Verizon offers Lowell, Massachusetts, small cell wireless in lieu of Fios

small cell technology on a pole on a sidewalk

Lowell, Massachusetts, residents' hopes for an alternative to Comcast’s hold on the city’s video and high-speed data market were dashed as Verizon said it has no intention of wiring the entire city with the service.

However, according to a report in the Lowell Sun, the service provider proposed to offer the city deeper wireless voice and data coverage via small cells.

The telco is currently negotiating an agreement with the city to install 50 small cells throughout Lowell. By mounting the small cells on utility poles and traffic lights, Verizon will be able to enhance wireless data and voice service for current and new Verizon Wireless customers.

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Deploying small cells in a large city like Lowell reflects Verizon’s move to pave a path for 5G wireless, a technology that uses higher band millimeter wave wireless technology to transmit high-speed data over short distances. Interestingly, 5G technology will heavily depend on fiber-based connectivity which will include dark fiber connections, to backhaul traffic from the remote radio nodes to the internet.

But getting a small cell deal done won’t be easy. One of the sticking points for the city is how much Verizon will pay Lowell to get access to rights of way and other city infrastructure.

City Manager Kevin Murphy said Verizon offered to pay Lowell $6,000 a year to install one small cell system in Gage Park in 2016. Verizon said that it would offer the city about $1,700 to install all 50 of the small cell sites.

"I wouldn't recommend anything unless they come up significantly in what they propose for the price," Murphy told the Lowell Sun. "If they were willing to do that a year ago, why won't they now?"

Verizon has a long-standing relationship with Lowell. Besides being the city's third-largest employer, with 1,500 workers, Verizon has service contracts with a number of key city offices, including police and fire as well as Lowell General Hospital, Trinity EMS, and the U.S. National Park Service rangers.

What made this process with Lowell a bit controversial is the fact that only two days after Verizon representatives told the city it would not build out FTTH into any new towns or cities, the company announced a six-year, $300 million deal to install fiber in Boston.

Verizon spokeswoman Stephanie Lee apologized to city leaders, saying she hadn't been aware of the plans for Boston at the time during the city council's Technology and Utilities Subcommittee on Tuesday.

While Verizon has wired a few select parts of the city with Fios on a case-by-case basis for some developments, like the Appleton Mills and Wannalancit Mills apartment buildings, the service provider claimed that more users are using their mobile devices to access the internet and consuming data.