- The California Supreme Court sided with San Francisco in a dispute with T-Mobile, saying the city has the authority to limit 5G infrastructure for aesthetic reasons.
- T-Mobile had sued the city over a 2011 ordinance that sought to limit installation of small cells and other wireless equipment if they detracted from the city’s beauty. The law said that aesthetics were "critical" to the city’s tourist industry.
- In a statement to Bloomberg, San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera said the city would not block equipment, but wanted it to be as "unobtrusive as possible."
Because 5G depends on relatively short, high-frequency signals, wireless carriers can’t rely on cell towers that could be placed atop buildings or away from cities. Instead, companies will have to install hundreds of “small cells” throughout cities to make the mobile networks function in dense urban areas. Simply installing enough cells is a challenge, but the California court ruling adds another hurdle for carriers, since they will have to either match the cells to their surroundings or disguise them with decorations like palm fronds.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has tried to limit local regulations that could curtail 5G development, passing controversial rules that capped the fees that cities could charge for small cell infrastructure and made it easier to acquire installation permits. Local leaders have called the order an overreach; Portland, OR Mayor Ted Wheeler said at a U.S. Conference of Mayors event that it was a “misguided invasion of local authority.” The latest court decision returns more power to localities, with the court saying San Francisco has “inherent local police power to determine the appropriate uses of land within its jurisdiction."
Although wireless carriers have eyed tech-friendly cities like San Francisco for the early 5G rollout, the Bay Area has actually proven a difficult place to get small cells out. Besides the aesthetic issues, some cities have raised health concerns. Three Marin County communities have even passed 5G bans until it can be proven healthy.