Designing With 5G

The race to be the first to successfully take 5G to market has caught the attention of many across the globe.  Communication companies are planning to spend billions, with a B, trying to do just that.  Within the next 15 years, the 5G industry is said to be worth trillions (with a T).  But, wait, before all of that….what the heck is 5G anyways?

Last November, there was a blog on this site describing some of the basics of 5G and how it could affect our lives in the future.  If you need a crash course in 5G, either head on into the blog archives or do a quick Google search. (or Firefox…whatever floats your boat)

The goal of this post is to build upon that article and begin discussing how the implementation of 5G will affect the design narrative for cities across the map.  

For those of you who are not aware, Sioux Falls has been in contact with Verizon for some time now and the two have recently come to an agreement on how to roll out 5G within the city’s limits.  Mayor Paul TenHaken signed a contract with Verizon in August allowing the installation of 10 small cell towers in downtown Sioux Falls. Well the time has come, and these towers are currently being installed.  For those of you in Sioux Falls or just traveling through, you may have seen them being erected – below is a map highlighting where they will be located.

Locations of the 10 cell towers in Sioux Falls via Google Maps.

Although these towers will unlock faster download speeds for consumers and increased data analysis for city infrastructure, I wouldn’t consider them inconspicuous.  If you walk past one of these puppies, you may notice they stand out from the crowd. Not to say they are an eyesore, but they are something we will need to keep in mind when developing public spaces.  Every service provider that utilizes a tower needs to have its own cell box attached to the tower itself. You can imagine how bulky these towers may get after 3 or 4 providers are all hosting on the same pole…

A 5G cell tower being erected in Sioux Falls.

Because of this and the fact that small cells need to be placed every 300-500 feet, we are going to need to work with them, similar to other public streetscape elements such as trees, benches, trash cans, etc.  One way to help mitigate their visual impact is to critically think about how they should relate to their surroundings.  A few of the “tester” cities have realized this, and have begun developing design standards specifically for 5G cell towers. The citizens of Palo Alto, California for example, have raised concerns over the visual impact of 5G cell towers in their residential neighborhoods.  Because of this, the city has passed specific design standards regulating cell tower characteristics such as height, size, shape, mounting location and type, etc.

Over time these cells will no doubt continue to decrease in size (as technology always does), but until then we are going to need to come up with creative ways to seamlessly weave them into the urban fabric.  Love them or hate them, small cell towers will become part of the design narrative.

2 Replies to “Designing With 5G”

  1. Usually when I think about 5G, I think about the implications of the “internet of things” and the artificial intelligence that comes along with it. This is an interesting design challenge and another important problem designers can help solve.

  2. Agreed, the focus up to this point has been on how 5G will change our lives from a connection standpoint. As designers, it is up to us to understand how 5G will affect the built environment. Although 5G itself is not a physical item, it still requires physical objects to exist. We need to determine how to integrate these built structures into public spaces so they don’t detract from our experiences with our surroundings. Not that it is a bad thing, it’s just another piece of the puzzle.

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