Already busy in Pittsburgh installing small-cell 5G antennas throughout the city, communications infrastructure giant Crown Castle last week received a $10 million, 10-year contract to connect Pittsburgh’s fire, EMS and other city services with a single high-speed fiberoptic network.
The project is part of the Pittsburgh’s NetPGH initiative, a comprehensive, unified fiber internet connectivity network for city facilities. Pittsburgh Mayor William Peduto, announcing the agreement with Crown Castle, said the improvement of core services delivery “will create a more resilient municipal government, enhance our ability to serve the public, and promote digital equity.”
Under the contract, Crown Castle will equip Pittsburgh’s fire and EMS stations, recreation and healthy active living centers as well as critical public safety infrastructure to run on a single high-speed network. The network will improve the delivery of core services as city departments migrate from disparate institutional networks, city officials said. Pittsburgh will connect 131 city facilities through its new unified citywide fiber network.
The high-speed network will help the city advance its Smart Corridors initiative to improve traffic efficiency and prioritize mobility of transit vehicles, cyclists and pedestrians, officials said. The contract will also allow enable expansion of the Rec2Tech initiative, which converts recreation centers into learning labs where children can learn coding and video game design skills.
In July 2019, the FCC required cities to pay for institutional networks provided by cable franchise operators. At the time, about half of Pittsburgh facilities provided internet and network connectivity using institutional networks. In October 2020, anticipating rising costs from institutional networks, the city issued a request for proposals for NetPGH to provide a streamlined network and unified experience for city facilities that would “improve standards of service, delivery and availability.” Ultimately, the city wants to meet Peduto’s goal for a resilient tool to connect city government and its residents.
Meanwhile, Crown Castle’s ongoing small-cell 5G infrastructure project involves bringing the next-generation of wireless connectivity to Pittsburgh by deploying a small-cell network of 44 low-powered antennas called nodes, connected with fiber-optic cable. The company said faster and more reliable coverage will enable next-generation networks, such as 5G, and new technologies, including autonomous vehicles and citywide sharing.
“Pittsburgh needs more wireless infrastructure because residents and businesses across Pittsburgh depend on wireless connectivity,” according to prepared statement on Crown Castle’s website. “Once synonymous with manufacturing, the city is now considered a leader in tech, medicine and engineering. With more than 300,000 residents, millions of visitors each year and innovative companies, wireless networks add much-needed capacity.”
The statement continues: “Wireless infrastructure is also important for public safety, with 80 percent of 911 calls initiated from a mobile device. Small cell solutions, or ‘small cell,’ work in conjunction with fiber and towers to improve wireless coverage and increase network capacity in highly-populated areas like Pittsburgh.”
Urban areas rely on small cells because they can be inconspicuously installed on right of way infrastructure like street signs, utility poles and streetlights, blending into their surroundings and preserving the aesthetics of their environment. Working in partnership with city staff, Crown Castle plans to enable improved wireless carrier service while keeping Pittsburgh’s character intact.
Mike Harrington is a contributing editor.