August 30, 2016 —
Do you own or service a tower or structure that stands less than 200 feet high above ground level (AGL)?
Do you plan on constructing one in the near future?
The lighting requirements for these towers may increase with the U.S. House of Representatives bill HR 636 that the president signed on July 15, 2016. The bill, “FAA Extension, Safety and Security Act of 2016,” was the vehicle used to reauthorize funding for the Federal Aviation Administration for fiscal year 2017, which starts on Oct. 1, 2016. Previous to the passage of the bill, the FAA did not typically consider towers less than 200 feet AGL to be hazardous to air navigation, and thus did not require such towers to be equipped with obstruction lighting equipment.
Congress passed HR 636 to extend the FAA’s operations for another 12 months through September 2017. Its three main sections are “Title I — FAA Extension,” “Title II — Aviation Safety Critical Reforms” and “Title III — Aviation Security. “ Within “Title II Subtitle A – Safety,” Section 2110 details that the FAA must enact new tower marking guidelines within one year of the enactment of the HR 636 for “covered towers.” These guidelines require that a covered tower be clearly marked per FCC advisory circular AC 70/7460/1L, dated Dec. 4, 2015.
The real question becomes: What is a covered tower? There are guyed towers and self-support towers, but what is a covered tower? Here is the definition of a covered tower per HR 636, Section 2110.d.1.A:
i. It is self-supporting or supported by guy wires and ground anchors.
ii. It is 10 feet or less in diameter at the aboveground base, excluding the concrete footing.
iii. The highest point of the structure is at least 50 feet above ground level.
iv. The highest point of the structure is not more than 200 feet above ground level.
v. It has accessory facilities on which an antenna, sensor, camera, meteorological instrument or other equipment is mounted.
vi. It is located outside the boundaries of an incorporated city or town, or on land that is undeveloped or used for agricultural purposes.
With all that, the act has some exclusions. The provisions of the act do not apply if the tower is adjacent to a house, barn, electric utility station or other building; if it is within the curtilage of a farmstead; if it supports electric utility transmission or distribution lines; if it is a wind-powered electrical generator with a rotor blade radius that exceeds 6 feet: or if it is a street light erected or maintained by a federal, state, local or tribal entity.
With the hundreds of thousands of towers dotting the landscape of America, there will be an increase in the number of affected towers that will need to be reviewed for lighting requirements to provide air navigation safety to the flying public. This is not intended for the safety of large commercial airlines, but more for the small plane pilots (crop dusters), medevac helicopters and other low-flying aircraft. Even with the exclusions, there will be thousands of covered towers that the FAA will need to have cataloged and reviewed in order to determine whether they are hazardous to air navigation.
What does this mean for tower owners? Because guidelines will not be ready for review or publication until sometime next year, the tower owners should become familiar with the FAA AC 70/7460-1L to understand the requirements for structures 200 feet AGL or less. These types of towers are typically lit with red lights for nighttime marking and painted with white and orange bands for daytime marking. AC 70/7460-1L limits the use of medium-intensity white lighting to no less than 200 feet AGL. With the good news of possibly only needing red lights comes the bad news of the requirement to apply paint.
Jeff Jacobs is director of technical sales and support at Hughey & Phillips. The company makes FAA-approved lighting equipment that may be required for covered towers as defined in the new FAA Extension, Safety & Security Act. Jacobs’ email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Amazon has just come up with a scheme where it plans to use cell towers to charge its delivery drones. Cell towers aren’t the only structures that Amazon is looking at, however. They are also considering things such as church steeples, power poles, and buildings, among others. There can also be stand-alone structures in areas where no high-points exist.
The scheme is interesting. If this works the way Amazon envisions it, their drones could be a system all to itself. This would allow Amazon to deliver nationwide, if the loftiest of plans come to fruition. The drones would not only use these refuel/recharge stations to top off the tank but also as communications points as well, such as homing beacons and automated routing and delivery instructions.
However, to make this work will require the blessing of the both the FAA and FCC. Drone package delivery isn’t sanctioned by the FAA and RF-emissions for such drone use isn’t either.
One angle that hasn’t been talked about is how this will play into 5G and the IoX. These drones come under the 500 foot ceiling umbrella. And, many of these refuel/recharge point may be a whole lot lower. With two-way communications on board, how is that going to interface with things like small cells and other 5G/IoX communications. On top of that, Walmart is looking at a similar scheme for delivery, even using the Amazon’s refuel/recharge stations. And I am sure these two are not the only entities thinking about this in one fashion or another.
Many of the 5G and IoX devices are going to be low-power and many will be at altitude where these (and other drones) will be operating. Right now the worry is more about the drones being a physical problem than an RF problem. But in the long run, that should be something the industry should be talking about.
With today’s seemingly endless proliferation of new wireless spectrum, the prospects for wireless tower owners seem glowing. Local communities, on the other hand, are adopting more codes and regulations that oppose new tower site development. Although citizens crave the expansive use of wireless technology, they would prefer it if wireless didn’t require towers. For these reasons, the collocation of antennas on existing structures is strongly promoted.
Tower owners are happy to welcome new tenants and added rental revenue. But prior to approval of a tower collocation, best practices dictate that towers be meticulously mapped and a structural analysis be performed to assess the current loading of antennas, mounts and cables.
Available tower space can also be deceptively burdened by a carrier trend of adding many hundreds of pounds of tower-mounted equipment adjacent to antennas. This trend has significantly increased tower loading. More and more, the structural evaluation process concludes that a tower is already overstressed. That means the collocation of new carrier facilities cannot proceed.
Several factors have contributed to this unfortunate condition. On older towers, the process of reinforcement by attaching additional structural members has often done more harm than good. Holes were drilled and members were welded, weakening the structures and promoting corrosion. EIA/TIA safety standards for ice and wind loading have also been modified, making them more stringent. Prior to the introduction of PCS cellular technology, and more recently LTE cellular technology, towers were built to a minimal standard without forethought to advancing industry requirements. Towers needed to be taller and stronger, but budgets prevailed.
Moreover, tower properties have been repeatedly sold to a succession of buyers, and records haven’t always made the transition to new owners. Structural analysis requirements have sometimes been circumvented while defunct antennas, supports and cables have not been removed.
Drop and Swap
Tower suppliers have a simple solution to this problem: drop and swap. Tower steel suppliers would never hold it against the tower owner for undersizing its requirement for a previous tower. They will simply deliver new steel. It’s not a problem at all.
But, wait. What if the community prefers the view with the old tower missing? Will jurisdictions approve the erection of a new, larger tower? How long will tenants be off the air? Will state historic preservation officers want to talk about “invisibility?” How about National Environmental Policy Act considerations? What will the Federal Aviation Administration want to know? Will birdwatchers protest?
Through the years, various methods of structural reinforcement have been tried with mixed success. They include removing and replacing overstressed or corroded members, or building up existing members. Adding strength by welding split sleeves to legs is costly. Many contractors, citing safety concerns, have ceased offering that option.
One solution encloses the existing tower in another tower or a portion of a tower. This exterior tower wrap is expensive and usually requires the relocation of mounts and antennas, and the rerouting of cables and ladders. Often, expensive foundation modifications are also required.
A Tower Within a Tower
The load path transfer method (LPTM) for strengthening a tower is nearly self-defining. LPTM relieves the load from each tower section’s legs by combining and delivering those loads to the tower’s foundation using a pre-engineered internal tower structure that’s assembled on-site. Once installed, a patented turnbuckle function tensions the combined structures from top to bottom. Each LPTM augmentation is designed for a specific tower. There is no welding. There is no drilling.
In most cases, antennas, mounts, cables and ladders need not be moved. Equipment remains on the air during the entire process. Also, depending on the jurisdiction, most LPTM projects require little or no additional zoning or permitting.
It is unfortunate that many professionally designed tower structures are being unnecessarily replaced. Tower professionals who followed all the right steps find that with the changing of rules or the evolution of technology, the value of their good work is depreciated. Now it is possible to add significant life to older towers.
First, let’s consider whether a tower is a good candidate for LPTM.
Foundation, Anchors and Guys
Given a few criteria, a well-designed and maintained tower and anchor foundation system can typically be used in an altered tower application, possibly with new guy wires at existing or different positions.
The original design and the construction should be inspected and documented. It is important to thoroughly inspect the anchor foundations and verify that installation was completed in accordance with the design. Extremely important: What is the condition of the anchors? Guy wire and anchor hardware corrosion that has occurred because of a lack of cathodic protection can be a problem.
Installing LPTM Components
The tower must be sound and climbable for an LPTM augmentation to proceed. Ideally, the tower face width should be at least 36 inches, providing ample room for workers to install LPTM components. LPTM essentially becomes a tower within a tower.
Beginning the Process
The first step in determining the feasibility for an LPTM project is to map the tower and its foundation. The mapping process is a tower owner’s necessary tool and is the basis for the LPTM design and quotation process. The resulting information is entered into a proprietary database written specifically for the LPTM. Database reports are used to develop a scope of work, a list of materials and the individual design of necessary components. The output will also generate the estimated end result of the process. At this point, the tower owner will know how its tower will benefit from LPTM and will receive a close estimate of the project’s cost.
LPTM Augmentation Examples
Oriental, North Carolina: The project involved a 480-foot guyed tower. A structural evaluation determined the feasibility of Verizon and AT&T each adding LTE overlays. Considering the proposed additions, the structural analysis indicated a 222.8 percent structural loading. An LPTM retrofit was shown to provide a low-cost, time-saving solution.
Along with the custom-designed LPTM augmentation, the project included removing the top 120-foot secondary tower addition, replacing existing guy wires, and adding a torque arm and an additional guy level.
After adding LTE overlays, the result was a 360-foot tower with a load rating of 78 percent.
Hawthorne, Florida: Near Gainesville, Florida, the project in Hawthorne was a 40-year-old, 480-foot guyed tower on which AT&T wanted to add LTE overlay equipment. Mapping and structural analysis indicated that the result would be a 228 percent structural overload. LPTM augmentation was recommended.
The tower’s top 180-foot portion was removed. Workers performed rust abatement, applied cold galvanizing and removed two tower leg structural modifications that were previously installed.
After the AT&T overlay was installed, an updated structural analysis showed a load rating of 63 percent.
The load path transfer method is a proven solution. Its results have been well documented. Tower owners now have a reasonable alternative to high-cost tower replacement.
Tom Swan is national sales manager at Hemphill in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Hemphill manufactures LPTM components. His email address is Send Mail
email@example.com. Keypoint Construction of Mandeville, Louisiana, is the sole licensee of LPTM technology. At Keypoint, information is available from Dick Huddleston, managing partner. His email address is Send Mail
For more information, go to www.hemphillbts.com/Towers/index.html
April 5, 2016 — Compounding towers’ current growth worries is the anger of the carriers concerning rising escalator costs, usually set at 3 percent annually, according to Jennifer Fritzsche, Wells Fargo senior analyst. AT&T has openly criticized the tower model, saying that if the carrier is growing at only 1 percent, it doesn’t want a vendor growing faster.
“In the case of AT&T and Sprint, there is almost a perfect storm surrounding the public tower companies. Although I have followed AT&T for 17 years, I have never seen them publicly comment on a vendor so angrily, as they have the tower companies,” Fritzsche said in an arm chair interview with AGL Magazine’s executive editor and associate publisher Don Bishop at IWCE’s Network Infrastructure Forum, held last month.
Fritzsche noted the speculation that AT&T may be attempting to bypass the major public tower companies with their requests for proposals.
“Some say that AT&T is trying to muscle some of the smaller tower companies into lower escalations,” Fritzsche said. “The tower companies clearly have leverage with existing macro sites, but new incremental sites that are coming, if there is a purposeful move around the public tower companies, that is somewhat alarming.
“Part of this is probably posturing, because they are currently negotiating master leasing agreements with the two largest tower companies, but you have woken up the sleeping bear,” she added.
Fritzsche, who is a sell-side analyst, spoke about her March 4th downgrade of the tower sector and how it was misconstrued by some as being a negative judgement of the tower industry. Her actions — she kept American Tower at a buy, moved SBA to a hold and kept Crown at a hold – were based on the short-term prospects for revenue growth, she said.
“Will these stocks move quickly? I didn’t think they would. I don’t see the catalysts for this group in the near term,” Fritzsche said. “I would characterize it as a holding pattern. The carriers, which I follow, have a lot to digest right now. They just spent $45 billion at the AWS-3 auction, and they have the broadcast incentive auction coming.”
The timing of AT&T’s return to capex growth in towers is the subject of much uncertainty, according Fritzsche. “With one of the major customers of the tower industry not moving quickly, I did not see the upside of the revenue estimates that I have in place for the tower sector,” she said.
Deploying fiber in the ground is currently dominating AT&T’s capex, and it follows an industry trend toward using fiber to support wireline over the top (OTT) services, small cell deployment and macro backhaul.
“I don’t see that changing right now. They view fiber as the critical element to support, not only the OTT broadband connection, but longer term as the plumbing that will undergird the strength of their wireless network,” Fritzsche said.
While some criticized the AT&T/DirecTV deal, Fritzsche said he she liked the media play quite a bit. “Although linear TV is experiencing downward pressure, more video is being watched than ever through over the top (OTT) services and on mobile devices. Now, AT&T has a hand in each honey pot,” she said. A healthy AT&T will be good for towers in the long run.
February 18, 2016 — Discussing best practices for improving tower safety was the first order of business as the FCC and the U.S. Department of Labor held the FCC and DoL Workshop on Tower Climber Safety and Apprenticeship Program, Feb. 11, at the FCC’s headquarters in Washington, D.C. It was the second FCC/DoL tower safety workshop in as many years.
FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler noted in opening remarks that the first tower safety workshop was held in October 2014 after the industry suffered a staggering number of fatalities that year and a similar number of tragedies the previous year. Since then, the wireless industry has rallied to make the tower environment safer, resulting in the creation of a wireless industry worker certification organization, National Wireless Safety Alliance (NWSA). Additionally, the Telecommunications Industry Registered Apprenticeship Program (TIRAP) was formed to promote training by a joint venture of wireless companies, associations and the DoL. And the number of tower fatalities has dropped significantly.
But the chairman said more needs to be done as tower work is set to increase in the coming years.
“The problem [of tower fatalities] was addressed [in the first tower safety workshop]. The tragedies came down. But we are about to see a steep increase in construction on towers through cell splitting, small cells, [and because of the] additional 600 MHz spectrum obtained through the incentive auction and the broadcast re-pack,” Wheeler said. “To meet this demand there is going to be an influx of individuals to do the work. The new demand will stress the progress we have made. Our challenge is to be ready to deal with that stress that we know is coming.”
Contractual Controls Promise Safer Towers
The tower industry has made strides forward toward requiring all tower workers to be certified as competent, according to Kevin Schmidt, NWSA board member.
“There are contractual controls that will be put in to place,” Schmidt said. “The top national carriers have agreed to add into their contract language that anyone working on their site is going to have to be NWSA approved, starting later this year or early next year. That will eliminate the companies that send out the newer people that are not trained or certified and don’t know exactly what they are doing.”
Wade Sarver, blogger at Wade4Wireless.com, called for independent safety audits to ensure that contractors are living up to the agreement to hire certified climbers.
“How do we know there are certified climbers on the site when there are three contractors between the carrier and the tower service company?” Sarver said. “If a climber sees someone that is not certified on the tower, there should be a number for them to call to report the incident.”
Culture of Safety Another Key to Eliminating Fatalities
Don Doty, National Association of Tower Erectors (NATE), said that the industry needs to go beyond contract language to emphasize supervision to ensure that rules are followed 100 percent of the time.
“One of the keys to safety is supervision and oversight. We have found that the most important quality of a crew chief is one that will mentor the other climbers. It creates a trust environment. Having that open culture is very important,” Doty said.
Schmidt added that it all boils down to certified, competent climbers individually taking matters into their own hands to be 100 percent tied-off to the tower and to stop working if things seem unsafe.
Each tower service company should be open to communication about safety issues. But, in the cases where they aren’t, there should be a safety valve, according to Sarver, and fellow tower climbers should police each other. Additionally, the upper management in the company should be trained in tower safety so the culture of safety can trickle down.
“If you have a designated safety person you can go to openly and easily explain the situation after the climb, maybe you could get ideas as to what could have been done better,” he said. “If somebody screws up you have to let them know. It has to be a team effort.”
Long Hours Threaten Climber Safety; Planning Can be the Answer
Tower work can include long travel time and extended days on tower to meet tight deadlines, which can create pressure for workers to go up on the tower when they are less than 100 percent. John Parham, Jacobs Engineering Group, said from a safety perspective, the long hours of the job concern him most.
“We have extremely dedicated and hardworking employees, who work on an hourly basis,” Parham said. “We have to balance allowing them to work hard and provide for their families and constricting their hours so that they stay safe and well rested. It is a challenge we face every day.”
Parham said that one of the answers is for engineering firms to plan tower projects at least 12 months in advance and to form closer relationships with contractors. Instead of submitting bids for individual tower projects, Jacobs Engineering partners with several subcontractors so it can schedule the tower work in advance throughout the year.
“It’s a lot of work upfront, but it is less than the amount of time we spent on revisits, troubleshooting, or tracking down a crew that completed a site and is now back in another state and you are trying to get closeout documentation back to the wireless carrier. It saves time, effort and money in the long run,” Parham said.
Jacobs Engineering invites strategic partners to collocate putting their management into the Jacob’s office and operating their crews out of its warehouses. “It puts us on the same team because we see each other every day,” Parham said.
Sarver agreed, “I am a big fan of partnering. You know more about what the company is capable of doing, how qualified they are, how many crews they have and their specialties,” he said. “It’s important to know their skillsets.”
Tower Design Also a Key for Safe Workers
Panel members called for better engineered towers as an element of a comprehensive tower worker safety program.
Doty said processes and procedures should be developed to deploy anchorages where there aren’t any at this time, working in conjunction with engineers. “Engineers like [the late] Ernie Jones have taken that step forward to help,” he said.
Angela Jones, Union Wireless, (no relation to Ernie Jones) would like to see better towers upfront, with more room for tower workers to do their work at height.
“We need better engineering upfront in tower design. I would like to see a lot more platforms on the towers; there are not nearly enough of them,” Jones said. “Obviously there is more cost associated with designing safer towers. Union Wireless does not balk at that. We are willing to take that on, but we would like to see that adopted across the industry.”