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Category Archives: Towers

New Technology Monitors Cell Tower Structure Displacement

By J. Sharpe Smith

Smart Tower Sensor

One of the exciting things about the world of technology is how advancements from one area spread into other sectors. A new company, Smart Tower, has done just that by parlaying  improvements in Cloud computer technology, sensors and Big Data analysis into a new technology that monitors of tower structures.

Co-inventors and avowed tower guys, Mark Allen and Dave Brinker have developed a technology that gives new insights into the performance of the structures holding up cellular antennas.

“We have seen the need to get more out of existing structures,” Brinker said. “A lot of money and savings in time can be realized if you really know the response of the structures to wind events and earthquakes, whether you are adding more equipment to the structure, or you are concerned about the current loading or simply want to monitor the structural health.”

To do that, the Smart Tower System employs complex mathematics and hardware, including a suite of sensors and software that continuously and remotely monitor the performance of the structure and sends alerts if the displacement (movement) of the structure is outside of certain parameters. The sensors are hard wired to a ground control unit, which collects the data from the sensors involved and transmits it to the cloud where it can be downloaded remotely for processing.

“We wanted to know the displacement of the structure in an economical way, because that is a true indicator what the stresses are in the structure,” Brinker said. “On a remote basis, our system measures the lateral displacement and twist and sway of the structure continuously, which can be correlated with wind and earthquake events.”

Allen added, “The use of advanced, ultra-precise sensors and modern communications technology allows the generation of alerts when the structure senses extreme loading events or unexpected responses caused by extreme weather conditions, earthquakes, vandalism, slack guys, loose waveguide hardware, foundation settlements and more.”

Towers will oscillate in low wind speeds, as well as during storms. While seemingly innocuous, these vibrations can be destructive leading to cracks.

“This system will detect when these oscillations occur and alert the owner to inspect for possible cracks. To help solve that problem, the tower owner needs to know the frequency that causes that vibration,” Allen said.

Risk Mitigation and Reliability

Another plus to monitoring the tower structure is that insurers have said they will reduce premiums on towers that use the Smart Tower System, because it proactively reduces risk.

In the unlikely event of a tower collapse, the sensors can also act as a “black box,” providing a blow-by-blow record of the incident and what led up to it. The sensors will continue to record during the event, even if they become detached from the system. The sensors are then retrieved and the data from the last two minutes of the tower’s life can be analyzed by engineers.

“Admittedly, that is a pretty rare event, but if you are a tower owner that is being sued for a tower collapse, it will provide some finite data on what happened,” Allen said.

By monitoring a tower over an extended period of time, trends can be analyzed concerning displacement. For example, displacement in a 40 MPH wind in year one can be compared with the amount of movement in structure at the same wind speed five, 10, 15 years later. The knowledge gained from monitoring can inform the tower owner to the effects of aging on the structure. It may also allow the tower owner to increase the period of time between tower assessments, which saves money.

Possibly, in the future, knowledge that is gained from Smart Tower Systems may inform future tower manufacturing techniques, maybe even helping to guide tower-building standards.

Chairman Pai Praises Tower Industry Hurricane Recovery Efforts

By J. Sharpe Smith

Cell towers were more resilient during Hurricane Harvey in South Texas than in previous storms, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai told an audience during his keynote at the Mobile World Congress Americas today in San Francisco. The news from Florida, however was not quite as upbeat with the affected disaster area losing service from more than 27 percent of the cell towers.

“About 5 percent of cell sites were down [in South Texas], as opposed to 25 percent for Hurricane Sandy,” Pai said. “That wireless connectivity was literally a lifeline for many.”

More than 96,000 calls were made to Houston’s main 911 emergency response center, many of which were from wireless phones.

“Many of the more than 11,000 people rescued by the Coast Guard were found because of wireless calls,” Pai said. “That includes one 14-year-old girl who was saved after telling Siri, ‘Call the Coast Guard.’” Smartphones were used to access social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter to summon help and keep tabs on loved ones.

Pai applauded the “heroic efforts to quickly restore communications” of the technicians working to bring Houston and South Texas back online and on the air.

“When the rain was still coming down and the water was still rising, technicians braved the elements to fix service disruptions as quickly as possible,” Pai said.

A Tale of Two Hurricanes

Compared with Harvey, Hurricane Irma affected a much wider area striking with Category 4-force winds, as it steamed up the Gulf Coast of the state. Of the more than 14,500 cell towers located in the disaster area, nearly 4,000 cell towers had lost service as of Sept. 11.

Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands saw improvement on Monday with 21.5 of affected towers out of service, compare with nearly 27 percent on Sunday.

“Now, reports so far indicate that communications services in the path of Hurricane Irma have not fared as well due to staggering winds,” Pai said. “But we’re grateful for the hard work people are doing to keep wireless networks up and running for as many people as possible.”

J. Sharpe Smith is senior editor of the AGL eDigest. He joined AGL in 2007 as contributing editor to the magazine and as editor of eDigest email newsletter. He has 27 years of experience writing about industrial communications, paging, cellular, small cells, DAS and towers. Previously, he worked for the Enterprise Wireless Alliance as editor of the Enterprise Wireless Magazine. Before that, he edited the Wireless Journal for CTIA and he began his wireless journalism career with Phillips Publishing, now Access Intelligence. 

Chinese Drone Maker Dropped by U.S. Army Over Cybersecurity Worries

By J. Sharpe Smith

There is controversy brewing in the drone world. The U.S. Army has dropped the use of all UAV products made by Chinese manufacture DJI Technology because of cybersecurity concerns, in a memo released earlier this month.

DJI, whose products are the most widely used commercial, off-the-shelf drones used by the Army, was accused of caching data obtained by the drones and sending them back to DJI’s computer servers over the internet.

The army will cease the use of any system that employs DJI electrical components or software including, flight computers, cameras, radios, batteries, speed controllers, GPS units and handheld control stations.

Phil Larsen, RDF Wireless, whose company only uses American-made drone products, said the  drone industry will not be adversely affected by the news.

“Drones aren’t going anywhere,” Larsen said. “The industry will just continue to grow, and now with DJI under scrutiny American companies will get a chance in the arena.”

This week, Reuters reported that DJI is improving the data security of its products in response the U.S. Army ban. A system is being developed that automatically disconnects from the internet during flight. This would protect any flight logs, photos or videos collected by the drones.


Edge Computing Coming to Tower Sites; Crown Castle Buys In

June 22, 2017

By J. Sharpe Smith

Senior Editor, AGL eDigest

Remember when we all thought that 4G LTE technology with its antenna-mounted amplifiers spelled the doom of size-able equipment enclosures at the base of cell towers? Well, think again. Project Volutus was unveiled yesterday by a company called Vapor IO, which wants to build a giant network of distributed edge data centers at the bases of thousands of cell towers, which will be directly connect to wireless networks.

Removing all doubt that this is a big deal for towers, Crown Castle International, the nation’s largest provider of shared wireless infrastructure, has made a minority investment in Vapor IO to accelerate the project’s development and deployment.

Making Towers a key to 5G

Edge computing has always been part of the 5G game plan. No matter the bandwidth or the protocol, if a smart phone or robot or connected car cannot quickly access the Cloud for the needed data it will not perform at the needed latency goals of 5G. But now a company, Vapor IO, has stepped up with technology that pushes access to the cloud to the edge of the network.

“There’s a new class of applications—including IoT, virtual reality, autonomous and connected vehicles, and smart cities—where the existing model of large, centralized datacenters just won’t work,” Vapor IO said. “These applications need compute and storage to be located more closely to the device or application. The round trip back to a centralized data center takes too long and the amount of data that needs to be transferred is too large.”

Project Volutus is a collocation and “data center as a platform” service, which is a fully-managed micro data center at the base of the cell tower, literally at the true edge of the wireless network. It combines Vapor IO’s hardware and software with the network of cell towers and dense metro fiber to build and operate distributed edge data centers in major metropolitan locations.

“Project Volutus combines edge co-location with remote operations, intelligent cross-connects to wireless networks, and direct fiber routes to regional data centers and peering interconnects,” the Vapor IO said. “It provides point-to-point, multi-point and mesh tower-to-tower connections, bypassing the multi-hop high-latency backhaul of the legacy wireless networks and delivering low millisecond round trips.

Project Volutus uses Vapor IO’s “Vapor Chamber,” an energy-efficient rack and enclosure system designed for edge environments. Ecosystem partner Intel is supplying its FlexRAN and Multi-access Edge Compute (MEC) software libraries to provide an agile virtualized radio access network (vRAN) foundation platform for Project Volutus.

“By collaborating with wireless carriers and telecom equipment manufacturers running vRAN and MEC in Vapor Edge Computing locations, we can bring the network closer to the mobile user,” Caroline Chan, VP of 5G Infrastructure Division of Intel.

Project Volutus will be available for early access in Q3 and multi-city rollouts are targeted to begin later in the year.

Future Estate Communications Solutions 

The next generation of wireless networks will drive the need for all different types of communications assets: from macrocells, small cells and DAS to fiber optics, centralized RAN (C-RAN) and data centers. In a recent interview, officials from Digital Bridge said they are intent on amassing a variety of assets to serve all carriers’ needs, as well as Cloud and content players.  Wholly-owned subsidiary Vertical Bridge has accumulated assets in buildings, rooftops, utility attachments and macrocells all as part of a turnkey real estate communications solution.

“I take it personally when people call us a tower company. We are no longer a tower company,” Bernard Borghei, senior VP, operations and co-founder, said. “We are a real estate solution provider. We have all these different types of assets to meet the demands of today’s advanced technology leading into 5G and beyond.”

Even the real estate under suburban towers may come in handy as locations for micro data centers as wireless providers push their data centers closer to the edge of the network, according to Alex Gellman, Vertical Bridge CEO and co-founder.  “If C-RAN is to be located at specific sites, we look at marketing the land under our sites for a C-RAN hub,” he said.

NATE Releases Drone Video

June 6, 2017 —

Epic Drone Video Latest to Debut as Part of NATE’s Climber Connection Series

The National Association of Tower Erectors (NATE) unveiled an Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) safety video as part of Volume 2 of the popular Climber Connection series. The NATE UAS Operations video shines a spotlight on the important role that drones are playing in the communications tower industry.

The video also provides a detailed overview on the best practices associated with conducting drone operations at a tower site, the current regulatory environment governing commercial drone operations and the industry resources available to UAS operators to ensure that these activities are performed safely and efficiently. Additionally, the video includes breath-taking aerial footage of a tower crew utilizing a drone at a tower site.

The UAS Operations video was showcased by NATE during a main stage presentation at the 2017 Drone Focus Conference in Fargo, North Dakota.

The 2017 Drone Focus Conference is a prominent annual gathering of commercial UAS enthusiasts from throughout the United States. U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao, U.S. Senator John Hoeven (R-ND) and North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum all attended and participated in the event.

“Drones are changing the game in the communications tower industry from a safety, quality and efficiency perspective,” stated Jacob Cowart from Phoenix Tower Service, LLC in Horton, Kansas. “NATE’s UAS Operations video is a great resource and a must-watch for everyone working in our industry,” added Cowart.

Click HERE to watch the UAS Operations safety video. NATE encourages tower climbers and all wireless and broadcast industry stakeholders to actively participate in this campaign by posting the UAS Operations video on their respective social networking platforms using the hashtag #ClimberConnection. NATE also encourages tower climbers to share their UAS operations tips through social interaction on the Association’s Facebook and Twitter pages.

The Climber Connection Volume 2 campaign was developed by the NATE Member Services Committee in conjunction with the NATE Safety & Education Committee and is designed to provide specific resources and communicate the Association’s message directly to the industry’s elevated workforce.

Visit HERE to access the A10.48 Standard, Broadcast Repack and Riding the Line videos that were previously released as part of the Volume 2 edition of the Climber Connection video series. For more information on NATE, visit www.natehome.com today.