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Chad Swiatecki is a 20-year journalist who relocated to Austin from his home state of Michigan in 2008. He most enjoys covering the intersection of arts, business and local/state politics. He has written for Rolling Stone, Spin, New York Daily News, Texas Monthly, Austin American-Statesman and many other regional and national outlets.
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Small progress, but Austin still lags in enabling 5G adoption
A pair of efforts to bring 5G telecommunication technology to portions of Austin is welcome news to proponents of the smart city capabilities available with widespread use. But the city still lags far behind other Texas cities in installation of the street-level “cells” needed to enable the standard that tech experts expect will start becoming widely available on consumer devices next year.
Late last month AT&T and Samsung announced a partnership to create a 5G innovation zone on Samsung Austin Semiconductor’s 160-acre campus in North Austin. And the city’s Communications and Technology Management Division recently prepared a pre-proposal document that could lead to a collaboration with Texas A&M University and Texas State University to bring 5G cells to a portion of the Riverside Drive community just east of downtown Austin.
Those efforts will add 5G cells to the city, which currently has three units installed in the downtown core compared to more than 800 units installed in Houston and more than 300 installed in Dallas, according to the Texas 5G Alliance.
The cells are typically installed by cellular service providers or third-party companies that lease their capacity to other companies, with both interests saying the city’s permitting process to get right of way approval to install the cells has been an impediment keeping the city lagging behind other Texas cities like Waco.
“In Austin you’ve got a real uphill climb. And in a couple of years, you’ll see 5G readiness as a necessity, when companies are evaluating a market as far as connectivity,” said Scott Dunaway, spokesperson for the Texas 5G Alliance. “In Austin the challenge has been the permitting process and the problems applicants face, while other cities have managed to knock those (problems) down.”
Malcolm Yeatts, chair of the city’s Community Technology and Communications Commission, said the group is awaiting research from the city and Austin Energy about establishing a one-touch make-ready provider to handle the application and installation process that utilizes local utility poles.
Yeatts said he and other commissioners continue to hear from the technology community about Austin’s slow adoption of 5G capability.
“It is difficult because it requires some rearrangement of cables on the poles, which is why we’re going toward the one-touch make-ready provider that all the carriers would go to,” he said. “That’s something other cities have used and we’re exploring with Austin Energy, but we haven’t made any recommendation to City Council because we’re still in the information gathering phase.”
Ted Lehr, a data architect with the CTM division, said the city is working to find ways to help private companies to take the initiative in bringing 5G capacity into Austin. He said those are happening via a mix of traditional purchasing and engagement methods, while some are “exploring or proposing novel ones.”
The 5G issue has become something of a priority for the Austin Technology Council in 2018, with a June panel on the subject drawing agreement that technology leaders need to push for 5G-friendly policies at all levels. In July more than 100 local tech entrepreneurs and business leaders signed a collective letter to every Council member imploring them to make city bureaucracy less of an impediment to the data standard.
“Austin Tech Alliance met with representatives from the city’s Communications and Technology Management Department in June 2018, and they understood our concerns about the delays in permitting small cells,” said Dave Edmonson, executive director of ATA. “I understand they’re focused on expediting those processes and eliminating unnecessary delays so that Austin can be ready for the 5G future.”
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Key Players & Topics In This Article
Austin Community Technology and Telecommunications Commission: The Community Technology and Telecommunications Commission advises the Austin City Council on community technology and telecommunication services.