How Increasing 5G Infrastructure May Impact Local Land Use

Land Development
Land Development Icon
[caption id="attachment_17616" align="alignright" width="200"] 5G Tower in Denver. Photo courtesy of Craig Karn, Consilium Design[/caption] 4G has dominated the mobile technology market for several years. But 5G (fifth generation wireless) is the next step in the tech evolution, and its rollout across the nation by major carriers could potentially impact many areas of the construction industry. "5G brings three new aspects to the table: bigger channels (to speed up data), lower latency (to be more responsive), and the ability to connect a lot more devices at once (for sensors and smart devices)," according to Sascha Segan of PCMag. Based on speeds and range, 5G offers three bandwidths: low-band, mid-band and high-band. The differences in these products, what they provide and where they are located may impact land use. 4G cell towers typically range from 50-200 feet in height and are often located in industrial or commercial areas. Their coverage range allows towers to be spaced miles apart. 5G, on the other hand — particularly the mid- and high-band cells — incorporates "small cells" that are smaller in size and must be installed closer together to support their high-power but short range. This will create a network of small cell sites with antennas as close as few hundred feet apart, potentially in residential areas. 5G small cells typically resemble small utility boxes and attach to poles shorter than those used for 4G. Along with the performance benefits of 5G — including higher data rates, lower latency and increased capacity — 5G has the potential to improve connectivity to education and rural Internet access. 5G may also improve efficiency for increasingly digital industries, such as green energy production. In 2018, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) issued an order that aims to accelerate deployment of 5G mainly by limiting state and local governments' powers to regulate their installation. The order changes the status quo by limiting local government authority to regulate new wireless infrastructure. For the first time, localities can pass 5G wireless siting ordinances only if they are:
  • Reasonable;
  • No more burdensome than those applied to other types of infrastructure; and
  • Objective and published in advance.
The order restricts communities that may wish to use minimum spacing requirements, aesthetic guidelines and/or underground requirements for 5G. It also caps the amount cities can charge for installation and implements a "shot clock," where jurisdictions must respond to a provider's application to install a cell site within a 60- or 90-day period based on the type of installation. Local wireless ordinances often go hand in hand with common community concerns regarding neighborhood character and property values. Concerns on the aesthetics, and even some questions on the unknown health effects, of 5G wireless towers have already prompted residents to form action groups. The fact that some 5G towers or cells must be placed within relatively short distances of each other creates concern based on the uncertainty of what that will look like for residential areas. In urban areas, it is easy to imagine new infrastructure hidden on top of buildings or on already existing street poles. These cells become less concealable in a neighborhood where the only available public right-of-way is the strip of grass between the sidewalk and the curb. Some have speculated that 5G will potentially close the technology access gap in rural areas. Yet, because of its densely spaced nature, 5G is most effective in densely populated areas where towers can be easily installed near or on existing infrastructure. Smaller cells could hypothetically be placed in rural neighborhoods, but a cell may only cover about 0.03 square miles each. To help members stay informed with the latest land use issues and solutions, NAHB offers a variety of land use resources in the Land Use 101 Toolkit. It features a variety of credentialed reports and presentations that can be used in local community conversations on land use and development. For more examples of how communities are responding to 5G ordinances, read the original post on For more information land use issues, contact program manager Nicholas Julian.

Subscribe to NAHBNow

Log in or create account to subscribe to notifications of new posts.

Log in to subscribe