Verizon Wireless has been issued a permit from the San Juan County Department of Community Development to install a new 4G LTE cell site on the rooftop of Island Automotive and Napa Auto Parts. Verizon has signed a lease agreement with property owner Perry Pugh.
“This location was selected because it satisfies zoning and radio frequency engineering requirements,” Verizon media relations manager Heidi Flato said. “As more people are doing more things, in more places, with more mobile devices, we’ve seen a dramatic increase in voice and data traffic on our network. We only expect that trend to increase. Verizon customers will experience improved network performance in the residential areas in Eastsound, within an area roughly located east to North Beach Road west to Gibson Road north to Brandt’s Landing Road and south to Crescent Beach Road.”
Construction is expected to start during the first quarter of 2020. The proposed telecommunication facility will consist of one antenna, “associated auxiliary equipment” and cabinets that will house radio equipment and batteries.
Several years ago, San Juan County passed a joint-use wireless ordinance that allowed for an expedited permitting process for networks that agree to follow certain criteria.
“We don’t want to have free, stand-alone cell towers. We encourage antennas on rooftops,” said County Councilmember Rick Hughes. “The biggest concern when drafting the joint use wireless ordinance was sightliness. We didn’t want eye-sore towers. We said, ‘If you did things on existing power poles or buildings, the permitting would be an easier process.” They would have to adhere to OPALCO’s best practices, for example, power poles right at the tree line. I think the intent was less on what was being installed but more on how it looked. Those drafting the ordinance didn’t want there to be a negative aesthetic impact.”
In 2014, OPALCO purchased an FCC-licensed frequency, 700MHz, and in 2015 the co-op acquired Rock Island Communications. The frequency of 700 MHz is defined as being characterized for propagation — in other words, the signals can penetrate buildings and walls easily and can be used to cover larger geographic areas with less infrastructure, relative to frequencies in higher bands. This 700MHz spectrum is the same as T-Mobile’s Extended Range LTE. This made it painless for Rock Island and T-Mobile to enter into a moneyless agreement to share assets, leading to more wireless internet coverage and better communications for public safety in areas where fiber installation has not been feasible.
“We’re a very fortunate community because of this relationship we have with Rock Island, OPALCO and T-Mobile,” Hughes said. “Most small communities don’t have this technology yet.”
Currently, T-Mobile houses antenna and wireless telecommunication technology on almost 40 utility poles county-wide, which provides LTE wireless internet connections to many through Rock Island.
For Verizon, in order to support anticipated wireless demands, the team is building new wireless facilities where customers will want to use their service, Flato said, adding they haven’t announced any plans for launching Verizon’s 5G Ultra Wideband network in the area.
The designation of 4G means the fourth generation of cellular communications, which can be up to 10 times faster than 3G networks. The term 5G is the fifth-generation of wireless technology that began reaching communities in 2019. The frequency spectrum of 5G is divided into millimeter waves, and critics say the radiofrequency radiation has health implications for humans living near the cell sites.
Said Hughes: “How do we preserve the past but move forward with the future? While the county is neutral on development, we just have to plan for what the development might be.”