The Weird World of Hiding 5G Technologies In Plain Sight

Cell phone providers are increasingly hiding their 4G LTE and 5G antennas in all manner of things, including fake cacti.


By Marcia Wendorf Mar 17, 2021

Along the roadsides of posh North Scottsdale, Arizona are some tall Saguaro cacti, but look a little closer and you’ll notice something strange. Many of the cacti are exactly 24-feet-tall, and they all look alike.

The Scottsdale cacti are actually 4G LTE and 5G fixed wireless antennas, and they’re not alone. In the Eastern U.S. and the Denver, Colorado area, some of the beautiful pine trees are actually antennas, while in the South, antennas are masquerading as palm trees.

And, it’s not just trees that you need to be suspicious of. In Texas, antennas are hiding out in city recycling bins, while in the Midwest, some of the ubiquitous water towers aren’t what they seem. Across the country, light poles, traffic lights, signs, chimneys, rooftops, lanterns, church steeples, and clock towers are hiding radio equipment.

The need to hide 5G antennas

5G, or fifth-generation wireless, promises speeds above 1 Gbit/s, which is vastly faster than 4G LTE, along with near-zero latency, or lag time. In September 2018, the Federal Communications Commission released its 5G Fast Plan, which calls for cities, cell and cable providers, and electric utilities to work together so that 5G can be rolled out as quickly as possible across the U.S.

5G operates at higher wave frequencies and shorter millimeter wavelengths than 4G. This causes 5G waves to be more easily blocked by objects, such as houses or trees. Even leaves can block a 5G signal. To counter this, 5G uses “small cell” antennas, which are around the size of a pizza box, and it needs lots of them.

5G antennas must be set up every couple of hundred feet apart, which is around the length of a city block. In order to allow for self-driving vehicles, the 5G antennas must be located close to street level.

Small cell antennas have a range of around 656 feet (200 meters), and they connect to the Internet via fiber optic cables. The types of small cell antennas that are deployed vary, depending on the spectrum bands that a cell operator is using, and the vendors who are supplying the transmission equipment.

“Not in my backyard”

While the public wants the increased speed and bandwidth that 5G promises, increasingly across the U.S., the installation of small cell antennas has been met with cries of “not in my backyard.” Cities such as Baltimore, Maryland and Arvada, Colorado have passed legislation requiring that cell carriers camouflage, obscure, or disguise their small cell antennas.

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