By GREGORY ZELLER //
The window to Long Island’s data-connectivity future is wide open – but it will close fast if regional rainmakers don’t get with the 5G program.
That’s the professional assessment of Marc Alessi, a partner at Garden City-based business consultancy/government affairs firm Shelter Rock Strategies, which for the past year has represented a client on ultra-broadband’s cutting edge.
The client is ExteNet Systems, a Chicago-based provider of advanced mobile-connectivity and distributed-networks solutions. Its hook: a series of don’t-even-know-they’re-there installations that hide on existing telephone poles and other infrastructure – what Alessi called “smaller nodes,” tiny but capable of providing both instant and long-term data benefits.
The long-term bennies are all about 5G, the fifth generation of cellular mobile communications focused on higher data rates, energy and cost savings, massive device connectivity and the ultimate demise of “dead zones,” where cellular calls and Internet connections go to die.
As 5G replaces 4G and older generations across the land, Long Island is in grave danger of falling out of the technology race for good, according to Alessi, a lawyer by trade and former New York State assemblyman who also serves as executive director of the Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe in Shoreham.
“If we don’t have 5G everywhere five years from now, we’re just not going to be able to attract the people and businesses that rely on technology,” he told Innovate LI. “Technology is more and more about moving data.”
It’s a real challenge on Long Island – “there are parts of the Island that have never had cellphone coverage,” Alessi lamented – and especially along the North Shore, where hilly topography creates dead zones even in close proximity to traditional cellular towers.
To ensure seamless wireless coverage, according to Alessi, “you’re going to need 5G.” And to bring 5G to the masses, Long Island is going to need a solution that spreads the cellular love in a manner close to Islanders’ hearts.
“When I saw this kind of technology was beginning to be installed, I figured there would be the typical Long Island kneejerk reaction of NIMBYism,” Alessi said. “I wanted to make sure a company like ExteNet can get out there and educate people, so there’s a reasonable response.”
The education starts with the shape of Extenet Systems’ tech. To both ensure cellular connectivity and overcome topographical challenges, ExteNet eschews the standard cellular tower in favor of those smaller nodes– “little boxes that are installed on a handful of telephone poles in local communities,” as described by Alessi, who likens the system to the WiFi extenders found in many homes.
“You have your modem distributing the signal, similar to a cellphone tower,” he said. “And then in parts of your house where you don’t get the WiFi signal, you put a little extender.
“This is the exact same thing, only outside.”
The immediate benefits are twofold, according to the spokesman: Not only are dead zones brought instantly to cellular life, but the widespread signal-boosting eases the burden on traditional towers – strengthening network reliability on a larger scale.
And of course, the tiny signal-boosters enable larger carriers to provide 5G services, and “that’s a game-changer,” according to Alessi, who notes “a 10,000-fold increase in the ability to move data.”
“If you want things like driverless cars someday, you need the Internet of Things and uninterrupted Internet connectivity,” he said. “This is the future. The technology is moving fast, and we’re going to be doing things with data we can’t even fathom right now.”
ExteNet Systems has already installed some of its nearly invisible boxes in neighborhoods throughout the Hudson Valley and the City of Albany, and is currently “talking to a number of communities in North Hempstead,” Alessi noted, citing “one of the areas with really horrific cellphone coverage.”
Those negotiations are expected to stretch into 2019, and where ExteNet Systems goes next will be determined by two factors: Alessi cited both a “federal process” – concerning FCC regulations – and a “local process,” where those community-education components loom large.
“It really comes down to the carriers, like Verizon and Sprint and AT&T, identifying where they have problems with bandwidth and then approaching municipalities to solve that problem,” he noted. “Then a company like ExteNet comes in.”
Local municipalities “can’t really block an installation,” according to Alessi, “but they can be part of the process, saying ‘we prefer this pole to that pole.’”
“That’s another reason I wanted to get involved,” he added. “If there’s outreach and education and people realize how important and unobtrusive this is, this can be done right.”
And doing it right is essential, if Long Island is to keep pace in the fast-moving world of data distribution.
“There are companies out there that are very aggressive and don’t pay close attention to the local community’s wishes,” Alessi said. “But if you have a respectful dialogue, communities will be more receptive – so maybe the installation is not in the middle of the town square where you have your bandshell, but hidden somewhere on the other side of the square.
“That’s what this process is all about,” he added. “And I’ve already told them they should be looking all across the North Shore.”