San Jose's new wireless project: a prime example of "Think big, but start small"

The city of San Jose, California and Council Global Lead Partner AT&T are working toward a project to improve citywide wireless communications, upgrade the existing communications network for first responders and provide a springboard for next-generation technologies later on, as the story below explains.

The project also offers valuable lessons for cities that want to become smarter. For example, you don't need to do everything at once. A small project that yields real results and benefits can be a platform for future projects that add or improve city services. And as we at the Council frequently tell you, streetlights can be far more than lights on poles. They can be a platform that supports a broad array of applications. And here's a bonus: small projects like San Jose's can help your city pay for those future projects and improvements.  — Doug Peeples


The basics of the San Jose project are that AT&T would install about 200 small cells on city light poles to improve wireless voice and data coverage for residents and businesses as well as the city's existing FirstNet first responder communications network. Small cells are alternatives to larger cell towers.

The agreement between the city and AT&T is tentative at this point, but there is substantial support for it from city officials and others. The San Jose City Council will address the proposal next week.

As Dolan Beckel, director of civic innovation and digital strategy for the city, said in a Techwire article, "It just ensures that there's more capacity for our emergency responders. Right now, as the city's emergency responders use FirstNet, they're running on the existing network we all use. What we're doing is we're making the swimming pool bigger in the event that the emergency responders need it."

He added that the installation also would support next-generation services like 5G technology. AT&T is rolling out the foundation for its 5G service in selected markets throughout the country now, as are other telecoms.

There's more…
As the city said in its project announcement, it stands to gain a revenue stream that will help it finance other projects, including its "digital inclusion" projects to provide affordable broadband service to low-income residents. In exchange for access to the city's light poles AT&T will pay $5 million in lease revenue over the next 15 years. In addition, the company will provide the city with an upfront grant of $1 million in lieu of permit and transaction fees to help it develop its permitting procedures for small cell deployments.

"This deployment offers a model for collaboration between local governments and the private sector to advance the public benefits of small cell technology," San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo said in the city's announcement.

San Jose's Smart City Vision
The digital inclusion projects to provide all citizens with affordable internet service are a component of the city's Smart City Vision roadmap. In addition to supporting inclusion, the small cell deployment would provide essential support for other Smart City Vision goals, such as implementing IoT, sustainable energy and water management technology and a digital neighborhood dashboard. The dashboard would provide citizens with information about events and new construction, a channel for reporting problems and a forum to communicate with each other about local issues.

Doug Peeples is a Portland, Oregon-based writer specializing in technology and energy. Follow @smartccouncil on Twitter.