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JBG Smith, AT&T Plan to Bring Ubiquitous 5G to National Landing

An aerial rendering of National Landing by night (courtesy of JBG Smith)

Since August, JBG Smith has been assembling the bones needed to turn part of Arlington and Alexandria into the world’s first large-scale “Smart City.”

And today (Tuesday), the developer is set to cinch two crucial parts of the skeleton. This morning, it announced a partnership with AT&T to install 5G network throughout Crystal City, Pentagon City and Potomac Yard, collectively known as National Landing.

“The goal of this collaboration with AT&T is to further enhance National Landing and create the only neighborhood that provides entrepreneurs, universities, and global technology companies the digital infrastructure necessary to shape the future of their industries,” JBG Smith CEO Matt Kelly said.

This evening, the County Board is poised to grant access to the backbone of the network: currently unused, county-owned dark fiber assets. The county would receive $3.5 million in exchange.

The speedy wireless network could draw more innovative companies to the area and help bring futuristic experiences — such as self-driving vehicles, immersive and augmented reality, building automation and environmental sustainability — to fruition, according to their press release.

Parts of the 5G network could be operational in the first half of 2022, JBG Smith Smart Cities Vice President Vardahn Chaudhry tells ARLnow.

“5G is complex in that it requires robust underlying digital infrastructure both underground and across the built environment,” he said. “JBG Smith and AT&T are still working through the details of the infrastructure deployments and will share more in the coming months.”

The real estate company made its ambitions known last August, when it acquired seven blocks of Citizens Broadband Radio Service spectrum spanning Arlington and Alexandria through a national Federal Communications Commission auction.

Still missing the underground network backbone, JBG Smith eyed Arlington County’s unused fiber optic assets in National Landing, from when the county built a ring of dark fiber nearly 10 miles long called ConnectArlington.

The network was designed to support county government and Arlington Public Schools and give local businesses access to cheaper, higher-speed internet, but an ARLnow investigation found legal issues made it difficult for businesses to use it.

County staff recommend the County Board approve the 75-year agreement with JBG Smith, which is planning to market National Landing — home to Amazon’s HQ2 — as an “Innovation District.”

“Consistent with the intent of the original ConnectArlington investment, the primary benefit of this Agreement will be to assist in the creation of an Innovation District that will establish the area as a magnet for human talent and innovation — the key driver of economic prosperity today and moving forward,” according to the report.

JBG Smith said it already possess other things needed for the project: expansive real estate holdings, from existing office space and apartments to developable land, which provides the buildings, street furniture and underground infrastructure needed for the roll-out.

U.S. Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) said he is thrilled to see two private-sector organizations leading the 5G charge.

“American competitiveness in the deployment of 5G networks — and innovation in the emerging technologies [that] 5G unlocks — remain key to our national and economic security interest,” he said. “This collaboration can be a blueprint for how digital infrastructure is deployed, and I am heartened by the prospects of the innovation this may unlock to advance our country’s competitiveness globally.”

County staff valued the transfer at $3.5 million after weighing how much it would need to recoup construction costs and advance county goals against how much it would cost JBG Smith to build its own assets.

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