Small Cells Invade Steel City


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Using current infrastructure around the city, AT&T rolled out its 5G network in Pittsburgh in December. It’s one of the first phases of a nationwide plan, but the debut has been relatively quiet. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that the fifth-generation network is only available to a small number of users with a Samsung Galaxy Note10+ 5G phone.

Though 5G has just arrived, some in the telecommunications and technology industries are already excited about 5G+. According to Brian Kennedy, senior vice president for operations and government affairs for the Pittsburgh Technology Council, “It’s difficult for me to give you 10 examples for how people will use [5G] because that idea is worth a billion dollars. The network is just the network. But what you do with the network is transformational for the future.” 

Kennedy told the Post-Gazette that the tech council has been in talks with all the major carriers about coming to Pittsburgh and hopes to see them all deploy by the end of the year. He added that the tech council is planning a competition to see what ideas local tech companies have for the new network. “Once people can connect to 5G in one city, it’s just going to take off,” Kennedy added. 

The Post-Gazette reported that AT&T would need to add more small cells to the mix as 5G expands across the city, and the carrier will cover costs for the buildout. According to David Kerr, president of external affairs for AT&T, Pennsylvania, the carrier has already invested $150 million in wireless and wireline networks between 2016 and 2018. However, it’s not known how much of that budget went specifically towards 5G.

Crown Castle has installed 40 nodes in Pittsburgh to date on behalf of AT&T, on light and utility poles, all matching the aesthetics of their surroundings. It takes 18 to 24 months to deploy a set of infrastructure, according to Renee Fleener Morales, a public affairs manager for Crown Castle.

Regarding the deployment of small cells, legislation is moving through the Pennsylvania House of Representatives to standardize and speed up the process of building small cells. “We need to have modern infrastructure that is going to keep pace with the technology that we all want to experience,” said Ashley Henry Shook, a spokesperson for the Pennsylvania Partnership for 5G.

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