City of Aspen dialing in 5G capabilities |

City of Aspen dialing in 5G capabilities

It’s time for the densification of Aspen, elected officials agreed Monday.

Densification is a key element to enable 5G mobile networks, which is the next generation for wireless communications that city officials expect will land here soon.

And when it does, the city should be ready in terms of technological infrastructure and legalities to regulate providers who will come in wanting approvals for small cells, said Paul Schultz, the city’s IT director.

Small cells are essential to 5G networks because they can transmit very large amounts of data short distances, which helps address users’ insatiable appetites for more devices and faster speeds.

But instead of large-cell towers mounted on top of buildings or disguised as fake trees, small cells involve more antennas in places like light poles or chimneys, or underground.

When providers like Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile or AT&T come to the city for approval for their small-cell 5G networks, officials will have several elements to consider that are not currently in the land-use code.

So the IT department and Assistant City Attorney Andrea Bryan have been working together to update the code and formulate regulations.

“We are concerned about the aesthetics of them,” Schultz said, adding public safety also is a factor. “Quite frankly, this stuff is coming … the FCC is pushing it as fast as possible.”

5G will work alongside 4G networks, which is what wireless users rely on today. But as more devices come online — think smart cars — more capacity will be required.

Bryan said the city has received inquiries from providers on what its 5G capabilities and regulations are.

While the city is adapting to the changing landscape, state and federal laws governing wireless providers are shifting as well and mandate that municipalities review applications within a specific timeframe, Bryan said.

“This is coming. When, we don’t know, but we want to be prepared,” she said. “We think it’s sooner rather than later.”

Aspen City Council on Monday agreed that 5G infrastructure is a priority for staff to focus on, which Schultz said he expects to be a multi-year process.

“I’m glad it’s a priority and that our leadership recognizes the importance of it,” he said.

He and Bryan will meet with council in a work session next week on the issue.