Back Bay to Get Upgraded Wireless-Antenna Systems

By Beth Treffeisen

Extenet Systems, which hosts cell phone providers such as Verizon Wireless, T-Mobile, Sprint and more, has gotten the approval from the Back Bay Architectural Commission to upgrade and extend their distributed antenna system (DAS) network nodes in the neighborhood.

At a hearing held on Jan. 10, Mike Ross, an attorney representing the company, got permission to replace 11 existing DAS antennas and related telecommunications equipment that are stationed within light poles throughout the historic district.

The upgrades, Ross said, are to be able to provide better service to cell phones. The new technology will allow the systems to reach further and provide faster data to those using smart phones in the area.

The upgrades, which vary in design, will be located mostly along Commonwealth Avenue, Boylston Street, and Newbury Street.

The design is pre-determined by what kind of light poles are on the street. Boston Department of Public Works asks that Extenet replicate the other light poles on the street, and if any upgrades are done, they will have to upgrade their poles to match.

One design stood out to the commissioners, which included a double acorn post with equipment in a box below and a skinny, straight-up antenna extending from between the lights in a spiral. This design is unlike previously proposed antennas that usually have a cylinder cone on top.

“It has a lower profile,” said Commissioner David Eisen. “This is tall and slender, and it looks better when it is tall and slender as opposed to the other ones.”

The Commission made it clear they would prefer to see the skinny, tall antenna sticking up from the top of the light pole, rather than a fat cylinder. They asked that wherever possible to have this style over the other, older ones that they’ve previously approved.

Susan Prindle, representing the Neighborhood Association of the Back Bay, thought a little differently.

“I would like to see one in context to see if they are as tall as they seem to be [in the renderings],” said Prindle. “I would like to see some regularity with them throughout the Back Bay instead of a hodgepodge that it is right now, and it’s regularly getting worse.”

During the presentation a few questions arose as to whether or not the new footprint of the base of the pole will leave enough space for a mailbox, fire hydrant and pedestrians.

Ross, who was stepping in for another attorney, said he will double-check the permits and submit more information to staff to confirm they have the right to place equipment there.

“Is there no way to reduce the size of that technology?” asked Commissioner Eisen. “The base of the pole seems to be taking up three mailboxes in width – that’s pretty big.”

Ross said that the technology is getting smaller but the demand for the technology is astronomical, causing the company to jam more into each equipment box.

“The technology is getting smaller, but more carriers are going in,” said Ross. “These are replacing some of the roof-top ones that were unsightly as well.”

Chair Kathleen Connor asked if the technology lasts and if they will eventually get smaller and smaller.

Ross said that he is not sure if they last over a few years because the technology keeps upgrading. He said, “They’re not always getting smaller just more powerful. We came back this time for some of the poles to upgrade them from 3G to 4G.”

The 11 DAS nodes were approved with details to staff, with an understanding that Extenet use the spirals wherever possible.

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