Mandan’s taking steps to allow the attachment of small cells to city-owned infrastructure within the public right-of-way, in an effort to aid telecommunications companies in providing 5G wireless service to customers.

Small cells are wireless transmitters and receivers designed to provide network coverage to smaller areas, according to Verizon Wireless. While tall high-power macro towers keep the network signal strong across large distances, small cells suit more densely developed environments like cities.

“Small cells are, well, a small version of your standard cell tower,” said City Planner John Van Dyke.

The technology, thanks to its small size, can be attached to street light and traffic light poles.

Mandan was recently approached by Verizon Wireless, which is interested in attaching small cells to poles within the city. On Tuesday, the city commission approved the first reading of a proposed ordinance that outlines what such a partnership would look like.

A master attachment agreement between the two parties would be required, and the telecommunications company would be charged several fees.

Existing poles would be used whenever possible. If a new pole is warranted, due to being unable to handle equipment from both parties, the expense would be covered by the telecommunications company. A supply of spare replacement poles would be provided to the city, as well.

Prior to implementation, the telecommunications company must provide the city with engineering drawings, a description of the equipment being installed and the desired location. The city must approve the location before the technology is deployed.

“The ordinance is the easy part,” said Mayor Tim Helbling. “I think the harder part’s the devil’s in the details on the contract.”

Last summer, Bismarck authorized Verizon Wireless to install small cells on numerous light poles within the city. According to Van Dyke, Mandan drafted its ordinance similar to the neighboring city.

Bismarck entered into a master attachment agreement with Verizon Wireless on July 10, 2018, according to Bismarck City Engineer Gabe Schell, who said discussions with the company are ongoing.

“There are not likely to be any small cell wireless installations in 2019,” said Schell. “They have made no official requests for proposed sites, as of today, but we are still in conversations with Verizon for future installations.”

Mandan’s proposed ordinance would also add a special use permit requirement for the construction of macro towers exceeding a height of 120 feet.

“It’s not uncommon to have a special use permit to evaluate those, especially if they’re directly adjacent to a residential neighborhood,” said Van Dyke. “They’re quite unsightly.”

The commission is expected to take final action on the proposed ordinance at its next meeting.

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