News

Palo Alto looks to streetlights to address wireless needs

Mobilitie is the latest company to rely on city-owned poles for increasing data capacity

As Palo Alto's voracious appetite for wireless data continues to grow, local streetlight and utility poles are transforming into critical tools for telecom giants looking to expand and improve their coverage.

The latest of these, Nevada-based Mobilitie LLC, joined the increasingly crowded field on Monday night, when the City Council unanimously approved a "master license agreement" with the company that will pave the way for it to install cell and data-backhaul equipment on 16 street poles and three utility poles.

The agreement would be similar to those that the city had recently signed with ExteNet Systems, NextG Networks Inc., AT&T Mobility, Verizon Wireless and Wave (formerly known as Astound Broadband) -- companies that between them have either installed or are planning to install cell equipment at more than 200 sites throughout the city, according to a report from the Utilities Department.

The growing reliance on city-owned poles was spurred by several instances in which residents resisted larger facilities such as antennas and cell towers. In 2011, AT&T applied to install a cell antenna at the St. Albert the Great church in Crescent Park but saw its plans falter under neighborhood opposition. Three years later, Verizon encountered heavy resistance and a lawsuit from residents opposing its plan to install a cell tower at Palo Alto Little League field, though the company ultimately received the city's green light and prevailed in court.

Now, the plan for improving wireless service is increasingly moving away from large antennas and toward small cell sites relying on hundreds of local utility poles. According to the Utilities Department, AT&T has already installed 75 distributed-antenna systems (which rely on a scattered network of antennas rather than a single cell tower) and has plans for 16 more sites. Crown Castle has installed small antennas at 19 sites in the downtown area for Verizon and is looking at 16 additional sites next year.

Staff is also working directly with Verizon to install 92 small cell sites on poles throughout the city, according to the report from Utilities.

The goal of the new Mobilitie equipment is to "fulfill capacity objectives caused by the rapid usage of wireless data and technology in the area surrounding the project sites," the report states.

"This hybrid transport network provides even, widespread coverage throughout the neighborhood sites," the report states. "This allows for network densification without adding larger, more traditional wireless facilities.

"As future capacity requirements increase, the existence of these transport sites will allow for more small-cell sites to be utilized to fill in additional coverage gaps," the report states.

The agreement approved Monday sets the "essential terms and conditions governing the deployment of wireless antennas," according to Utilities. It does not, however, actually permit the installations. Mobilitie, which supports data service services for Sprint, would need to secure permits for all specific installations.

According to the staff report, deployment under the agreement will be managed "in a manner that allows Utilities Department's infrastructure to be used for advanced broadband communication purposes, without materially affecting the City's provision of electric utility service to the community, and in a manner consistent with applicable City ordinances, rules and regulations."

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Comments

11 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 15, 2017 at 8:16 am

Those signs have been on utility poles for months but I haven't seen any new installations. There are still dead zones all over town. We are the laughing stock with basic technology infrastructure when people come to Silicon Valley from abroad and they can't make a simple phone call!


3 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Palo Verde
on Aug 15, 2017 at 10:41 am

Another company that will go bust when the current tech boom ends. We'll just end up with ugly dead boxes in top of poles. Why bother?


3 people like this
Posted by John
a resident of Professorville
on Aug 15, 2017 at 10:56 am

We do definitely need the Verizon Small Cell Program on Kingsley....we get one bar in our house and calls always drop;


6 people like this
Posted by Mark Silverman
a resident of Menlo Park
on Aug 15, 2017 at 11:35 am

With all of these new cell towers being erected around PA, will the increased emittance of microwaves lead to even more potential cases of brain cancer?

Progress and convenience is often accompanied by newer hazards. PA has always been recognized for its health consciousness and environmental concerns. Hopefully you folks aren't signing a death warrant by catering to the fast money-making whims of cell phone carriers and local politicians.


40 people like this
Posted by john_alderman
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 15, 2017 at 1:24 pm

john_alderman is a registered user.

@Mark Silverman - more small cell towers means phones operate at lower power which means less exposure to radio waves, not more. BTW, the cell phone carriers don't make money by having to add more towers, it is an expense for them. It is the customer's that want better service that drive it.


2 people like this
Posted by Cynic
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 15, 2017 at 5:20 pm

Over the last thirty years, the human population of this planet has been exposed to continuous, increasing levels of cellular radio - and cancer rates have declined. It's hard to imagine a more definitive proof that these waves are harmless.


2 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 15, 2017 at 5:53 pm

"Hopefully you folks aren't signing a death warrant by catering to the fast money-making whims of cell phone carriers and local politicians."

Precaution: Don't hold that cellphone near your head when it's turned on.

And, to avoid that radiation totally proven to cause cancer, cover up when you sunbathe.


2 people like this
Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 15, 2017 at 7:33 pm

"With all of these new cell towers being erected around PA, will the increased emittance of microwaves lead to even more potential cases of brain cancer?"

Make sure you stock up on tin foil. The government is out to get ya.


1 person likes this
Posted by Kelly
a resident of Southgate
on Aug 15, 2017 at 8:16 pm

Does "network densification" mean stronger EMF? Where are all the intelligent voices of our people gone? PA is an awesome place to live because the community fought development and is something special, a strong and thoughtful community!


42 people like this
Posted by john_alderman
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 15, 2017 at 11:31 pm

john_alderman is a registered user.

@Kelly - One of the things that makes Palo Alto an awesome (mostly) place to live is all the well educated people in the tech industry who know the science of EMF, and know not to worry. As I posted earlier, if you carry a cell phone, network densification means lower EMF, and better reception. So don't worry about it, it is a win for everyone.


1 person likes this
Posted by Question
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 16, 2017 at 9:47 am

So, if I have a utility pole in my back yard and a street light in my front, I can look forward to ugly equipment being placed on both?


11 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 16, 2017 at 1:11 pm

We have utility pole in our yard. It is ugly already, an extra piece of equipment on top will hardly add to its ugliness.


1 person likes this
Posted by Roger
a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Aug 16, 2017 at 5:26 pm

Please, please help these companies install equipment faster. My apps are tested by people all over Silicon Valley and greater bandwidth will bring better app performance, better reviews, and better funding to my company.


Like this comment
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 16, 2017 at 6:02 pm

Curmudgeon is a registered user.

"...if I have a utility pole in my back yard and a street light in my front, I can look forward to ugly equipment being placed on both?"

Some already is.


1 person likes this
Posted by What a pity....
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 16, 2017 at 8:17 pm

The objective is for the city to make money selling off city owned property. If you have concerns call City Manager Keenes office who is directly involved in this program. His programs and misaligned projects have brought a direct decline in city services. What a pity! Are we better off as a community with the current city senior management team? Probably not.


3 people like this
Posted by Standford Physics Professor
a resident of Stanford
on Aug 17, 2017 at 10:18 am

Cell towers do indeed pose a potential health risk and you would not want one near your home emanating random, unshielded microwaves. If possible, try to have it installed at least 500 ft. away from your residence.

While landlines and fax machines are somewhat obsolete, they are still safer than cell communications and texting. With convenience comes additional health risks and in time, the number of cell-related illnesses will escalate.

It's like the old dental x-ray analogy. 1-2 bitewings per year probably won't hurt you but if you had them everyday, watch out. The same can be applied to cellphones.

So in addition to reducing one's personal cell phone usage, eliminating the spurious microwaves emanating from a cell tower near your home is highly recommended. We were able to force an unnamed cell carrier from installing a receiver/transmitter near our home via threat of civil litigation and they chose a different location.

Alternative/best sites for such installations are churches, parking lots and along traffic boulevards.

Naysayers and skeptics may find these concerns frivolous but as we all know, certain health issues often arise after an extended period of time and ignorance of the potential dangers.


12 people like this
Posted by That was no competent physics professor
a resident of another community
on Aug 17, 2017 at 12:24 pm

First, because of the facile or casual linkage between radio emissions and the (very different) hazards from ionizing radiation, such as X-rays.

Secondly, because someone who knows their Maxwell's Equations and the practical implications therefrom in telecommunications services can easily calculate (in their head) that the radio-frequency exposure from existing broadcast transmissions (radio and especially television), ubiquitous business-band radios, public-safety communications, aircraft communications and radars, and other "background" services -- to say nothing of the short-range exposures people routinely invite voluntarily via handheld cell phones and mobile devices, laptops, and home and business WLAN hubs -- all dwarf the exposures from cell towers! The one-over-R-squared relationship is pervasive.
Upshot of all this is that whatever (incompletely-understood) health effects may accrue from cell-service towers are far down in priority compared to other wireless services (many of them, such as handheld cell phones, self-inflicted) that create quantitatively much more RF power exposure in humans -- so it's to those greater risks that you look first, if seriously concerned.

Sadly, many people who comment on this issue not only lack any understanding or quantitative intuition for electromagnetics but worse, they ignore available information from those who do understand it, instead turning to the countless anxiety-stoking websites that promote the technology-anxiety fad of the week.


3 people like this
Posted by Mark Silverman
a resident of Menlo Park
on Aug 17, 2017 at 2:06 pm

@That was no competent physics professor

I don't use a cell phone all that much so I can assume that the health-related risks are on the low side.

But what about the seemingly 24/7 cell phone users who happen to reside near a transmission tower? Simply put, why absorb all that crap from other people's random usage?

I would trust a physics professor over a Verizon sales rep/engineer any day.







8 people like this
Posted by That was no competent physics professor
a resident of another community
on Aug 17, 2017 at 2:41 pm

Mark Silverman: First, your rhetorical comparison is false: I see no Verizon personnel here (and I'm an engineer completely unconnected to that or related industries who happens to know about electromagnetics). Second, I certainly see no physics faculty either -- certainly none conspicuously competent to address this subject; they'd already have known what I pointed out above, and more on the same lines (all of which YOU can also verify completely if YOU are willing to do the work and to seriously examine YOUR current anxieties -- the last being something most people who have them are utterly unwilling to do). Third, you already introduced anxiety here supported only by personal uncertainty ("Progress and convenience is often accompanied by newer hazards. . ."), as many people do who pick up just enough information to become anxious over a technology they don't understand, but not enough more to at least put what IS known about the hazard into real perspective.

People do that with all kinds of technologies, from vaccinations to MSG to non-stick cookware. Hard information seldom sways their aquired anxiety, which instead reliably defends itself with yes-but-what-about arguments ad-infinitum (witness latest Mark Silverman example just above), rather than (as I said) actually learning something more that would allow (but also require) examining their existing notions. Then Mark Silverman and the purported "physics professor" commenter might realize that a commercial UHF-TV transmitting antenna 20 miles (100,000 feet) away exposes them to more RF energy daily than a cellphone base station 100 feet away, and either is vanishingly small compared with even occasional use of a cell phone, wireless laptop computer, or just slightly leaky microwave oven -- and no matter how many of those you avoid, there are on the order of 1000 other measurable emitters around you in any region like this one that logically require your priority attention BEFORE you begin considering cell-phone towers too. No "buts" about it.


Like this comment
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 17, 2017 at 3:37 pm

The major problem in this "EMF hazards" business is that nobody has been able to identify a defensible causal relationship between EMF background and any definite bioeffects. Like, somebody claims they found brain cancer in a neighborhood with a PG&E transformer on a pole (they're everywhere, BTW). Somebody else goes to verify that finding (scientific method, you know) and finds no brain cancer but there is a marginally statistically significant excess of lefthandedness in newborns born to patents living in the area. And so on with small big toes, hazel eyes, ... , all marginally statistically significant, but never the same thing twice.

To certain minds, this lack of definiteness means the bad EMF stuff could be anything at all, maybe it's everything at all, and you just know those things nobody can find gotta be the most harmful possible. Else why would everybody be hiding them? What's the big conspiracy? Who's in on it? What color are their helicopters?

So save your fingertips, That was no competent physics professor. Just read on, enjoy the hysteria bloom, and shake your head as you watch the sunbathers.


4 people like this
Posted by That was no competent physics professor
a resident of another community
on Aug 17, 2017 at 5:14 pm

Point taken, Curmudgeon. (And thanks for mentioning sunlight, that overwhelming wideband EM source, total midday magnitude around 1000 watts/sq-meter or 100 mw/sq-cm. I forgot to include it.)

A reason for posting about this (which I tried to bring out in the earlier comments) is that yes, there are uncertainties about potential risks from biological interaction with EM fields (a topic of intense research) -- yet at the same time, much is solidly understood about the properties of those fields themselves, and this unambiguous information can frame the unknowns instructively (e.g. comparison of source magnitudes).

But even when technological developments become thoroughly understood, some people resist letting go of discredited anxieties over them. 49 years ago one physician *speculated* about adverse side effects from MSG as a cooking additive, and this entered popular myth, becoming fashionable for self-diagnosis. Since then, not only was the early medical speculation decisively discredited in endless clinical tests but also, it became widely recognized that MSG's two components are widespread in natural foods -- they're part of flavor chemistry -- and the defining component, glutamate, is ubiquitous and necessary in human cells. Yet people still insist they're "allergic" or "sensisitve" to it, and for that reason even miss checking for real allergens that can be life-threatening.

"There are a great many more environmental romantics than there are scientists. That’s fortunate, since their inspiration means that most people in developed societies see themselves as environmentalists. But it also means that scientific perceptions are always a minority view, easily ignored, suppressed, or demonized if they don’t fit the consensus story line." -- Stewart Brand Web Link


3 people like this
Posted by Oldster
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 26, 2017 at 2:55 pm

Flyers are going around my neighborhood in recent days saying these proposed cell boxes on light poles every few blocks will hum 24/7. The boxes would only be tested once for radiation compliance. Like the loudly humming brown box on a lightpole by the corner of Santa Rita and Waverley? The flyer also states Crescent Park and North Palo Alto are getting undergrounded utilities but not my neighborhood. All true?

I wonder if the cell box owners would have a long term right to sell space in their boxes on the open market as tech changes. If so, bad deal for City taxpayers.

Has the City approved the cell boxes for Old Palo Alto yet?

Saw on another thread someone describing fiber cable being put underground by Channing House. Someone please post a link to the current City plans and budgets for undergrounding com lines around town.

Peter C., what has Atherton done to underground utilities and upgrade cell line of sight service?


3 people like this
Posted by Oldster
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 26, 2017 at 3:16 pm

Would my neighborhood need so many new humming cell boxes if the City allowed just one extra tall (and thin) building on El Camino or Page Mill with public benefit roof space for a killer com mast? Taxpayers could own those air rights on return for the property owner being allowed a slghtly taller building than normally allowed, If a taller building is at the old brutalist Bank of America site, how high would a com tower there need to be to avoid having the proposed 93 humming cell boxes? Those boxes will make undergrounding our overhead lines harder.

Our poor street trees... pruned for "line clearing" twice every few years, once by City and once by com company (AT&T?). One year, one of those crew brutally butchered the trees on my block which took decades to recover. The money spent on those uncoordinated pruning crews boggles my mind. Money which could be used instead to underground those lines.


Like this comment
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 26, 2017 at 3:45 pm

"Would my neighborhood need so many new humming cell boxes if the City allowed just one extra tall (and thin) building on El Camino or Page Mill with public benefit roof space for a killer com mast?"

Yes, if you only want to listen on your phone. If you want to talk back and be heard, you'd need to hold a phone with a honkin' big transmitter by your head. You could cut down the phone size if you cut down the trees in the line of sight between you and the mast, also your immediate neighbors' houses.


3 people like this
Posted by Peninsula Commuter
a resident of another community
on Aug 26, 2017 at 11:09 pm

EMF issues or not, that ugly AT&T equipment does not belong on top of a utility pole above the 12,000 volt wires.

San Jose/PG&E does it smarter, they install the AT&T transmitter on a dedicated pole around the corner so it is not directly in front of or behind someone's residence. Cell coverage in most of San Jose is fine (Better than Palo Alto?)


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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