Wireless data consumption has grown exponentially in the last few years, outpacing the capacity of current wireless infrastructure. Smartphones, tablets, smartwatches that we use to live chat with friends and media devices used to stream video and music have created unprecedented wireless data demands by consumers. In response to this, small cell technology is being deployed to meet increased data usage and improve coverage reliability.
WHAT IS 5G WIRELESS TECHNOLOGY?
The term 5G refers to the fifth generation of wireless network technology (e.g., a newer generation as compared to the existing 3G or 4G technology) that connects your mobile and data devices to the internet. A higher generation number indicates a newer and improved version of that particular technology. It is believed that 5G, has the potential to deliver faster download speeds, real-time responses, and enhanced connectivity that could allow driverless cars, smart cities, remote surgeries, and virtual realities.
DOES THE CITY OF IRVINE HAVE ANY 5G WIRELESS INSTALLATIONS?
The City has one existing 5G installation located on the roofline of the existing Verizon Wireless office building in Oak Creek. The pilot program was approved for research and development purposes to test 5G antennas for the ongoing development of 5G technology. The 5G coverage area serves the campus only and does not transmit wireless signals beyond the property.
A new small cell installation does not automatically equate to a 5G wireless installation. To date, all City approved small cells have been installed to support 4G technology. Feedback provided from wireless carriers is that the 5G technology has not yet been perfected and can be easily susceptible to interference issues.
CAN THE CITY OF IRVINE REGULATE THE POTENTIAL HEALTH EFFECTS OF WIRELESS FACILITIES?
The City is not allowed to regulate wireless installations based on potential health effects under the Federal Telecommunications Act. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) completely occupies the field in setting radio frequency emission safety standards in the United States. The City is not permitted to set ts own standards regardless of whether higher, lower or even the same as the FCC’s standards. The FCC does, however, permit the City to determine whether a proposed wireless project meets the radio frequency emission safety requirements found in FCC 47 CFR § 1.1307 et seq. (the “FCC rules”) and FCC Office of Engineering and Technology Bulletin 65 (OET 65). The City retains a wireless consultant to review radio frequency studies for each site prepared by the applicant to ensure projects comply with all FCC safety rules regarding exposure to radio frequency.
CAN 5G BE MORE STRINGENTLY REGULATED BY THE CITY AS COMPARED TO 3G OR 4G?
No, the City may not regulate 5G technology more stringently compared to previous wireless technologies such as 4G or 3G. The City is not allowed to regulate any specific type of technology (3G, 4G, or 5G) used for wireless facilities as long as the proposed wireless facility can demonstrate compliance with FCC regulations concerning radio frequency emissions.
CAN THE CITY OF IRVINE PROHIBIT WIRELESS INSTALLATIONS IN THE CITY?
The City cannot prohibit the placement, construction, or modification of wireless facilities in a manner that effectively prohibits the provision of personal wireless services under the Federal Telecommunications Act. Effective prohibition occurs when a City “materially limits or inhibits the ability of any competitor or potential competitor to compete in a fair and balanced legal and regulatory environment.”
City of Irvine’s land use authority over wireless facilities is limited to aesthetic considerations that require a design to be visually compatible with the surrounding area.
**For more information, refer to Planning Commission Study Session on the Regulation of Wireless Facilities (February 7, 2019).
WHAT ARE SMALL CELLS?
Small cells are small-scale, low-power wireless antennas that fill in coverage gaps between macro cell facilities and increase network capacity in areas with high-user densities. Small cell facilities were introduced to provide added capacity in response to the growth and expansion of the wireless industry and the public’s increased use of mobile devices.
Small cell facilities contain limited telecommunication equipment like antennas and radios that are typically placed on light poles, traffic signals, or new poles within the public right-of-way. Wireless carriers have rights to install equipment within the public right-of-way, similar to a utility company.
IS SMALL CELL TECHNOLOGY SAFE?
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) requires wireless facilities to comply with radio frequency exposure guidelines. Compliance with these guidelines ensure exposure levels remain below those generally believed to cause adverse health effects.
**For more information, please visit the FCC’s web page on Radio Frequency Safety.
WHY DID THE CITY ADOPT A SMALL CELL ORDINANCE?
In 2018, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) adopted a Declaratory Ruling and Third Report and Order (FCC 18-133) aimed at streamlining deployment of small wireless facilities. The Ruling imposed restrictions on local governments’ review of small wireless facilities by imposing limits on: (1) the length of time from submittal to decision for local cities, (2) fees charged, and (3) aesthetics controls.
In response to the new restrictions on local review, the City Council adopted the Small Utility Facility Ordinance to establish a citywide process for review of small utility facilities, including small cells on April 23, 2019. The Small Utility Facility Ordinance established specific criteria and procedures to uphold the City’s aesthetic standards and encourage compliance with those standards by providing a streamlined process for all small cell facilities. The Ordinance allowed the City to meet the FCC Ruling while protecting the City’s aesthetic standards by further defining aesthetic requirements that are specific, reasonable, and objective.
HOW ARE SMALL CELL WIRELESS FACILITIES REVIEWED AND APPROVED IN THE CITY?
The City of Irvine has an adopted a Wireless Ordinance to regulate the placement and design of all types of wireless installations that has been in place since the mid-2000s. The most recent update took place in 2019, to add new regulations and standards pertaining to small utility facilities, including small cell facilities.
The Small Utility Facility Ordinance established design criteria for small cell facilities to minimize the size of the equipment and to blend wireless equipment into existing streetscapes to the maximum extent possible. The Zoning Ordinance’s Small Utility Facility Permit Chapters 2-36 and 3-40, contains the review procedures and design standards. A small cell permit is issued once a wireless carrier demonstrates compliance with all established criteria and standards.
WHY ARE WIRELESS FACILITIES MOVING CLOSER TO RESIDENTIAL AREAS?
Wireless providers are continually optimizing and enhancing their individual networks to meet increased demands of existing and future customers. Most networks have been established for at least 20 years using larger macro cell facilities to provide general area coverage over wide areas. Small cell facilities are designed to “fill-in” coverage gaps or to enhance capacity in specific high network traffic areas. As more and more customers rely on mobile, or other media streaming devices for phone and data needs, wireless providers will need to place facilities closer to service areas.
The Small Utility Facility Ordinance established design criteria for small cell facilities to minimize the size of the equipment and to blend wireless equipment into existing streetscapes to the maximum extent possible. The Ordinance also established a minimum setback of 50 feet from residences, schools, and parks. As stated previously, the City of Irvine cannot regulate the potential health effects of wireless facilities, which is governed by the Federal Communications Commission.
DOES THE CITY OF IRVINE RECEIVE FINANCIAL COMPENSATION FOR WIRELESS FACILITIES?
In the City’s rights-of-way, wireless carriers have similar rights as other public utility providers to install equipment that include small cell facilities on street light poles, without financial compensation to the City. The City does collect fees for the review and inspection of permits for small cell sites, including building permit fees for plan review and site inspection, and roadway encroachment fees for traffic control measures.
Southern California Edison, as owner of most of the street light poles in the City, has the ability to enter into private lease agreements with wireless carriers for the installation of small cell equipment on their poles. Small cell facilities are reviewed by the City to ensure compliance with City adopted design standards. On City-owned land, the City may receive lease payments from wireless providers similar to lease fees paid to other private property owners.
EXAMPLES OF SMALL CELL FACILITIES
AT&T Proposal (Warner Avenue, West of Harvard Avenue)
Verizon Proposal (2062 Business Center Drive)