Spokane Journal of Business

Mobilitie expands wireless capabilities in Spokane

Addition of small-cell units said to be prep for 5G tech

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California-based wireless infrastructure provider Mobilitie LLC has recently begun to install what are called small-cell wireless antennas to utility poles in public-right of way in certain neighborhoods here. 

A privately-held company, Mobilitie funds, installs, and operates infrastructure used by wireless carriers to enable high-speed mobile communications.

Mobilitie couldn’t be reached for comment on the recent installations, but the company’s website does list small cell antenna installation as part of its service offerings. 

Julie Happy, spokeswoman for the city of Spokane’s neighborhood and business services, says Mobilitie has been working with Spokane-based Avista Corp. to install the small cell devices on 20 utility poles throughout the city.

She says the new technology is being added in response to increasing cell phone usage needs, including incoming 5G network capabilities.

The latest in telecommunications standards, 5G is said to allow for faster transfer of data, enabling more devices to connect to the internet and reducing the time it takes devices to communicate with each other.

“The last six months have shown an increase in this kind of work, with newer tech being added in response to 4G and 5G phones coming out,” says Happy. “Small cell antennas help to add coverage, rather than installing new cell towers.”

The city of Spokane’s municipal code regarding wireless communication facilities describes small cell antennas as compact wireless base stations that contain their own transceiver equipment and function like cells in a mobile network but provide a smaller coverage area than traditional towers and antennas.

The code requires small cell antennas to be no more than 3 cubic feet in volume, and small cell equipment enclosures can be no larger than 17 cubic feet in volume, with limited exceptions.

Mobilitie’s website lists its small cell networks as being designed to be upgradeable to accommodate future wireless demand growth.

Debbie Simock, Avista spokeswoman, says Washington state Utilities and Transportation Commission regulations require that Avista, and other investor-owned utilities, allow other companies to attach their infrastructure to utility poles through what is known as a joint-use agreement.

“Essentially, we own the poles, but as a regulated utility, we’re required to allow other companies to affix infrastructure to them,” she says. “The small sale wireless antennas aren’t owned by Avista and are not affiliated with our operations.”

Simock says in order to install that infrastructure, joint users  must go through an application process, identifying which Avista poles to which they’d like to attach their equipment.

“If the location meets Avista’s requirements and standards, the telecommunications company must then secure a contractor who is certified to work near powerlines to install the antennas and be responsible for all costs of construction and ongoing maintenance,” she says.

LeAnn Bjerken
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Reporter LeAnn Bjerken is the most recent addition to the Journal's news team. A poet, cat lover and antique enthusiast, LeAnn is also an Eastern Washington University alum.

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