Carr: 5G Upgrade Order will make antenna swaps faster, more predictable

radio tower
The order continues a multi-year effort by Congress and the FCC to eliminate delays in 5G rollouts. (Pixabay)

With the 5G Upgrade Order on the FCC’s next open meeting agenda, the agency will be looking to update its rules governing how existing macro towers are treated as opposed to the new small cells that were part of earlier efforts to smooth the transition to 5G.

FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr said his order continues a multi-year effort by Congress and the FCC to eliminate delays in 5G rollouts. The order will be considered by the full commission at its June 9 meeting.

The commission’s infrastructure policy so far has focused on updating its regulations to reflect new technology like small cells. Most notably, the commission modernized its approach to federal historic preservation and environmental review governing wireless infrastructure to accommodate small cell technology, according to the draft order (PDF). It also has addressed outlier conduct at the state and local government levels that slowed down deployment and increased costs.

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RELATED: FCC approves new rules aimed at speeding deployment of small cells and 5G

But that’s not enough, and the FCC acknowledged as much when it drafted the 5G Upgrade Order, which clarifies some of the FCC’s 2014 rules. Rural areas, in particular, are more likely to rely on macro towers rather than small cells and the rules there needed to be clarified, Carr said.

“This decision will help them swap those 3G and 4G antennas out for new 5G ones on a much faster, predictable scale,” he told FierceWireless in an interview Wednesday. “If we can streamline the swap-out process, that will help boost and accelerate 5G builds.”

It could also help public safety as FirstNet continues to build out and could take advantage some of the streamlining too, he suggested.

Carr said that as they went through the comment period, he heard “loud and clear” that when an ugly cell site goes up, it’s the state and local officials who are going to hear about it. The new order specifies what new equipment qualifies for streamlined approval and clarifies how local governments’ concealment and aesthetic conditions of approval apply.

The 60-day shot clock for local approvals already exists, but given there were some uncertainties under certain circumstances, the 5G Upgrade Order clarifies when the clock begins.

About those 5G conspiracy theories…

Carr took to Twitter last week to address some of the conspiracy theories about 5G and safety, including the hoax going around that 5G somehow caused COVID-19. Those kinds of hoaxes have inspired some vandals to go so far as to set infrastructure on fire and commit other acts of violence.

“The bottom line is there’s nothing new here,” Carr said. Conspiracy theories about the safety of RF go back to 3G and 4G and can even be traced to the days when AM and FM radio signals were being introduced. The problem is, they spread faster nowadays with social media.

Some try to argue that 5G is different because it operates on higher frequency bands for which there are no federal RF limits, but that’s not true. The FCC’s limits go up to 100 GHz, which is higher than the spectrum 5G operates on, Carr said via Twitter.

While it’s worthwhile to point out the fallacies of these types of arguments – “we try to speak to these issues” – in the end, there are going to be a certain number of “tin-foil hat” people who are never going to be persuaded, he said. 

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