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Southwest Florida connects to 5G, more small cell sites popping up

More access to faster internet is on the way.

Apple announced on Tuesday its first 5G compatible iPhones, but the technology has been around for a while, with the first all-5G smartphone released by Samsung in March this year.

So, what’s new? Fifth generation wireless technology hitting our streets – literally. By now, you might have noticed more “small cell” sites (poles equipped with 5G antennas) popping up around town.

“Can’t wait to get it, I don’t mind getting a new phone. And I don’t think those towers are that intrusive,” said Louis Mennella. “That’s what I’m looking forward to.”

Some people are more excited than others.

“It wouldn’t be a big deal if we didn’t get it,” said Karl Bergstrom.

There are three main kinds of 5G, ranging in data transmission speed. High band or millimeter wave is the fastest, then mid-band, and low band, which is the slowest – but still slower than 4G.

Dr. Tim O’Shea, a research assistant professor at Virginia Tech who has studied 5G, said that right now low band is most common in less dense cities, providing speeds roughly twice as fast and to more people simultaneously.

“So many more people can get more bandwidth, more download speed faster, with faster response times,” he said.

Carriers across the country are still building their networks, and for the fastest speeds – where you can download a movie in seconds – that requires many more small cell sites.

“Basically those shorter wavelengths, millimeter waves just can’t travel as far. You need to be much closer to the base station for millimeter bands to work well,” O’Shea explained.

Lee County said telecommunication companies have submitted a combined 41 permits for 5G sites. So far, 12 are active on the right-of-ways on county-maintained roads.

WATCH: 5G technology is coming, and Miami has a warning for Southwest Florida

Katheryn Swann of Fort Myers said she hopes the 5G rollout is done responsibly, but she can see why it’s important now more than ever.

“Technology is getting bigger obviously because of COVID-19. A lot of old ways of doing things have kind of gone to the wayside. Everyone’s doing everything on the phone now,” she said.

Experts like O’Shea say if you plan to a 5G phone, consider how far along 5G infrastructure is in your area before you spend the cash.

Critics of 5G say scientists haven’t done enough research on any potential health effects from the new technology since it uses radio waves differently than older tech.

WATCH: 5G wireless will provide faster cellular service. But how safe is it?

Swann thinks more research is a reasonable request.

“We don’t know what’s gonna happen 100 years from now, our children and grandchildren will find out how it’s affected them,” Swann said.

Major agencies, including the World Health Organization, agree that more research should be done, but say currently they have no reason to believe it could cause adverse health effects.

Reporter:Sara Girard
Writer:Jackie Winchester
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