. Now, the city is admitting that is the case.
(TNS) — For some time, telecommunication companies have been saying that Austin, Texas, is lagging in implementing the next wave of wireless communication, known as 5G.
Now, the city is admitting that is the case.
Austin has failed to keep pace with federal and state guidelines for preparing for 5G's rollout, city officials acknowledged.
The result is that Austin — a place where tech innovation usually flourishes — is playing catch-up in preparing for what is expected to not only become the new and faster standard for wireless communication, but also power tomorrow's cellphones, cars and more.
Telecommunication companies say their applications to install 5G connection devices have run into a bureaucratic slowdown at the city's telecommunications and regulatory affairs office.
As of last week, Austin's office of telecommunications and regulatory affairs said it had approved 37 applications in total filed by wireless carriers such as AT&T and Verizon.
In other Texas cities, it's been a much different experience. AT&T, for example, said it has had 25 times more small-cell devices approved in Dallas. The company is also preparing for a full 5G launch in Houston, San Antonio and other Texas cities.
"The city of Austin has simply failed to comply with (the state's) timeline," said Bob Digneo, an assistant vice president for AT&T's Texas operations. "The lengthy application review process ... is not seen in any other city in Texas."
Austin, like the rest of Texas, is governed by a law passed last year that gives cities up to 150 days to approve or reject applications by wireless carriers to install 5G devices, with applications that are not denied or approved within the 150-day mark deemed approved. The Federal Communications Commission said its guidelines, which have similarities to the Texas rules, mainly apply to states that don't already have 5G-related laws on the books.
Rondella Hawkins, director at the city's office of telecommunications and regulatory affairs, acknowledged to the American-Statesman that her office has been slow to process applications.
Hawkins said applications have sometimes been held for the entire 150-day timeline because officials have been cautious about protecting the aesthetics of downtown Austin, where many of the small-cell devices will be installed. In addition to getting approval from her office, Hawkins said, companies also secure permits from the city for construction of devices and other factors, which further slows the process.
The state law has also limited the costs Austin can charge carriers per application. Records show the city used to charge $1,250 per application. Now, it only charges $100. The change has helped companies push their 5G goals forward, but it also caused the city to adjust.
"We realized it was time to update how we are doing things," Hawkins said. "We are also meeting with providers to identify any problems."
Despite being behind other cities, Hawkins said Austin will be prepared for the oncoming 5G rollout. She said the city has taken steps to speed up the application process, including self-imposing a 40-day timeline to approve or deny applications, and it also plans to add a staff member to focus solely on 5G device applications.
Unlike current wireless communications standards, which mainly rely on large cell phone towers outside of city cores that companies share, 5G signals that will carry ultra-fast connection speeds will not be able to travel as far.
Signals will instead operate through a network of what are known as small cells, or devices that are latched on to objects such as utility poles. 5G service is expected to begin rolling out in some cities within the next year and be mainstream in the next four to five years.
"The sheer number of devices that 5G will enable will open up a lot of possibilities for (Internet-connected devices), autonomous vehicles and smart cities in general," said Keith Snyder, a wireless communication analyst at investment research firm CFRA. "These (telecommunication) companies want to go to the epicenter of these cities, so if you're the one city that's hostile toward telecoms, they might eventually decide to not invest in the city.
Broadband providers and their customers are depending on cities being ready, according to Verizon spokeswoman Jeannine Braggs.
Braggs said since 2015, Verizon has invested $4.1 billion into their wireless network throughout Texas.
"Next-generation networks," Braggs said, "require next-generation infrastructure."
©2018 Austin American-Statesman, Texas. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
See the big picture of how government agencies are utilizing 5G by exploring our Government Technology editorial database geographically visualized by location and date.