Vail not yet in line for 5G wireless service as carriers begin nationwide rollout
The challenge is to keep current service stable, and work to expand wireless outside resort areas
VAIL — Technology is forever marching on, but the latest and greatest can take some time to land in the mountains.
All the major cell phone carriers are starting the rollout of what’s called 5G, which is the fifth generation of cellular service. Denver is among those cities, but it could take some time for the new tech to land in Vail.
In an email, Jennie Brew Braggs of the Verizon public communications department wrote that Verizon is bringing the new tech to 30 cities this year. But, she added, “Timing for additional cities, including Vail, has not been announced yet.”
Brew Braggs added that bringing 5G tech to new communities requires new infrastructure. That means adding “small cells” to the existing 4G network. That’s the network most modern phones use.
In another email, AT&T lead public relations manager Suzanne Trantow wrote, “Bringing 5G to the Vail Valley will require ongoing support of local leaders and residents, from local jurisdictions adopting ordinances and regulations, to large property owners, like Vail resorts, willing to engage in dialog with AT&T to bring additional local investment to this community.”
The new technology has raised health concerns in some quarters. Newsweek magazine recently wrote about a small town in England that has banned the new technology pending further research.
A recent story in the New York Times provided a look into current research, which indicates there’s no proven link between the technology and health dangers.
Vail Information Technology Director TJ Johnson said he hasn’t yet heard of any current or future plans to bring 5G technology to town.
Until that happens, Johnson’s job is to help keep the current system running.
Johnson’s only been on the job since March of this year — having worked in a similar role for Vail Resorts for several years before that. His current job includes keeping the resort villages’ WiFi working for users.
Johnson said 5G technology is more about capacity than speed. The amount of data consumed is growing rapidly. Swedish telecommunications company Ericsson estimates that data use per phone will grow tenfold between 2016 and 2022.
That requires “constant reinvestment,” Johnson said. “It’s difficult in that you just have to keep up.”
Equipment can be tricky, given that electronic equipment has to function in all kinds of weather.
Johnson said his department does research to buy “highly rated” outdoor systems. Even then, he added, “our cold is a little unique,” requiring hearty devices.
Building a network
In the past couple of years, Vail has invested in public WiFi access points. Those were replaced in 2018.
Currently, those systems are working in Vail Village, Lionshead and a bit to the west. Johnson said the town’s long-term goal is to expand that service, but there are a couple of significant hurdles to clear.
The first is cost.
“We’re hoping to partner with carriers” to improve service, Johnson said.
The other hurdle is geography. East Vail is particularly tricky, Johnson said.
While wireless service is what everyone wants, Johnson noted that strong wireless needs strong broadband fiber service. That’s expensive.
“You still need that infrastructure,” Johnson said.
That’s coming via Project THOR, which is being spearheaded by the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments. The goal of that project is to bring broadband service to a big part of northwestern Colorado.
Along the Interstate 70 corridor, THOR will use fiber-optic cable owned by the Colorado Department of Transportation.
That will help.
But until new technology is broadly available, Johnson said his job is to keep things working as well as possible for residents and guests.
“We just want to make sure it’s as stable as possible,” Johnson said.