City council discusses 5G

Published 4:00 am Friday, March 29, 2019

At its council retreat Tuesday, the LaGrange City Council looked at how to remain a leader in technology and also considered the possibility of providing 5G communication inside the city.

Back in 2000, the City of LaGrange was recognized as the “Intelligent Community of the Year” by the Intelligent Community Forum in recognition of the city’s leadership in broadband development. Now, the city is again trying to keep up with the constantly changing technology.

“Technology has come a long way in the last 20 years, and so we need to hear what is on the horizon and what the future might be in terms of what’s possible for us as a community,” LaGrange Mayor Jim Thornton said.

The presentation began by providing information on 5G. Its uses range from self-driving cars to remote surgery, but also includes technology regularly used, such as video doorbells and thermostats.

“You hear all the time about 5G,” said Alan Slaughenhaupt, LaGrange’s IT director. “We went from 1G, 2G, 3G, 4G into 5G. What is it? In my brain, it was going to be, ‘Oh, it’s 4G, but it’s going to be faster,’ but what we are going to find out is it is huge. It is way beyond just being faster.”

According to Slaughenhaupt, 5G is a standard, not a technology and is defined by speeds of greater than 20 Gb/s and latency of less than 1 millisecond. Latency is the time between when information is sent and when it is received.

“It is going to be huge for businesses,” Slaughenhaupt said. “Virtual training — you’ll put on some virtual glasses, [and] you’re in a classroom. You’re watching an instructor in Chicago, and he’s training you on something that you are going to do — it could be factory work — but it is real time.”

The exact cost of bringing 5G to the City of LaGrange was not discussed during the meeting, but the city council did remain conscientious of ways to recuperate money spent installing 5G.

“Years ago, we all had antennas, and I said when I was a child, ‘They are going to figure out a way that you are going to have to pay for this,’” Council Member Willie Edmondson said. “Sure enough, cable came in… Is the city on top of it on ways we are going to capitalize or make money?”

Slaughenhaupt’s recommendation was to take advantage of assets that the city already has in terms of right-of-way, fiber infrastructure and its status as a telecom and utility provider to build and operate its own transmitters which could be leased to multiple wireless providers. In addition to income that would likely come from the proposal long-term, city 5G installation could make the service available to residents as much as a decade before it would be otherwise.

“The City of LaGrange, Georgia, isn’t even on the road map,” Slaughenhaupt said. “They said smaller cities within 3 to 5 years. I will bet it’s 10 [years] because there is just so much infrastructure that has to go in, and they are looking for the big bang for their dollar. … I don’t want to get left behind as a small city.”

Another factor discussed was that 5G would require more transmitters to cover a space compared to 4G. Maintaining the communication standard could require a transmitter every 200 yards in each direction, but it would be able to serve up to a million devices in a half square mile area, which could eventually become a need with items that use wireless technology like refrigerators, coffee makers and lighting.

Slaughenhaupt said the transmitters could be covered or attached to lampposts, so that they would blend in and could be installed inside buildings. City installation would also discourage carriers from installing several poles at one location to serve multiple providers. The city likely couldn’t force carriers to use the poles, but it would be less expensive to lease space than to install and maintain new poles.

Council Member LeGree McCamey noted that by installing and leasing its own poles, the city would also be able to control what the poles look like, instead of being stuck with whatever service providers find cost efficient. Council Member Nathan Gaskin asked about seeking partnerships on the project with major corporations that plan to use the service, like Amazon. Council Member Mark Mitchell noted possible law enforcement applications.

No action was taken by the council on Tuesday, but the council agreed that 5G options should receive further review.

The LaGrange City Council will meet again on April 9 at 5:30 p.m. at 208 Ridley Avenue.