AT&T working to deploy discrete small 5G cells on city streetlights


AT&T announced today that it will test new 5G small cell radios that can hide on top of street lamp posts. The new radios are the result of a collaboration between AT&T, manufacturer of mobile technology Ericsson and Ubicquia, supplier of urban solutions.

“It’s virtually invisible from street level,” Gordon Mansfield, AT&T’s VP of mobility access & architecture, wrote in a company blog post. Mansfield praised that these new low-/mid-band 5G radios can be deployed on streetlights within 15 minutes. “No long wires and big, bulky boxes – a real aesthetic improvement,” Mansfield wrote.

Anything that helps to integrate 5G is a good thing, as there is also “ground furniture” and a target of vandalism to worry about. These new small mobile radios are no substitute for the much faster but more visible mmWave antennas that can only cover a few city blocks. But since the new radios are powered by streetlights and connected to nearby fiber optics, it could reduce the need to build more self-contained small cell towers in cities.

This small cell tower looks like a street lamppost in downtown baltimore, md.

The need to build more of these self-contained towers can be reduced by adding new small mobile radios to existing street lighting.
Image: Umar Shakiro

Street lighting has become a pillar for many modern technologies in cities. By piggybacking on existing infrastructure, technology such as public Wi-Fi access points, security cameras and shot-detection sensors can be placed on the posts. There are even companies like Ubitricity that are adding electric vehicle charging to street lighting.

It would be welcome to get more reliable 5G data connections in cities without the unsightly boxes that scatter city blocks – especially if it means deploying them in communities with more underserved services that don’t have good connectivity. But AT&T is only “ready” to start using the small cells, which the company tried out last year. “We are now in field testing and deploying commercially available units in multiple cities,” Mansfield wrote.

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