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Small cell technology is coming to Bismarck, in a day and age when the average U.S. household owns 13 internet-connected devices. Verizon Wireless, who provided the statistic, received authorization from the Bismarck City Commission Tuesday to install the new technology on numerous light poles around town.

According to Bismarck City Engineer Gabe Schell, small cell technology allows for network improvements without adding additional macro towers. A small cell has a range of approximately 500 feet and is fed with fiber optic line to offload cellular data.

“Imagine if you were in a big stadium, or someplace where you have a large population in a small geographical area, and there’s just a small door to get out of … everyone’s jammed up,” said Melody Allen, Verizon Wireless representative. “What small cell does is make this wider.”

New light poles, designed to handle loadings from both the street light and the small cell equipment, will be installed, at no cost to the city.

“We’ll still have our street light when it’s all said and done,” said Schell. “It’ll be a beefier, stockier structure.”

As long as their equipment is attached, Verizon Wireless must pay the city an annual fee of $150 per pole. An estimated 30 light poles will be outfitted.

“Initially, we didn’t really want these on our poles at all,” Schell said. “As we had further conversations with Verizon, and came to the understanding this is probably something that the industry is moving towards, we found it more valuable to try to co-locate that cell equipment on city infrastructure.”

Allen says small cell technology benefits the community in numerous ways, with public safety topping the list.

“What we’re doing is bringing that signal closer to the devices that you have,” she said. “Most 911 calls are made from a device, so it’s a big deal from a first responder perspective and a public safety perspective, as well. This is why we need to have small cells that are closer to the devices.”

The technology will also attract new businesses to the area, according to Allen.

“Most businesses, now, are relying on wireless devices. They won’t want to come to Bismarck if you don’t have that capacity available for them,” she said.

Prior to implementation, Verizon Wireless will provide the city with engineering drawings, a description of the equipment being installed, the desired location, how they will power the technology and where the fiber optic line will be placed. The city must approve the location before the technology is deployed.

“We’re not trying to come in your right of way and litter it up with network equipment. We want to work in partnership with you,” Allen said, addressing the commission Tuesday night.

The city said they’re open to requests from other telecommunication providers, and an ordinance has been established to assist in handling future applications.

(Reach Cheryl McCormack at 701-250-8264 or cheryl.mccormack@bismarcktribune.com.)​

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General Assignment Reporter