How to Create Smarter Smart Cities

By working to understand all facets of the issues inherent in building and sustaining urban, small cell wireless infrastructure, we can make cities smarter for future generations

By David A. Wigdahl

Wireless mobile network operators will soon launch the first 5G networks. The new networks, which have higher speeds, lower latency, and more bandwidth, are going to change everything for the millions of urban citizens using increasingly data-hungry devices. The demand is expected to increase 800 percent within the next five years.

The 5G networks will enable the Internet of Things (IoT) to become a reality, with access to information at incredible speeds via in-phone apps and online websites. There’s the potential for a host of future enhancements, too, and eventually it will enable things like self-driving cars, high-res video multicasting, networked robots, virtual reality and more.

Key to implementing the IoT are small cell wireless networks, strategically placed throughout populated urban and suburban centers. They allow mobile network operators the ability to provide the required bandwidth, and with a much smaller footprint than the tall “macro” cell towers familiar to most people.

Indeed, small cells are not macro towers, placed on the back end of a parking lot or on top of a water tower. To be effective, small cells must be located close to the ground in the middle of everything. In other words, where the users are. In many cases, this means right in a front yard.

Sadly, small cell deployments vary widely in appearance because the industry has no set standards. In some communities, small cells have been expanding with little regard to site selection or aesthetics. The need to “build now” has outrun the need for thoughtful and deliberate planning. As a result, ugly or poorly sited installations have led to “not in my front yard” ordinances and litigation, conjuring up the NIMBY fights that took place over the macro cell towers in the 1990s.

Meanwhile, the “take it or leave it” attitude of some mobile network service providers has created an adversarial relationship with community officials who, while recognizing the need to implement it, feel that it’s being forced on them with little or no input.

A local mayor described it this way: “We’re told, ‘Hold your nose and take your medicine.’ The federal government tells us, ‘It’s going up whether you like it or not.’ In the end, we feel pressure to act, even if we’re not convinced we’ll like what we’ll get.”

I hear these types of comments frequently from public officials who – while balancing the needs of public agencies and private landowners — are being bombarded with data, and who want answers. My response: There’s a better way, you have alternatives, and you have a voice.

Not everyone knows, for example, that there’s a pole available that’s aesthetically pleasing, environmentally friendly — no toxic chemicals — and competitively priced. It comes in customized shapes and finishes, including telescoping poles, to meet the historical or other special requirements of a neighborhood or community.

There’s also an opportunity for communities to develop revenue-generating leases with mobile network operators and other service providers.

There’s a real opportunity for all parties to take a cooperative, transparent approach in the race to implement small cell technology.

Once implemented, there’s potential to add services down the line (energy management, security, entertainment), and for revenue, since the “smart city” designation has been known to attract new businesses to a community.

These are just a few of the benefits that thoughtfully-planned and implemented smart cities enjoy.

There’s a real opportunity for all parties to take a cooperative, transparent approach in the race to implement small cell technology. Public officials have the right to say, “I’m not taking this” until they’re fully aware of what “this” is. Carriers, meanwhile, can be more specific about exactly what they’re offering municipalities. There are options available, and the potential for both parties to make money.

With 30 years in wireless site construction and cell site maintenance, I formed nepsa solutions last year to work with municipalities and mobile network operators seeking viable and profitable solutions to unchecked, unplanned chaos. We act as an intermediary, with technology, advice and a voice of reason that’s sometimes absent in the rush to implement small cell wireless technology.

Government officials are smart, and becoming smarter every day. By working to build and sustain the urban small cell wireless infrastructure, we can build the brain and make cities smarter for future generations.

David A. Wigdahl is President of nepsa solutions, which helps municipalities and mobile network operators execute cost-effective, aesthetically pleasing smart city solutions. He can be reached at