A company looking to place two new utility poles with cellular antennae along North Bridge Street says they will initially be connected for transmission of 4G signals rather than 5G signals that had raised some concerns about the project.
Dave Minger, Central Ohio permitting manager for Mobilitie LLC, told members of city council's Engineering Committee last week that the poles — one located in the vicinity of the Arby's restaurant and one located on the west side of Bridge Street just north of the strip mall in front of Sam's Club — have been requested by Sprint to boost its 4G cell signal in that area.
"These are initially intended as 4G hot spots," Minger told the Gazette. "Right now, you've got a lot of (cellular) traffic along Bridge Street, a lot of wireless demand, not enough capacity in the networks to serve all of that demand. Instead of building a new tower, which is big and quite visible, a small cell is proposed in the areas where the traffic concentration is greatest.
"What that does is it allows those small cells to absorb the calls in the immediate area to a radius of about 200 meters and to 150 simultaneous connections and free up space on the existing towers to handle the other stuff."
The utility poles will stand 40 feet tall and contain a small antenna on top. In order for the project to move forward, the city must approve use of public right of way for installation of the poles. The city's planning commission has already given its approval, and the next step is for city council to make a decision on the request.
Before the Engineering Committee agreed to move the item forward, members had several questions of Minger — the most common being whether these would be used to transmit 5G signals.
The 5G technology now being developed has been touted by telecommunications companies as offering data transmission speeds as much as 30 to 50 times faster than current 4G speeds, bolstered video quality and the ability to expand the types of devices that can be connected to the Internet.
It has come under some fire, however, because rolling out of 5G networks will require a greater number of transmitters to get the faster speeds from the higher-frequency signals involved. Those transmitters would be placed on poles such as the ones being requested on Bridge Street and similar small base stations mounted on buildings and elsewhere to move the signal along quickly.
That greater concentration of transmitters has raised concern from some who feel the increased signal transmission would boost the risk of cancer-related illness. The American Cancer Society, however, states there "is very little evidence" to support the idea that cell phone towers and technology increase cancer risks.
According to the society, the energy in radio frequency waves used in cellular technology is not high enough to break down chemical bonds in DNA, which is how x-rays and ultraviolet light in high exposure amounts can increase cancer risks. The long wavelength of radio frequency signals and the fact that the waves at ground level near poles and towers are minimal contribute to the society's conclusions.
Minger addressed Councilwoman Pat Patrick's concerns about health risks by noting that each of the two antennae would only have a 20-watt power output located 40 feet off the ground. The Federal Communications Commission threshold for an assumed safe output level is 1,000 watts, he noted, and that threshold is set at one-fiftieth of the level in which absorption of radiation that could impact tissues is believed to take place.
In addition, Minger estimated it would likely take several years before a 5G infrastructure would be needed in Chillicothe, with initial rollouts targeting large cities and college campuses where both population density and network demand are greatest.
The other significant concern voiced by committee members was in setting a precedent that could someday lead to other carriers wanting to flood the area with new utility poles. Due to infrastructure sharing requirements placed on certified utilities, as well as the cost and procedural hassles of getting a new pole installed, those concerns appeared to be minimized by the end of the evening.
Law director Sherri Rutherford will be asked to check on a couple of legal points and then prepare legislation for the new poles that will then go before the full council.
This article originally appeared on chillicothegazette.com.