5G towers start to pop up in St. Lawrence County

CANTON — Towers for 5G cellular technology are starting to pop up in St. Lawrence County, but don’t expect to see too many of them.

“There will be 5G coverage in some places, but not in all places. It’s just too cost-prohibitive to build these smaller towers that need to be so close to areas. We’ll see them in more of the population centers. So we’ll see this but we won’t see it everywhere,” St. Lawrence County Planning Office Director Jason Pfotenhauer told members of the St. Lawrence County Planning Board this week.

He said 5G (5th generation) was “the latest and greatest in cellular technology. It’s bigger, you can push more data through a 5G system, it’s stronger, you’ll have good connectivity and it’s very fast. One description was you can download a full-length movie in a few seconds with a strong 5G signal.”

But there are drawbacks.

“5G does not work as well as 4G indoors or at greater distances. The result is a need for Distributed Antenna Systems,” Pfotenhauer said.

Those Distributed Antenna Systems would include more towers and ground fixtures that supply power and data to the towers.

“What does this mean for St. Lawrence County municipalities? 5G will be in some places, but not all,” he said.

Pfotenhauer said there are currently about 130 4G cell towers in the county, although some of the larger towers have 5G transmitters.

“That’s great. The problem with 5G is the distance because it’s pushing so much strength through the air, you need to have a multitude of these towers. The range I’ve read is from a couple hundred yards up to a mile. So if you put a 5G antenna on a cell tower, that’s great, but it’s only going to be receivable from people who live in close proximity. It means you need a whole new system,” he said.

He said, along with the towers, they would need power boxes that supply power and data.

“There needs to be some power source close by as well as some connection to usually a fiber line into that antenna that disburses the signal,” Pfotenhauer said.

He said that by looking at provider maps for services like T-Mobile, Verizon or AT&T, individuals could see the areas where there’s fair coverage, good coverage or no coverage.

“There is a 5G signal here now from some towers. It will never say poor coverage. It just says fair coverage or good coverage or no coverage,” he said.

He said most municipalities have telecommunications laws that mainly address cell towers that are 200 feet high. The language reads, “All new towers, whether owned or leased, shall be located on a single parcel and set back from abutting residential parcels, public property or street or road right-of-way lines a distance sufficiently to substantially contain on-site icefall or debris from tower failure and preserve the privacy of abutting residential properties.”

It continues, “All tower bases shall be set back a minimum distance of one-and-one half (1.5) times the height of the tower. Lot size shall be determined by the amount of land required to meet the setback requirements.”

“This is a standard language from a lot of the telecommunications laws that we have. They don’t address smaller towers that are going to be very prolific around the municipality. It’s really not practical anymore to have these towers set back or to have them 1.5 times the height of the tower for setback. So this thinking needs to change a little bit in these laws and there needs to be some revision to allow for this new type of tower element,” Pfotenhauer said.


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