Special to The Swellesley Report from resident Cimarron Buser
This article was updated on Feb. 2, 2022 to reflect clarifications from AT&T.
The Wellesley Municipal Light Plant (WMLP) has completed its installation of AT&T’s antennas that boost coverage and provide 5G data service. The mounting of the small cell antennas began in June 2020, when the WMLP announced that boxes would be affixed to telephone poles around town.
In the end, there were 41 AT&T nodes installed. Based on the map provided by the WMLP, 36% of the boxes have been installed on or adjacent to Worcester St. (Route 9) or Washington St. (Route 16), and the remainder in neighborhoods.
Don Newell, Director of the Municipal Light Plant, stated that the AT&T project was now completed. According to current plans, the MLP will be installing 35 small cell antenna attachments for T-Mobile over the next five months.
Newell added, “WMLP and T-Mobile will be holding an informational webinar in February 2022. The staff are in the process of finalizing the locations and installation schedules.” There was no mention of Verizon, however, coverage maps from industry sources show Verizon with 4G coverage along major travel routes in Wellesley.
I first became aware of the installation near my house in Wellesley Hills when I found my AT&T phone coverage showing “5 bars”. This was a striking improvement over the weak reception I’ve had in the past. By using the Speedtest app I was able to obtain download speeds of 150 Mbps+ on an iPhone SE second generation, which showed “5GE” service. When I used an iPhone 12, it showed “5G” with a download speed of over 200 Mbps, and I suspect it would be much faster nearer the antenna. According to AT&T the current network is a “4G LTE”, even if the phone icons show otherwise.
When I investigated why my service was so much improved, I found that one of the “small cell” antennas had been installed about 2/10 of a mile from my house, and that the family room was “line of sight” to the pole with the AT&T node. All of this to say that most people, unless they are directly in view of the new AT&T boxes, will not see 200 Mbps downloads. I tested this theory by walking the street, as there are two of the small cells about 0.5 miles from each other. In between the two poles, the download rate dropped to about 40 Mbps, which is still not bad.
Although some may have concerns about the cosmetics of the new cell arrays, several neighbors I spoke with seem to have no such worries. Most commented that the gray rectangular nodes are no worse than the existing cable and transformer boxes that already festoon the poles. One neighbor whose house had a new box installed directly in front of them said that they switched to AT&T from their previous provider when the installation was completed – and now have great coverage.
While Wellesley is continuing down the 5G path, there is still controversy at the national level with the technology. Just this week, major airlines warned of “catastrophic disruption” to travel and shipping from 5G installations by Verizon and AT&T near airports. Verizon and AT&T had agreed to delay activating 5G using the newly acquired C-band spectrum twice: originally from December 5 and then pushed back again from a planned January 5 launch date until two weeks later. The delays were meant to give the industries, Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), FCC and White House more time to address concerns.
Time will tell if the 5G rollout will be slowed down due to these concerns, but at least in Wellesley we will have the benefit of better reception and faster speeds from AT&T, and soon T-Mobile.
What is 5G and when does it arrive in Wellesley?
According to industry sources, “5G is a 5th generation mobile network. It is a new global wireless standard that enables a new kind of network.” There are many variations of 5G technology, some of which use existing 4G LTE infrastructure.
In Wellesley, AT&T’s small cell antenna installation is based on 4G LTE technology.
When asked about why some phones in Wellesley may show “5G” speeds an AT&T spokesman said: “The technology is 4G LTE currently, however 5G may display on devices due to overlapping coverage from nearby macro cells. The equipment is 5G capable which can be enabled in the future. And additional radio frequency equipment can be added for more speed, whether 4G or 5G.”
We’ll keep a close eye out to see if things speed up even more!
Cimarron Buser is a longtime resident of Wellesley, and is founder and CEO of TASBIA, an association for the appointment scheduling industry.