5G coming here in early 2020
Oconomowoc and Waukesha first local communities to gain network access

By Katherine Beck

Oct. 3, 2019

OCONOMOWOC — The next step in connectivity will be coming to Oconomowoc and Waukesha in early 2020 when a 5G network is installed, U.S. Cellular announced Wednesday.

U.S. Cellular said its initial 5G deployment will be on its 600 MHz spectrum and will offer faster data speeds, “a more responsive mobile experience and the ability to connect more devices to the network at the same time.” The ability to offer a 5G network is part of U.S. Cellular’s multi-year network expansion which is a result of previous network technology investments to modernize equipment and software.

The first areas to be able to access U.S. Cellular’s 5G network are in Wisconsin and Iowa, with Oconomowoc and Waukesha being the first local communities to gain the access.

“Wisconsin and Iowa are two of our largest markets and we’re excited to introduce 5G technology to customers in both urban and rural communities where other carriers have not,” said Michael S. Irizarry, executive vice president and chief technology officer of U.S. Cellular, in a statement.

 “Broader 5G coverage will provide our customers with even faster data connection speeds for a better experience when they do the things they love on their devices.”

U.S. Cellular will begin turning on its 5G network in larger Wisconsin communities including parts of Green Bay, Madison, Milwaukee, Oshkosh and Racine with plans for 115 additional cities across Wisconsin.

Customers in Wisconsin, Iowa and additional markets in the company’s footprint will be notified when 5G is available via local advertising and targeted marketing in 2020, according to the announcement.

Waukesha Mayor Shawn Reilly said being able to offer 5G network service in Waukesha will be a benefit for businesses, especially those who rely heavily on technology. And as a result, businesses that need 5G will be more likely to locate in Waukesha.

Reilly said he is aware that there has been some discussion between service providers and the Waukesha Public Works Department, but there has been no formal proposal.

He said if antennas or other equipment would need to be placed on city infrastructure, “it would need approval of the city and would need to be done in a reasonable and rational way that protects our infrastructure.”


Technology

While 5G has been a topic of conversation for a few years, infrastructure has proven to be a big hurdle.

The Wall Street Journal reported that 5G waves aren’t able to travel very far on their own. While 4G towers can deliver service for up to 10 miles, true high-bandwidth 5G towers can only deliver service up to 1,000 feet, according to WSJ.

In its Wednesday announcement, U.S. Cellular said those living in areas with 4G devices will see a change in network quality as cell towers are updated with new technology.

Already, U.S. Cellular has begun to replace the base stations with software-upgradable basebands, meaning new 5G features can be incorporated by adding new software rather than from a hardware replacement. It also involves moving the radios up the tower, which improves coverage in rural communities.

“We are rapidly moving across our footprint to bring 5G to as many of our customers as possible over the coming years. We expect to augment the network with mid-and-high-band spectrum over time as the technology and use cases continue to evolve,” Irizarry said.


Health and safety concerns

As more cellphone towers have been built in Waukesha County communities in the past decade, residents have raised concerns about possible health effects from radiation that they say could cause cancer, as well as possible internet intrusion into individuals’ private lives.

During an Oconomowoc Common Council meeting in June during which residents raised safety concerns, City Attorney Stan Riffle advised the citizens and the council that according to state law, the city cannot reject a conditional use permit application for a cellular tower based on the frequency proposed to be transmitted from the tower.

Riffle explained that if a proposed tower met all of the requirements and conditions of a conditional use permit as defined by the city’s zoning code, the plan commission and council have no choice but to approve the permit.

Reilly said Wednesday that federal legislation has limited municipalities’ control over the placement of cell towers.