When most people look out their windows in the morning, they likely aren’t expecting to be surprised by a chest freezer-sized box that’s feeding a 5G antenna, but that’s the exact experience some Houston residents have been having. Verizon has been installing the boxes as part of its 5G network rollout since at least 2019, and from the reporting done by the Houston Chronicle, it seems as if it’s been anything but smooth.
The boxes are known as “ground fixtures,” and they supply power and data to 5G antennas that are placed on utility poles nearby. The ones gracing people’s front window views are being set up to build out Verizon’s 5G home internet service. It’s well-known at this point that, while millimeter-wave tech is blazing-fast, it also has terrible range. The solution to that is to blanket an area with antennas, and the equipment for that has to go somewhere.
The first speed bump is that Verizon is under no obligation to get permission from homeowners before installing the boxes. In fact, it’s not even required to notify them that it’s going to happen. This is because, technically, the boxes (and the utility poles that go along with them) are installed on the right-of-way, which is land owned by the county.
The permits to place the equipment are dirt cheap to telecoms, only costing $300. They used to be $2,700 before a law was passed by the state of Texas in 2017. But it’s not just Houston that’s having to deal with the surprise boxes, and it’s not just Verizon putting them down. This drama has been playing out for years as telecoms are trying to expand their networks and prepare for the 5G transition.
While it may be startling, there are other complaints homeowners have. A common one is that the cellular equipment brings their property values down, which can lead to some extreme emotional reactions. And then, perhaps worst of all, there’s the mistakes that can come with installing new equipment: the Chronicle’s article tells of contractors digging into pipes and bursting them, flooding a street not with 5G signal, but with water.
While the strife is currently limited to certain areas, it’s perhaps a sign of things to come. As 5G continues its rollout, we can probably expect to see many more stories like this, where the desires of homeowners push up against the desires of telecoms and the community at large. If discussions aren’t starting about how to deal with it now, the surprises are going to keep showing up — if not on our doorsteps, then at least somewhere in the vicinity.