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Getting Pittsburgh Ready for 5G!

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By Jonathan Hart, Government Affairs Director, Crown Castle Western Pennsylvania is known for its rich industrial history, and now the region is beginning to gain attention for being a forward-looking visionary. As the area builds its tech hub portfolio, both the public and private sectors have a role to play in ensuring we stay ahead of the innovation curve. At Crown Castle, our role in this exciting landscape is building the communications infrastructure required to enable the next generation of wireless communications, known as 5G. While cell towers have traditionally enabled the capabilities of wireless networks, a new type of infrastructure, known as small cell nodes, is required for 5G technology. These small and inconspicuous nodes are typically installed on pre-existing infrastructure, such as streetlights and utility poles. Once connected, these small cells help unleash the future potential of our wireless networks. Internet of Things (IoT) applications, everything from smart cities to smart farms, wearables to autonomous vehicles, will be enabled by 5G: the next-generation wireless network. However, 5G is more of a revolution than it is an evolution from the 4G that we currently experience on our wireless devices. According to Qualcomm, 5G networks promise to be at least 20 times faster and capable of handling 100 times the data capacity. While 4G ushered in the era of mobile internet, 5G will enable interconnected and controlled machines, objects and devices such as autonomous vehicles, home appliances and countless smart city applications that stand to make our communities smarter, safer and more resilient. In the U.S., human error is linked to 94% of serious traffic accidents; this number can be lowered with the help of connected vehicles. The U.S. Department of Transportation estimates that over 80% of non-impaired incidents could be mitigated by the implementation of connected vehicle technology. Today, 99.9% of all vehicles on the road do not have the technology to enable full autonomy. However, according to projections, it is estimated that by the year 2040, 95% of new vehicles sold, or 96.3 million cars, will be fully autonomous. Further, according to projections there will be 20.4 billion connected IoT devices by 2020, up from just 8.4 billion in 2017. In Pittsburgh, Uber and Carnegie Mellon University are international leaders in the autonomous vehicles space. But, they are not the only entities making significant investments in autonomous vehicles and other IoT applications. Other companies such as Argo AI, Aurora, Aptive Services and Ectobox are also making a name for themselves in the IoT arena. Here in Pennsylvania, the PA Partnership for 5G is bringing together thought leaders from across the public and private sectors to form a unified front as a means of ensuring that Pittsburgh and other communities across the Commonwealth are ready for 5G. Crown Castle and the Pittsburgh Technology Council have been prominent members of the Partnership, working to educate the broader population about 5G and all it will enable. The purpose of the Partnership is to support statewide legislation that sets uniform standards for fees and provides a streamlined and transparent process to deploy small cell nodes. To date, 21 other state legislatures have passed small cell legislation, with experts predicting that “numerous states” will pass similar legislation in 2019. PA lawmakers have already begun conversations in the name of ensuring our communities are 5G-ready. Last year, Rep. Frank Farry (R-Bucks) introduced The Small Wireless Facilities Deployment Act. That bill will be re-introduced in 2019, and forward-thinking Pennsylvanians should support it. Pittsburgh continues to be at the epicenter of technology investment and advancement, as evidenced by the consistent growth of our tech sector. But if our region wants to continue our pioneering history in innovation, our legislators need to come along for the ride and adopt statewide legislation that supports the 5G rollout.