Small Cell Technology

Small Cell Installation
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Small cell and 5G is the next generation of cellular technology, benefiting those who live, work or play in Vestavia Hills by exponentially increasing wireless data capacity and transfer speeds. As more small cell nodes are installed throughout the city, users will enjoy an improved cellular experience and connectivity.

>>What is a Small Cell?

In order to deliver 5G, the telecommunications industry is developing a network of small wireless communication facilities – called “small cells” – that are installed on existing or new utility poles in the right-of-way, next to streets and roads. Small cell networks are composed of small radio antennas that are attached to multiple existing or new streetlight and utility poles. An individual small cell is called a node. The individual nodes send data through fiber optic cable to a hub site, typically a traditional cell tower. The hub site sends the data out to the internet and broader communication networks.

Small cells look completely different than the wireless infrastructure we have seen in the past. We are accustomed to macro cells – those tall cell towers you see along highways and on city rooftops. Small cells are, well, smaller. They are lower-power cell sites that are installed every few blocks, instead of miles apart.

Small cell installation consists of small radio equipment and antennas that can be placed on structures such as streetlights, the sides of buildings or poles. High-density placement is key for small cells because in addition to traditional low-band spectrum, they can transmit data using mid- and high-band spectrum – and those airwaves cannot travel as far. But these mid- and high-band frequencies will help bolster 5G network capacity, due to their ability to send larger quantities of data at higher speeds.


5G small cell installations will benefit property owners, residents and businesses by exponentially increasing their wireless data capacity and transfer speed.

>>The City’s Role

In order to ensure small cells are visually appealing and fit into the aesthetic of the area, the first goal is for wireless service providers to attempt to collocate on existing poles in the area wherever possible. Where this is not possible, providers installing small cell nodes in the City will ensure nodes complement the existing aesthetic of the installation site and surrounding utility infrastructure.

If an existing pole is unavailable, the request for a new pole, when submitted, will go before the City Council for approval. Notification of the request and public hearing will be advertised via a sign posted at the site of the request as well as door hangers that will be hung at adjacent residences/businesses of the area. A public hearing will be conducted to determine approval and/or denial of said request. Note: Notification times are short due to the limited processing time allowed by the FCC. The City will make every attempt to provide as much notification as possible with each new pole request.

FCC rule 18-133 interprets the Federal Communication Act of 1996 regarding local governments regulation of small cell infrastructure. This rule prohibits the outright refusal by local governments for the installation of small cell structures to be installed in the ROW. It does, however, allow local governments the ability to consider aesthetics in the installation but within certain parameters. For example, metal vs. wood pole or minor adjustment in location. The City Council adopted and approved Ordinance Number 2814-A to regulate this technology and Ordinance Number 2815-A to regulate small cell fees.

In response to resident requests for further clarification of a local government’s role in small cell infrastructure, an opinion was requested from Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall. Click HERE to view the opinion dated December 27, 2023. In summary, the opinion states:

  1. Municipalities may not deny a small cell installation.
  2. Municipalities may make reasonable requirements to fit the aesthetics of a neighborhood, but that does not apply to the placement of small cell infrastructure underground. The City may not require underground placement and thus preclude pole placement.
  3. Municipalities may not determine the exact placement of the small cell facility.


Small cell nodes are typically installed in the public right-of-way (ROW). Wireless providers, as designated utilities, have broad discretion on the location of their infrastructure within the ROW and can choose where to install each node. With the exception of pedestrian and vehicular safety, the City has very limited control over the location of each small cell.

Click HERE to view the map of small cell locations in Vestavia Hills.

>>Safety Concerns

  • The City does not have any authority to deny the installation of small cell nodes based on health concerns, as stated by the Federal Communications Commission. The City recommends contacting your state representative or the FCC with individual concerns.
  • The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) studies and regulates the use of radio frequencies across the electromagnetic spectrum. The safety of radio waves has been extensively studied by government agencies and health groups that set standards continuously review this research. The World Health Organization (WHO) concludes, “Considering the very low exposure levels and research results collected to date, there is no convincing scientific evidence that the weak RF signals from base stations and wireless networks cause adverse health effects.”
  • The FCC preempts cities from denying any small cell permit based on health concerns or the environmental effects of radio frequencies under Section 332(c)(7) of the Communications Act.
  • For more information, please refer to the FCC’s Safety FAQ and the Safety Information page. Additional details can be found at the U.S Food and Drug Administration and the National Cancer Institute.

>> Need more information? The links below provide answers to a variety of frequently asked questions:

Click HERE to complete the application for a small cell location(s) online or download the application below: