If you live in Salt Lake City, odds are good there’s a 5G transmitter coming to a pole near you.
The new small cell wireless technology is stoking the ire of homeowners. Some didn’t realize a pole was planned for the right-of-way in front of their home until they saw a brief notice in the newspaper, or when contractors for the wireless companies showed up to start construction.
The Salt Lake Tribune searched the permits reviewed by the City Engineering Department to date and used the data to create an interactive map.
But there’s a big caveat — there are at least 300 “preliminary” planned small cells, which the city says are not available with a public records search.
“They become public information once permitted,” Chris Norlem, a city construction program manager, wrote in an email.
That means the number of markers on the map could more than double in the coming months.
Some of the permits included in the map have also been denied or revoked. Clicking the marker will show the permit status and the wireless company behind it. Searching the permit number on the Salt Lake City Citizen Access Portal will provide more detail about the project.
City engineers previously told The Tribune that the city has no way of knowing how many 5G poles will ultimately line the public right-of-way, since wireless companies are not required to disclose that information.
A spokesperson for Verizon, which has the most small cell permits by far in Salt Lake City, previously said the company “does not discuss future network build plans publicly.”
Small cell structures are more abundant than traditional, large cell towers because 5G radio waves are smaller. Their antennae need to be closer together to transmit its high-frequency signals.
City officials would prefer that small cells are added to existing structures, like street lamps and power poles. But municipalities in Utah have little control over where the small cells are placed, since state lawmakers passed a bill in 2018 that allows wireless companies to place 5G technology pretty much anywhere in the public right-of-way as long as it doesn’t create a traffic hazard.
Federal regulations also prohibit local governments from restricting small cell placement.
“The laws in place … are extremely industry friendly,” said Kimberly Chytraus, a city attorney, at a City Council work session Tuesday evening.
Four wireless companies have sought permits in Salt Lake City so far, and they are not required to share poles.
Council members are currently having discussions on how to improve the aesthetics of the poles, or how to incentivize companies to share poles or add their small cells to existing ones.
Adding a 5G antennae to a street light or power line, however, creates its own complications. The benefit of current 5G poles is that they’re self-contained — all the wires and meters are inside.
Placing a small cell on an existing tower would still mean wireless companies need to build a secondary structure to house those components, although it would likely be much shorter than 30- to 45-foot 5G poles currently springing up across the city.
“We can put a man on the moon. We can figure this one out too,” said City Council member Dan Dugan. “We don’t need extra poles.”