Jan 29, 2020

The next NIMBY battle: 5G small cells in neighborhoods

A wireless tower housing 5G small cell technology in the front yard of a home in Brookhaven, Georgia. Photo: Screen shot from Axios video

The not-in-my-backyard battles may soon have a new target: 5G small cells.

Where it stands: When it comes to 5G small cell acceptance, a PwC survey of 800 consumers suggests most people are willing to deal with unsightly 5G antennas, especially if they are in someone else's backyard.

By the numbers: 86% said they will accept small cells that "blend into their surroundings."

  • 73% will accept small cells that don't blend in as long as they are not directly in front of their homes.
  • 60% don't care about aesthetics if they can have faster internet service.
"It's one thing to see the installation of the 5G boxes on poles on a main corridor that doesn't offend people. But if you're in a heavily residential area and you're not expecting to see that type of thing, it's almost like having a power transformer in your front yard. People are not going to like those."
— Christian Sigman, city manager of Brookhaven, Georgia

Still, consumers are excited about 5G — and willing to pay more for it — even though they don’t really know what it is, according to a recent Morning Consult poll of 5,600 adults in the U.S. and EU commissioned by IBM.

  • 49% of consumers are very or somewhat excited about 5G, but only 36% said they were even somewhat familiar with the technology.
  • 49% of U.S. consumers said they would be willing to pay more for 5G, but only 4% said they would pay “significantly” more.
  • 38% said they understand the differences between 5G and 4G, but only 7% said they understand the differences “very well.”

Between the lines: There has been a lot of hype about the promise of 5G, but consumers are still struggling with the specifics ahead of widespread rollout — and NIMBY backlash may slow down small cell construction in neighborhoods.

Go deeper: 5G will see a wide rollout in 2020

Go deeper

The battle over 5G deployment in America's cities

The fate of the national race to build 5G wireless service depends on how effectively the guts of the network — namely, hundreds of thousands of bulky antennas — are placed in cities.

Why it matters: While global tensions mount over pressure to build 5G networks as fast as possible, U.S. cities are in a fight of their own with telecom carriers and federal regulators over how new 5G antennas — or small cells — will be scattered throughout downtowns and neighborhoods.

Go deeperArrowJan 29, 2020

Verizon and T-Mobile battle over 5G at the Super Bowl

Screenshot from Verizon ad via YouTube

The 49ers and Chiefs weren't the only ones trying to score some points on Super Bowl Sunday as Verizon and T-Mobile used football's big day to trade shots over each other's 5G networks.

Why it matters: 5G is starting to arrive, but in different flavors and at different speeds — and with all the heavy marketing hype and consumer confusion that has accompanied past transitions from one generation of wireless to the next.

Team Trump's 5G misfires

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios


The Trump administration, eager to win the 5G race and outflank China's Huawei, has run one plan after another up the flagpole — but found it hard to keep any of them flying.

Driving the news: White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow aired a new approach Tuesday to speed the emergence of U.S.-led alternatives to Huawei. Attorney General William Barr dismissed the same idea Thursday as "pie in the sky."