As major U.S. wireless carriers gradually roll out 5G — the next generation in cellular technology that will carry faster speeds — they’re giving existing 4G networks a boost in Tucson with the introduction of more small cell poles across the city.
The poles are designed to enhance broadband coverage in high-demand areas. Tucson has about 70 small cell poles but providers want to install hundreds more.
“We have over 200 permits that have been submitted as of now to construct more throughout the city limits,” said Erica Frazelle, a spokesperson for the city’s Transportation Department.
The department reviews applications and gives providers permission to work in the public right of way. Once the city grants a permit, providers have 90 days to complete construction. Afterward, the city owns the pole, according to Frazelle. She said the city began receiving more applications a few years ago shortly after a new state law significantly lowered maintenance fees for providers from upwards of $3,000 to $100 a year.
Most poles are located downtown and around the University of Arizona, but dozens more are permitted to go up in midtown and on the south side.
“I think we’re all into having fast internet. Everything we do is internet based, so having that ability and having these poles so close to where you are is a positive,” Frazelle said.
Frazelle added that poles installed by Verizon are equipped with technology that can support 5G. In a statement, Verizon said it has not announced 5G plans for Tucson, but in August the company began offering 5G service in parts of Phoenix, along with Sprint.