5G deployment and availability will greatly expand and enhance the Internet of Things (IoT). As we explored in a prior post, apart from spectrum availability, one of the other primary keys to promoting 5G development is increased investment in both wireless and wireline infrastructure. Without the necessary infrastructure (e.g. small cells, fiber backhaul) to support advanced 5G offerings, nascent IoT technologies will be inhibited by ever-increasing capacity demands that put strains on the existing infrastructure.

On September 26, 2018, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted to approve a Declaratory Ruling and Third Report and Order (Order) designed to encourage and facilitate the investment necessary to deploy infrastructure to meet the demands of 5G networks. As the FCC explained in the Order, 5G is so important because it can “enable increased competition for a range of services—including broadband—support new healthcare and Internet of Things applications, speed the transition to life-saving connected car technologies, and create jobs.”

The FCC’s Order focuses on “small cell” deployments—as opposed to traditional cell towers. Many higher frequency signals (which may be used for 5G deployment) do not travel as far as their lower-frequency counterparts. So, traditional towers need to be used in conjunction with many small cells in a given area, to help increase network capacity by reusing spectrum, while also minimizing signal interference. As the FCC has explained, these small cells often are “no larger than a backpack,” making the traditional processes for approving tall wireless towers a poor fit for the needs of 5G deployments.

In order to facilitate these new deployments, the FCC provided guidance on a variety of state and local factors that affect the timing and cost of deployment. For example, the FCC addressed certain fee (and non-fee, such as aesthetic) requirements imposed by states and localities on companies seeking to install small cell facilities. Additionally, the FCC established new shot clocks for small cell deployment, while codifying existing shot clocks for larger wireless facility deployments. These shot clocks set time limits on when government authorities must act on applications to build out infrastructure.

The FCC’s hope is that steps such as these will encourage providers to build additional necessary infrastructure to promote and facilitate 5G deployment, while also decreasing the amount of time it takes to install such facilities. Increased 5G deployment means increased opportunities for the Internet of Things.