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Small Cell

About Small Cell Facilities

Small cell facilities are low-powered antennas installed by private telecommunication providers, such as cell phone service providers, to improve cellular and data coverage to small geographic areas. 

Federal and state law requires cities to allow small cell facilities in the public right of way, which includes streets and sidewalks. In Boulder, small cell facilities will typically be installed on new poles on sidewalks.

The City of Boulder has taken a proactive approach to permitting small cell facilities. Through an ordinance passed by City Council in October 2017, the city has established rules governing small cells, including the use of same colors on poles as others in the area, camouflaging equipment and prohibiting them from being installed on the ground. The first permits for small cell facilities were issued in August 2018. 


Here is a video segment from ConnectedColorado exploring frequently asked questions on small cell technology:

Here is a photo simulation of what a small cell facility looks like in Boulder:

small cell

Frequently Asked Questions

Can the City of Boulder prevent small cell facilities from being placed in the right of way?

No. Small cell facilities are allowed in the public right of way per federal and state laws, just like other utilities. The City of Boulder has developed a permitting system to ensure that small cell facilities are placed in a way that minimizes their impacts within the areas that the city is allowed to regulate.

What do small cell facilities do?

Small cell facilities are low-powered antennas that provide cellular and data coverage to smaller geographic areas, supplementing the larger cellular network and improving service for wireless customers. They are installed and operated by private companies.

Small cell equipment will initially meet current 4G (LTE) voice and data demands, but city staff understands it may be modified with future 5G higher speed equipment as technology changes.

Why are small cell facilities needed?

Research shows that mobile data traffic in North America has grown significantly, and is projected to continue increasing at a rapid rate with the proliferation of mobile devices. Wireless companies have indicated that existing infrastructure is becoming congested and cannot continue to meet the demands of their customers.

Wireless carrier companies have indicated that until recently, wireless phone service, in general, has been managed using large antennas mounted on towers located on both public and private property. Those antennas serve relatively large areas, or “cells” that may include several miles. According to wireless carriers, existing cell sites are already becoming congested, and installing more cell towers covering large areas will not keep up with projected demand for high-speed wireless data. To meet demands for wireless data, carriers have begun using new lower-powered antenna technology to “offload” data traffic from the larger cell towers. Each of these smaller antennas serves a much smaller area (1-2 blocks) but with much higher data volumes. This type of wireless infrastructure is referred to as “small cell.”

What do small cell facilities look like?

The city has developed regulations to provide for architectural compatibility of small cell facilities, including using the same colors for poles as others in the area, camouflaging equipment where possible, and prohibiting ground-mounted cabinets.

Why can’t small cell facilities be placed on existing lamp posts, traffic signals, etc.?

Generally, existing poles do not have the structural capacity to handle the weight of the small cell equipment. The size of existing poles also does not allow for the camouflaging of the equipment within the pole so additional cabinets would be strapped to the pole. The city’s current regulations provide incentives for the industry to replace existing poles with new ones that can meet both the small cell and other needs.

Are there public health impacts?

While the City of Boulder is not a public health agency, city staff track information provided by other agencies and organizations, such as the Federal Communications Commission and Occupational Safety and Health Administration. These resources may be helpful to people who wish to understand more about public health in relation to radio frequency (RF) radiation.

Will my cell service be better once small cell facilities are installed?

The industry's intent for deploying small cell facilities is to improve its reliability and coverage. Each site is usually connected to a specific provider.

What locations have received city permits?

Visit Boulder eMapLink for a list of locations that have been granted city permits.

For more information, please contact Edward Stafford, Development Review Manager, at 303-441-4276 or [email protected].