Hawaii needs to prepare for 5G

The recent public safety alert error drove home just how much we rely on wireless communications and how pervasive they have become.

Consumers in Hawaii have gone wireless in a big way, with more than 1.4 million subscribers here and 99.5 percent of all residents having access to wireless broadband. Our wireless infrastructure permitting policies need to be changed to meet consumers’ growing appetite for mobile broadband and voice communications.


State-of-the art wireless today is fourth-generation technology, called 4G. It is very good, with speeds and processing power that makes an assortment of data and voice communications happen rapidly and smoothly.

5G will be game-changing. Its highly advanced speed and processing capabilities will support driverless cars, smart cities, and long-distance medical treatments. Public safety will be enhanced by more reliable communications, and faster interconnected devices will improve our daily lives.

Local businesses will get a huge boost from 5G. With increased ability to attract and engage customers, island companies from the largest corporate hotels to mom and pop stores will see their revenues rise. Studies predict 5G will add $1.3 billion to Hawaii’s economy, creating more than 8,000 jobs across the state. Wireless operators are set to invest more than $700 million in bringing 5G technology to Hawaii.

In preparation for the coming of 5G, we need to remove obstructions to access. It is imperative to change the way we regulate wireless antenna placements, because the present system does not work for 5G. The new technology uses small cell antennas, not the giant cell towers we see across the state. Wireless carriers need to place a number of small cells to support 5G, and making them jump through the time-consuming, expensive, tower regulatory process will slow deployment, if not block it completely.

Small cell antennas can be placed on utility poles, street signs and similar existing infrastructure. Other states have already rewritten their permitting regulations to accommodate small cell placements. Hawaii’s new rules can ensure that local zoning controls remain in place, communities will dictate how many and where antennas are located, and fees will still be collected from wireless providers.

This legislative session, lawmakers are contemplating a couple of measures to fix our antiquated permitting process. Permitting needs to be standardized and modernized.


The future is knocking on our door. Government regulators cannot continue to look through the peep hole and watch our neighbors reap the benefits of technological advancements. It is time to embrace the future.

Glenn Wakai is a Democratic state senator representing parts 0f Oahu. He is the chair of the Senate’s Committee on Economic Development, Tourism and Technology.