Since 2019, Verizon Communications Inc. has been working to establish infrastructure for 5G, the fifth-generation technology standard for broadband cellular networks, in cities nationwide including several in the Spokane region.
5G reportedly allows 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.
Verizon’s Public Policy and Community Affairs Director for Eastern Washington and Idaho, Jason Verduzco, said the company chose Spokane as one of 30 cities for its initial launch of 5G.
“In 2019, the City of Spokane was launched as the 26th Verizon Ultra-Wide Band 5G City in the US,” he said. “Shortly thereafter in 2020, Verizon began investing in additional 5G small cells in the Greater Spokane Valley.”
Verduzco said the company initially planned to launch 5G in larger pacific northwest cities like Seattle and Portland but found it didn’t have strong enough partnerships in those areas that would enable it to quickly and efficiently establish infrastructure and launch the new 5G networks.
Therefore, he said Verizon switched its focus toward cities on the east side of the state, that were more receptive to 5G technology.
“There are some regions, such as Spokane, that have worked really hard over the years to set themselves up as technology-friendly,” Verduzco explained.
“The Spokane region has innovated with organizations such as the University District and Urbanova, as well as large companies like Amazon.” He said. “The cities of Spokane, Spokane Valley, and Liberty Lake have also worked to establish city ordinances and agreements that would allow companies (like Verizon) to streamline and create a clear path forward.”
Verduzco said Verizon began building infrastructure for 5G in Spokane, Spokane Valley, and Liberty Lake in 2019 at a rate of 100 small cell sites a year and will have about 300 small cells established by the end of 2021.
Verizon describes small cells as short-range cell sites used to complement macro cell towers in a smaller geographic area ranging from a few hundred feet to upwards of 1,000 feet. The 5G small cells are able to provide estimated download speeds of 1-gigabit plus.
Small cells use small radios and a single antenna or small antennas that are placed on existing structures including utility poles and streetlights. Verduzco said that because the small cells need to be installed on existing structures, it was important to establish a partnership with Avista Utilities, which owns a majority of the utility poles in the Spokane region.
“We reached out to Avista early on and established a partnership, as well as a process that allowed us to launch quickly, expeditiously, and with a good aesthetic so the small cells would blend in with the existing infrastructure,” he said.
In an effort to continue to further partnerships and connections to the local community, Verduzco said Verizon also joined three local Chambers of Commerce; Greater Spokane Valley Chamber, the West Plains Chamber, and the Coeur d’Alene Chamber.
“Partnerships are key to enriching lives and delivering digital equity for all,” he said. “Local chamber memberships bring businesses, nonprofits, and local government together for the greater good in our community.”
Greater Spokane Valley Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Lance Beck said that Verizon has been a valuable partner for the organization beyond traditional member support.
“In 2020, Verizon was instrumental in resolving connectivity issues we were having while we awaited hardline connections at our new office building at 10808 East Sprague,” Beck said. “We were able to occupy the office several months earlier than planned due to this wireless internet service being available that could fully support the digital needs of the organization.”
Looking ahead, Verduzco said Verizon will likely continue to install new 5G infrastructure for several more years, depending on demand.
“We’re still at the beginnings of 5G and the applications and uses of this technology are still being developed,” he said. “Some of those things like drone deliveries and automatic manufacturing are already underway but it will be interesting to see what else will come as a result of these new connections.”