WSJ: U.S. Cities saying no to 5G; Dept of Homeland Security on 5G Risks

By Christopher Mims

Editor’s Note:  The following article doesn’t mention two huge issues with current “5G” pre-IMT 2020 standard deployments (based on 3GPP Release 15 “5G NR” NSA):

1.  Ultra low latency/ultra high reliability is not specified (it will be in 3GPP Release 16) and hopefully  it will be included in the IMT 2020 specs to be completed in late 2020 (last ITU-R WP5D meeting that year is November 2020).

2. There are no specifications, let alone any standards, for so many of the highly touted 5G attributes, e.g. network slicing, virtual RAN/virtual mobile packet core, cyber security/privacy, roaming (especially when different frequencies are used on service provider 5G networks), new service creation/ automation/ orchestration, network management, fault isolation and recovery/restoration, etc.  These will be proprietary or NON EXISTENT for a very long time!

There is also the unpublicized issue of physical security to prevent damage/sabotage of deployed small cells mounted on street poles, traffic lights, other structures.


WSJ Article:

Jack Tibbetts, a member of the Santa Rosa, Calif., city council, knew he had a problem. It was early 2018, and he’d started getting calls from constituents at opposite ends of the political spectrum. The common thread: cellular antennas going up next to their homes, causing concerns over property values and health.

The weight of evidence suggests that if radio-frequency emissions have any effect on humans at all, it is, according to the World Health Organization, about on par with other “possibly carcinogenic” substances, including coffee and pickles. The Federal Communications Commission, citing input from the Food and Drug Administration, recently declared that existing limits on the amount of radio-frequency energy these antennas put out make them safe. A senior FCC official said there is nothing unique to 5G networks that poses additional health risks.

None of this has stopped the social-media-fueled conspiracy whirligig that allows health scares to thrive on the internet.

Cities and towns throughout Northern California are issuing ordinances that would exclude new 5G cell sites from residential areas, citing supposed health concerns. Residents of Portland, Ore., and Whitefish, Mont., have also cited these beliefs while lobbying for restrictions. Legislators in four states including New Hampshire have proposed bills that would mandate further study of health effects or else urge Congress to do so, and Congressman Thomas Suozzi (D., N.Y.) wrote to the FCC echoing these concerns.

For Mr. Tibbetts, it didn’t matter whether or not these new “small cell” antennas—which are used for 4G networks but can be upgraded for 5G—going up in Santa Rosa were actually dangerous. Some were attached to utility poles a mere 20 feet from people’s bedroom windows, and residents complained Verizon had put them up without notifying them. What mattered was that his constituents didn’t want these ungainly chunks of public infrastructure anywhere near them.

“I don’t like the idea of someone being in their home and it’s supposed to be a place of security, and they are having that feeling of insecurity,” Mr. Tibbetts says. “I won’t be surprised if in 10 years there’s no evidence of cancer from these towers, but my job is not to protect Verizon, it’s to protect people in their houses.”

Whatever the basis for residents’ objections to new cell towers, Mr. Tibbetts—as well as countless mayors, governors and council members across the country—have little or no power under current rules to act on their constituents’ wishes. Nor do they have the leeway they once did to set pricing for cell sites, a lucrative source of funding for civic initiatives. Those who do take action are creating ordinances that put their cities at risk of being sued by the telecoms, as happened this month in Rochester, N.Y.

Billed as the key to the future—of telecommunications, of global competition, of innovation and even of municipal infrastructure—5G has instead become a bone of contention. In addition to upgrading existing towers, it will require an estimated half-million new towers and small-cell sites on utility poles, lampposts and buildings. Experts also anticipate a long rollout period, potentially of a decade or more.

Most cities want 5G, but they don’t want to be told how, when and at what cost. Rules the FCC has already passed, meant to expedite 5G’s rollout, might well be creating acrimony that serves to do the exact opposite.

“My personal reason for doing this is I believe that humanity is threatened,” says Sandi Maurer, a member of the activist group EMF Safety Network, which lobbies to reduce people’s exposure to electromagnetic fields.

Partly as a result of such activism, many towns in Marin County, Calif., have passed ordinances or resolutions that limit 5G cell sites in residential areas. Towns like Mill Valley specify zones where towers aren’t permitted, and may also require them to be a certain distance from each other. In 2018, Verizon withdrew its application to install two small cells in Sebastopol, Calif., rather than sue the city or refer the matter to the FCC.

But since then, the FCC has rolled out its 5G Fast plan requiring cities and states to approve new 5G antennas within 60 or 90 days. It also limits what government leaders can charge carriers for the real estate on which the new infrastructure will hang—be it a utility pole, streetlight or even building facade.

Carriers love this plan. A spokesman for AT&T referred to a statement lauding the FCC’s new rules, saying they “will help ensure that, through tried and true free-market incentives, all Americans no matter where they live will enjoy the benefits of jobs, investment, and economic growth this new technology will foster.” A Verizon spokesman said, “We’re looking for reasonable access and reasonable prices so that we can deploy 5G effectively and promptly to communities and the people who live and work in them.”

FCC chairman Ajit Pai and President Trump have both said that widespread deployment of next-generation 5G wireless networks is critical to winning the race with China. A spokesman for the FCC referred to previous statements by the agency: “To enable broadband providers to enter new markets and deploy high-speed networks, access to poles must be swift, predictable, safe and affordable.”

City leaders say their power to zone and regulate infrastructure is being abridged. More than 90 cities and counties have joined together in a lawsuit, currently before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, arguing that the FCC has overstepped its authority. A decision could happen as early as in the spring, but it could also take much longer.

San Jose, Calif., has already permitted 596 small-cell sites, all of which can be upgraded to 5G, says Shireen Santosham, the city’s chief innovation officer. When that rollout began, San Jose signed agreements with telecoms for between $750 a pole and $2,500 a pole for the new small-cell sites. If the cities lose their suit against the FCC, San Jose might be forced to charge less than the lowest amount it had previously charged per pole.

An AT&T 5G small-cell setup hangs on a pole in Atlanta. Some cities have challenged carriers on the size and shape of 5G cells. PHOTO: MELISSA GOLDEN, WALL STREET JOURNAL


The city very much wants a 5G rollout, says Mayor Sam Liccardo. But like other cities, San Jose wants to be able to charge higher prices for use of its infrastructure, not only to fund staffing to expedite permits for new sites but also to supply the $1 million to $2 million needed to support a program to deliver broadband access to poor households.

“If we lose the money, the program pretty much grinds to a halt,” says Ms. Santosham. “Deployment will slow down, and the money to close the digital divide goes away.”

This sort of thing could happen in other cities, despite FCC rules that say permits are automatically approved after 60 or 90 days, says Mr. Liccardo. “There are lots of ways for local bureaucracies to make it difficult even when the federal government says they must,” he adds.

Blair Levin, a fellow at the Brookings Institution and a former chief of staff for FCC chairman Reed Hundt, said, “What the wireless guys are asking is for cities to treat them totally different than every other entity asking for construction permits. I think it will backfire because, in the fullness of time, instead of a cooperative relationship you’ll get a hostile relationship.”

The prime example is Rochester, which was on the receiving end of a lawsuit filed by Verizon on Aug. 8. Verizon claims the city’s code violates FCC rules by “imposing upon wireless providers non-cost-based fees on the deployment and maintenance of small wireless facilities.” Translation: Verizon thinks the city is charging too much rent for space on its utility poles where 5G antennas would be installed. A city spokesman says the fees are in line with what other providers pay and calls the suit frivolous.

“The federal framework calls for nondiscriminatory access at cost-based rates, and that is what we are seeking,” said a Verizon spokesman. “That means the federal rules prohibit special treatment.”

Big and Ugly

The health argument is hard to take to court because the FCC has sole discretion over whether the emissions of an electronic device are safe, a right unquestioned by any current court cases or pending federal legislation. A different—and so far more successful—tack has been to challenge carriers on the size and shape of the 5G cells.

In a legal challenge to the FCC’s current rules undertaken by the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians in Oklahoma, the D.C. Circuit Court recently ruled against the FCC, asserting, among other things, that 5G “small cells” aren’t nearly as small as advertised.

In its brief, the industry has said these new antennas are only as big as a pizza box, and that in other respects they are comparable to home Wi-Fi routers. But the court said that, especially when they sit atop newly installed towers, they are in fact big and obtrusive enough that they require a review of their environmental impact, and that they are subject to historic-preservation rules.

“Even if only 20% of small cells required new construction, as one wireless company estimates and the FCC highlights in its brief…that could entail as many as 160,000 densely spaced 50-foot towers,” writes the court.

Despite all this conflict, most cities remain eager for telecoms to bring 5G to their streets, says Craig Moffett, founder and senior analyst at MoffettNathanson, a communications research firm. The industry is promising a veritable cornucopia of fantastical technologies will flow from ubiquitous, ultrafast wireless—a smarter city where your autonomous car, your augmented-reality headset and your self-emptying trash bin are always in constant contact.

“It may be in retrospect we look back and laugh at how silly we all were at wondering what applications this will be used for,” Mr. Moffett said.

Write to Christopher Mims at [email protected]


Related article:

OVERVIEW OF RISKS INTRODUCED BY 5G ADOPTION IN THE U.S., by the Department of Homeland Security 


The Department of Homeland Security (DHS)/Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) assesses that Fifth Generation Mobile Network (5G) will present opportunities and challenges, and its implementation will introduce vulnerabilities related to supply chains, deployment, network security, and the loss of competition and trusted options.

 Use of 5G components manufactured by untrusted companies could expose U.S. entities to risks introduced by malicious software and hardware, counterfeit components, and component flaws caused by poor manufacturing processes and maintenance procedures. 5G hardware, software, and services provided by untrusted entities could increase the risk of compromise to the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of network assets. Even if U.S. networks are secure, U.S. data that travels
overseas through untrusted telecommunication networks is potentially at risk of interception, manipulation, disruption, and destruction.

 5G will use more components than previous generations of wireless networks, and the proliferation of 5G infrastructure may provide malicious actors more attack vectors. The effectiveness of 5G’s security
enhancements will in part depend on proper implementation and configuration.

 Despite security enhancement over previous generations, it’s unknown what new vulnerabilities may be discovered in 5G networks. Further, 5G builds upon previous generations of wireless networks and will initially be integrated into 4G Long-Term Evolution (LTE) networks that contain some legacy vulnerabilities.

 Untrusted companies may be less likely to participate in interoperability efforts. Custom 5G technologies that do not meet interoperability standards may be difficult to update, repair, and
replace. This potentially increases the lifecycle cost of the product and delays 5G deployment if the equipment requires replacement. The lack of interoperability may also have negative impacts on the competitive market as companies could be driven out if the available competitive market decreases.


3 thoughts on “WSJ: U.S. Cities saying no to 5G; Dept of Homeland Security on 5G Risks

  1. Communities Are Fighting 5G, Permit by Permit

    As soon as the first 5G poles went up, the residents of Upper Cole Valley wanted them down.

    Later, residents would take issue with the notice that informed the community of plans to install 5G wireless internet equipment—they say it was “poorly affixed to the single pole,” allowing it to either fall off or be blown off; and that San Francisco’s Public Works Department didn’t give them enough time to weigh in on the process.

    But adequate warning or not, when Sprint mobile vendor Mobilitie came to the San Francisco neighborhood hawking super-fast internet service, residents had more fundamental concerns.

    “Our Upper Cole Valley … neighborhood would suffer harm if the large pole-borne equipment box is installed, on an even taller pole, directly in front of our Excellent Views,” read a complaint from a group of more than 100 residents, which they submitted to the DPW in the hopes of getting Mobilitie’s permit denied. “This indeed ‘detract(s) from the streetscape… that defines (this) individual neighborhood’ and that would adversely affect our home’s and our neighborhood’s … value.”

    The city ended up rejecting this appeal and others like it. For now, at least, the 5G network is there to stay in Cole Valley. But the neighborhood’s concerns are echoed in cities across the country.

    “We didn’t want it, and the city crammed it down our throat.”

    For 5G boosters, the benefits of installing the wireless technology are obvious: It allows delivery of super-fast internet speeds. But the nimble technology is connected by not-so-nimble infrastructure. To hook up the “small cells” that power 5G grids, wireless providers have to install thick wires and poles and antennae on nearly every block they want to cover, outfitted with equipment that is about the size of a large backpack.

    It’s not just that 5G requires a lot of gear, which alone can provoke the not-in-my-backyard backlash that puts a stop to all sorts of projects. It’s also that some people really don’t like it when they see it.

    “These things can be quite ugly,” says Christopher Mitchell, the director of Community Broadband Networks at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.

    5G networks have only just begun to spread—a few providers, including AT&T and Verizon, have started going live in a handful of cities. Already, though, the NIMBY problem looms large for those who want to see the next generation of wireless technology proliferate.

    And last month, in what could be a precedent-setting decision, the California Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the aesthetic argument alone can be enough to justify the rejection of new 5G infrastructure.

    A 5G pack installed on a San Diego building. (Mike Blake/Reuters)
    The decision came in response to a lawsuit filed by T-Mobile against the city and county, challenging a 2011 city ordinance limiting telecommunications companies from installing 5G lines and equipment on utility poles. T-Mobile argued that the local law was preempted by state law. Now, a judge has determined it wasn’t, and agreed with San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera’s argument that putting 5G equipment up on San Francisco’s utility poles could take away from the city’s allure as a tourist destination, by “diminish[ing] the City’s beauty.”

    “Private companies don’t have free rein when it comes to using a public resource,” Herrerra said in a statement to Bloomberg News. “San Francisco’s approach strikes the right balance. It allows for innovation and improved technology while ensuring that unsightly poles and equipment don’t mar public views of the Painted Ladies or the Golden Gate Bridge.”

    The San Francisco ruling could be a blow not only to telecommunications companies, but to the Federal Communications Commission, which has tried to jumpstart the spread of these networks from the top down.

    In an order last year, the FCC gave 5G-toting wireless companies broad powers to sidestep local control over the public right-of-way. If Verizon wants to build a 5G network in a city, the local government is limited in how much it can charge in application fees, and is pushed to approve permits quickly.

    The idea, says the FCC, is to remove “regulatory barriers that would unlawfully inhibit the deployment of infrastructure necessary to support these new services.” Already, these “regulatory obstacles have threatened the widespread deployment of these new services and, in turn, U.S. leadership in 5G,” reads another FCC statement.

    These rules also mean cities are limited in how they can respond to residents who are upset about equipment going up near them. Many local leaders have spoken out against the FCC’s rules, dozens of whom have banded together to file a lawsuit to overturn it, which has advanced to the Tenth Circuit.

    “[T]he FCC is forcing cities to race to the courthouse to defend the most basic of local government rights—the authority to manage and seek fair compensation from private users that seek to employ public assets,” Tom Cochran, the CEO and executive director of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, said in a statement.

    “I don’t have an objection to 5G or deploying 5G,” Montgomery County, Maryland council member-at-large Hans Riemer told CityLab. “I just want to preserve local authority to guide the deployment.”

    There are still a few avenues for cities to influence how and where 5G equipment is installed, though. If local governments have clear and reasonable design guidelines in place before companies apply to build facilities, for example, the companies have to follow them. Localities are also allowed to mandate that some—but not all—equipment be put underground.

    The FCC included these exemptions to avoid legal blowback, especially from the historic preservation movement, Mitchell says.

    “If you can imagine an antennae on the Alamo, or on the grounds of the state capital, or a historic district somewhere—imagine an ugly antennae at Gettysburg!” he said. “Those are the sorts of things I think they wanted to avoid.”

    But advocates of the technology maintain that 5G equipment is not particularly obtrusive, especially compared to traditional wireless infrastructure. “It makes very little sense,” reads a letter from an Ohio state representative to the FCC, “for rules designed for 100-foot cell towers to govern the path to deployment for modern equipment called small cells that can fit into a pizza box.”

  2. WSJ: 5G Is Still a Tough Call

    The truest sign of 5G’s resilience may end up being its ability to survive a deafening level of hype.

    5G’s long-term future is largely a given, but the timing is highly uncertain. 5G service will be available in only a handful of U.S. cities this year, and the still-evolving nature of the standard means most people will only get incremental upgrades to the speeds that they get with today’s 4G/LTE services. In a report Monday, a team of Cowen analysts predicted that “true 5G” services won’t materialize until 2022, at the earliest.

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