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GCI Crews Work in Sub-Zero Temperatures to Bring 5G to Alaska’s Largest City

Jan 28, 2020 | News, Telecom & Tech

Equipment is being upgraded at sites across Anchorage in preparation for GCI’s 5G launch later this year

A climber scales a tower in Anchorage in below-zero January weather.

GCI

ANCHORAGE—Local crews and tower climbers from across the nation have converged on Anchorage to help GCI launch the nation’s northernmost 5G service in 2020. GCI’s 5G will deliver faster data speeds and will improve in-building coverage for customers across Anchorage.

Working in temperatures dipping below -10°F earlier this month, the crews are climbing towers across the city to install new hardware that will serve as the platform for GCI’s citywide 5G service. For some of the crews typically based in the Lower 48, the sub-zero temperatures presented an added challenge.

“From limited daylight to extreme cold, Alaska presents some pretty unique working conditions that most in the Lower 48 don’t have to contend with,” said GCI 5G Project Manager Johnathon Storter. “While our local GCI crews are more familiar with working in those conditions, it still makes things more difficult. Luckily the crews from down south are up to the challenge and are doing a fantastic job of helping us move this project forward.”

A team member checks a piece of climbing gear while crews prepare an Anchorage tower for GCI’s Hometown 5G project.

GCI

Over the past forty years, GCI has invested more than $3 billion to deliver telecommunications services throughout Alaska. GCI employs 2,000 Alaskans and serves more than 200 communities. In addition to employing dozens of its own technicians, GCI also hires specialized contractors from across Alaska to help build, maintain, and upgrade the company’s statewide network.

“GCI is committed to hiring local and continues to utilize all available local Alaska crews for our Hometown 5G project,” said Storter. “But a project of this scope requires us to bring in additional support from outside the state to complete the project on time and deliver this new service to our customers.”

Two highly-specialized tower climbing crews from Washington and Oregon have flown in to supplement local Anchorage tower climbing teams and perform a wide variety of work supporting the Hometown 5G project including installing heavy steel platforms on towers, rigging and bolting hardware, handling fiber optic cables, and doing network performance testing with precise measuring equipment. According to estimates by the FCC, a shortage of qualified tower climbers is a major hurdle for 5G deployments in cities nationwide.

GCI CEO and Co-founder Ron Duncan announced the multi-million dollar project at a June 2019 press conference attended by Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz and Börje Ekholm, CEO of industry partner Ericsson. At the event, Ekholm predicted that GCI’s 5G project will transform Alaska “from the Last Frontier into the First Frontier.” GCI’s 5G project was only the twenty-second in the world to be supported by tech industry giant Ericsson.

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