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South Salt Lake Journal

Small cell networks to provide better coverage in SSL

Jul 01, 2022 10:21AM ● By Bill Hardesty

By Bill Hardesty | [email protected]

As more people use their smartphones for entertainment, there is a need for better cell networks. So, for all those people streaming Netflix and so forth, they’ll be happy to know that small cell networks are coming to South Salt Lake to help with faster connections and eliminate drop zones.

To prepare, the Community Development Department shepherded an ordinance enacting Section 12.61, which set standards “regarding the Siting of Wireless Facilities, and Wireless Support Structures within City-Owned Rights-of-way, to conform the South Salt Lake City Code with recent Mandates in State Law and to Adjust the Consolidated Fee Schedule to Address New Fees relating to Wireless Facilities.”

The Planning Commission gave the ordinance a favorable forwarding. The South Salt Lake City Council took up the ordinance during their April 13 meeting and passed it on April 27 with a 7-0 vote.

What are small cell networks?

Most people are aware of large cell network towers. Some are called “monopine” because they try to masquerade as a pine tree. When they were installed, people used their cell phones to talk. When texting was added, it didn’t cause a problem. A significant problem is dead spots caused by hills or tall buildings.

With the internet, a third problem developed called wireless density. Today we have devices from cars to watches to tablets to cell phones trying to connect. In addition, people use cellular data to watch movies, play music, or read books, among many other activities. Unfortunately, with each device connection and usage, the network slows down. One way to tell is if you have five bars on your device, but the device isn’t connecting. The solution is to increase wireless density.

Installing small cell networks is the current solution. Currently, a large coverage circle covers SSL, for example. With small cell networks, multiple small cell towers are attached to traffic light poles or other utility poles with the city’s right of way. The coverage circles are smaller, but they overlap. Because the cell towers are closer to the devices, dead zones are significantly reduced.

Affect in SSL

“The State of Utah passed legislation in 2018 to aid in the deployment of small cell facilities. The Community Development Department often communicates with industry providers to discuss location and future plans for towers and antennas within our jurisdiction,” said Sean Lewis, deputy community development director.

“Following several of these conversations, staff determined that our current Municipal Code standards were not consistent with state law,” Lewis said. “Working with wireless carriers, South Salt Lake has spent several months drafting language that allows the wireless providers the opportunity to place antennas in locations that work for their coverage needs, maintains the visual and aesthetic look that the City is working to accomplish with many of our recent Municipal Code changes, and provides the carriers a simplified application process so that the carriers may deploy the technology quickly if they comply with the standards.”

Lewis said several providers have been patient with the city in voluntarily waiting to submit applications until this language is adopted.

“We believe that these standards will help avoid the visual clutter that can easily pervade a city as this technology is deployed more robustly in the future,” Lewis said.

Two goals of the new ordinance were to work within constraints of existing infrastructure and limit visual and other impacts on residents and visitors.

The state code allows single standalone towers to be placed within the city’s right of way. The height is like older antennas. Carriers prefer this option because they have direct access to their equipment. However, the Community Development didn’t. If allowed, additional poles like assisting power poles would dot the city.

“We don’t want new poles just populating with three or four major carriers putting three or four antennas on every block,” Lewis told the council.

The Community Development Department prefers to work within the current infrastructure by allowing smaller antennas to be attached to traffic light poles or existing utility poles. The ordinance limited the height to 50 feet from ground level at the point of installation. In addition, an antenna cannot be more than 10 feet above an existing pole.

Even with the new technology, each carrier has its own antenna. It is possible that at the intersection, there would be an AT&T antenna on one traffic pole, a Verizon antenna on a second traffic pole and a T-Mobile antenna on a third. It is more likely that one carrier will have an antenna and a different carrier on the next block.

This regulation only affects the city’s right of way. It does not change anything for private land use.

Large monopoles will still be needed. Small cell networks will not replace large cell towers.

An additional benefit for the city is revenue. Since the antennas will be on the city’s right of way, the city can collect a franchise fee from the carrier.