Looking ahead to the coming years, a group of business, technology and telecommunications leaders took steps to outline a road map for New York’s next mayor to bring next-generation connectivity, 5G, to all corners of New York City in what they considered to be a crucial step toward maintaining economic competitiveness and ensuring a full and fair post-pandemic recovery.
Transit Wireless, a telecommunications company based in New York, took a leading role in publicizing the road map with a statement the company issued in July.
“In recent years, New York City has fallen behind in the deployment of infrastructure necessary to establish a robust 5G network,” the statement reads, “which will allow an unprecedented amount of data to be transmitted by mobile devices at speeds up to 100 times faster than the current 4G standard and will impact every aspect of modern life — from health care, remote work, and education to transportation, commerce, and public safety.”
The COVID-19 crisis highlighted and exacerbated the digital divide, underscoring that all New Yorkers require robust, reliable and fast connectivity to succeed in an increasingly digital world, according to Transit Wireless.
“With millions of dollars earmarked by Washington for improved connectivity, the next mayor must maximize this unique opportunity to deliver the next-generation online access that ensures the success of city residents, organizations and businesses for years to come,” the statement reads. “According to a recent poll by Siena College Research Institute, more than half (57 percent) of New York City business leaders say that if 5G does not soon become available, the city’s reputation as a global hub of innovation, creativity and media would suffer, and one-in-five say they would consider leaving the city.”
According to Transit Wireless, the 5G blueprint recommends industry and government alignment on a comprehensive 5G rollout plan, consolidation of all city technology policy under a single deputy mayor and collaboration with industry to expedite universal 5G service. It recommends that the city make more municipal-owned infrastructure available for small cell deployment and that it alleviates wireless congestion and approves multicarrier small cell design and enhances rooftop antenna and equipment size.
According to the 5G blueprint, 5G is the next generation of wireless connectivity, and a 5G network would allow an unprecedented amount of data to be transmitted to and from mobile devices at speeds as much as 100 times faster than the 4G standard, with the ability to connect 100 times the number of devices.
“More broadly,” the blueprint reads, “5G will play a pivotal role in all our lives. It will make the device in your hand even more effective, expand access to public health and medical services, ensure that students can effectively learn online, strengthen public safety tools for first responders and keep New York’s economy competitive.”
In recent years, New York has fallen behind other cities in deployment of 5G, threatening its competitive position in a rapidly digitizing economy, according to the blueprint. It said that expanding 5G infrastructure is critical to New York’s economic recovery from the pandemic. Effectively deploying 5G could as many as 291,000 jobs within 10 years and add billions of dollars to the city’s gross domestic product, the blueprint said. It said the industry is committed to making this happen, but can only succeed in partnership with a supportive local government.
“Closing the digital divide and expanding connectivity for all New Yorkers requires that industry and government agencies synchronize their efforts, with a common understanding of the obstacles and a shared commitment to overcome them,” the blueprint reads. “The COVID-19 crisis has demonstrated that reliable and fast online access is not a privilege, but a necessity. It is imperative that we act now to ensure residents, businesses and organizations across the five boroughs don’t get left behind.”
The blueprint said that wireless carriers are prepared to spend billions of dollars on the 5G rollout and are anxious to begin deploying 5G technology. It said that the spending and deployment require acceleration and central coordination of lengthy review and approval periods by multiple city agencies. Over the past year, according to the blueprint, the New York City Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications (DoITT) has promoted 5G deployment efforts and has expedited the approval process, but other agencies also need to get support this effort.
According to the blueprint, local government needs to develop a comprehensive 5G rollout plan, consolidate management of information technology (IT) functions and collaborate with industry to achieve universal 5G service quickly.
“Industry and local government need to align on a comprehensive plan to build out 5G across New York City,” the blueprint reads. “This plan must establish goals and timeframes and explain to New Yorkers what fully implemented 5G service will mean to them, their families and their businesses.”
In consolidating IT functions, the blueprint said that at present, a half-dozen city agencies are required to review and approve 5G infrastructure. It said that the mayor should empower the DoITT Commissioner to work across agencies and manage the relationships with private sector partners to efficiently roll out enhanced connectivity in New York City. According to the blueprint, the next city administration should consolidate all the city’s technology policy under a deputy mayor charged with ensuring that New York is at the forefront of broadband and telecommunications infrastructure, information systems development and procurement, and the use of data to manage city services.
The city government should collaborate with industry to achieve universal 5G service quickly, the blueprint said, by making more pole and strategic locations available, alleviating wireless congestion in 5G small cell and rooftop networks and maximizing federal funding.
With poles and strategic locations, the city already announced a new process for carriers to reserve municipal-owned traffic infrastructure where small cells can be installed, but the quantity and quality of those locations falls short of what is needed, according to the blueprint. For example, the blueprint said, street intersections provide the most efficient and effective locations for 5G small cells, but carriers are unable to reserve street poles at intersections with traffic signals, which is where network capacity is critical.
“The city significantly limited 5G small cell construction in the jobs and economic centers of the region where there is the greatest network congestion,” the blueprint reads. “It also imposes restrictive and outdated rules for rooftop networks. Allowing the wireless industry to identify where demand is greatest will realize the greatest economic impact as the city struggles to recover from the pandemic, while ensuring equitable access to services in disadvantaged communities. In addition, the city has not approved a design for small cells that would allow more than one carrier to share a street pole, nor has it modernized its rules for rooftop wireless facilities. These approvals should be expedited, since they are necessary to accelerate the rollout of 5G. For example, carriers are unable to reserve street poles at intersections with traffic signals, which is where network capacity is most needed.”
On the subject of federal funding, the blue print said that the Biden administration is committing substantial federal funding to help states and localities meet the broadband and connectivity needs as part of COVID-19 recovery. It said the commitment represents an opportunity for the city and industry to combine resources to secure and make use of federal aid in providing equipment and services to those who are unable to afford it.
Ten industry, economic development and technology leaders expressed their views in connection with the 5G blueprint.
Kathryn Wylde, president and CEO of Partnership for New York City, said that achieving universal, high-speed digital access is a top priority for the city’s recovery and continued growth. “This can only be accomplished through a strong partnership between industry and local government — a relationship that has been launched under the de Blasio administration, but must be embraced by our next mayor.”
Clayton Banks, co-founder and CEO of Silicon Harlem, said that New York City is at a crossroads. “It is incumbent on the next mayor to take us down the road of equity, success and affordability for all,” Banks said. “That simply cannot occur without widespread access to next-generation connectivity. We must close the digital divide of today while laying the groundwork to avoid recreating the technological inequalities of tomorrow.”
Thomas J. Grech, president and CEO of the Queens Chamber of Commerce, said that it is well past time for the city to recognize the immediate need to improve connectivity for New York residents and businesses, particularly small businesses that are still struggling to survive in the wake of the pandemic. “New York must lay the groundwork for the citywide implementation of 5G as soon as possible,” Grech said. “In doing so, we will be looking forward, helping small businesses avoid service gaps — and all the problems that come with them — in the future.”
Melva M. Miller, CEO of Association for a Better New York, said that the past year demonstrated how deeply the people of New York are interconnected. “We can do business across neighborhoods, borders and even oceans — as long as we have the appropriate technology in place and equitable access to it,” Miller said. “This blueprint provides the foundation to enable the next mayor to fast-track the city’s recovery effort and position it for long-term economic success that benefits all New Yorkers.”
Randy Peers, president and CEO of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, said that small businesses across New York City have been hit particularly hard during COVID, yet many have managed to pivot their business model and adopt better technology to stay in business. “All these changes will be for naught, however, if our digital infrastructure continues to significantly lag behind what is needed for today’s economic realities,” Peers said. “We need 5G now, and we would urge the new administration to make this one of their key economic development priorities.”
Ana Rua, government affairs manager for New York City and state at Crown Castle International, said that the industry is anxious to partner with the incoming administration to deliver on the significant and widespread benefits of next-generation technology for all New Yorkers. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Rua said, “and it is mission-critical that we get it right. We stand ready to assist the next mayor in this transformational effort and have outlined a clear path forward to achieve that success.”
Andy Saldaña, executive director of NY Tech Alliance, said that to remain a global leader of innovation and industry, it is imperative that New York City’s technology infrastructure advance with the needs of its citizens and businesses. “From helping students complete their homework to a startup developing products and services,” Saldana said, “equal access to this next-gen connectivity will both impact our ability to remain at the cutting-edge and the future economic success of our city.”
Patricia Jacobs, president of AT&T’s Northern Region, said that the wireless broadband sector is ready to accelerate efforts to bring next-generation connectivity to New York City with significant capital investments. “We are proud to work with this diverse group of industry, economic development, and technology leaders to put forward a comprehensive plan to bring 5G to every corner of the five boroughs,” Jacobs said. “We hope our next mayor will support and embrace our efforts.”
Kristin Steiner, senior vice president of sales and strategic partnerships for Transit Wireless, said that the company looks forward to collaborating with the diverse group of 5G road map stakeholders to deliver industry-leading 5G technology in New York City. “Next-generation connectivity will be at the forefront as we partner to close the digital divide, ensure the City’s recovery and help facilitate its future growth,” Steiner said.
James Whelan, president of the Real Estate Board of New York, said that ensuring widespread access to next-generation connectivity would play an important role in strengthening New York City’s economy as the city continues on the path to long-term recovery. “REBNY is pleased to work with this broad coalition of stakeholders to advocate for sensible strategies focused on ending the digital divide and promoting an equitable recovery for all New Yorkers,” Whelan said.
Don Bishop is executive editor and associate publisher of AGL Magazine.