Wireless technologies have become an essential part of daily life in the 21st century. They enable us to connect with one another in unprecedented ways, make efficient use of our time, and improve our lives in innumerable ways.

To function, wireless devices must be able to connect to cellular sites that provide reliable coverage both indoors and outdoors. This requires the placement of sites near densely populated urban areas, which creates new challenges for both the wireless industry and local governments.

The next-generation cellular technology, 5G will enable greater functionality, but its complexity has increased the burden on municipalities and government agencies. Going forward, as the demand for 5G capabilities continues to rise, it is critical that key stakeholders in the cellular ecosystem work hand in hand to streamline approval and licensing negotiations as well as deployment planning and activation.

Potential of 5G

Wireless communication can be referred to as the “fifth utility”. Unfortunately, the pandemic has exposed the digital divide in more ways than one. For instance, according to the Lokniti-CSDS study, before the lockdown only 16 per cent of households in India had access to a computer or a laptop while only 10 per cent had an internet connection. This digital divide has risked the exclusion of thousands of Indians from the cloud-based vaccine portal, which requires internet access.

With regard to the implementation of next-generation wireless communication networks, it is of utmost importance that technologists, carriers, policymakers, etc. remain cognisant of the fact that these telco solutions must be deployed equitably.

This has the potential to improve the lives of Indians lacking reliable wireless communication capabilities at a fundamental level. It will enable them to participate in an increasingly global economy, keep pace with educational innovation and change, and connect with friends and family.

How to bridge the digital divide

The days are over when local government officials were primarily focused on zoning and planning with respect to telecommunications deployment. Having moved firmly into the 4G era with one eye on future networks, local governments are now more involved than ever in deployment. It mostly takes place on public property such as light poles and utility poles, as opposed to private property, which is where deployment has historically occurred.

This shift has had several notable impacts: 

  • The number of applications for localised telecommunication solutions has increased dramatically. It is expected that this trend will continue to grow as our use of wireless communications has grown exponentially over the past several years and certainly over the course of the pandemic.
  • Public works are now the primary drivers of telecommunication deployment as opposed to planning, zoning, or real estate entities. This has fundamentally changed the dynamic of network deployment, as cities are now responsible for something that is relatively new. Cities tend to be effective at managing parks, sidewalks, street lights, waste management and all the things that we typically associate with local governments, but are relatively inexperienced when it comes to wireless facilities in the public right of way.

The local governments are not only responsible for working with the wireless industry seeking to deploy future networks, they are also on the hook for approving and permitting upgrades to existing 3G and 4G networks, which pose additional challenges. Moreover, challenges associated with funding staff time to manage these programmes will always exist.

Public officials at the local level will bear the additional responsibility of network deployment, moving forward. Thus, it is important that policymakers understand the language of telecommunications.