Hundreds of tiny cellular antennas are in the pipeline for Santa Monica streets and could eventually mean fewer drop calls, faster streaming and better battery life for smart phones and tablets.
So far, all major cell phone providers have approached the City to install so-called “small cells” throughout the City. The Public Works department is processing 136 applications, anticipating as many as 300 over the next two years and 600 over the next five years. The small cells convert slow radio waves to fast light waves.
The City’s engineering technician, Paul McClaren, compares the small cells to doors that allow users access to a fiber optic speedway. Currently, Santa Monica infrastructure has too few doors, so people with their large packages of data get jammed as they try to jump onto the network. McClaren compares the network to a moving sidewalk that can carry pedestrians two-thousand times faster than walking.
“To solve the problem more entrances are built and spaced all over the City so you are never more than a short walk from an entrance,” McClaren said. “These entrances would be small cells. Because the carrying capacity of the moving sidewalk is nearly limitless, the difference the new entrances make is exponential.”
The small cells are barely noticeable, as the City requires them to blend in with existing infrastructure like streetlights. However, McClaren says “everyone will notice their (better) ability to stream data.”
The hundreds of applications have to be processed and in compliance with FCC guidelines and safety standards for frequency emissions. The FCC has passed a law that preempts local decisions premised on the environmental effects of radio frequency emissions.
The flood of new cells is the result of new technology, increasing demand for fast networks and several government initiatives on the local, state and national level. In August 2016, the City enacted a new ordinance that protects Santa Monica from uncontrolled expansion while streamlining the review process.