Category Archives: Towers

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 today.

New Regulations Affect Towers Less than 200 Feet High

August 30, 2016 —

The newly enacted FAA Extension, Safety & Security Act may require tower owners to mark structures less than 200 feet high above ground level as aviation navigation hazards.

By Jeff Jacobs

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

The Cell Tower as Drone Charging Station: Who knew?

By Ernest Worthman

Executive Editor
AGL Small Cell Magazing

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.

Hope for Overstressed Guyed Towers and Their Owners

The load path transfer method is a new way of reinforcing overstressed towers, enabling carriers to upgrade antennas and electronics, where it formerly seemed impossible.

By Tom Swan

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.

A one-third scale model with orange members that represent load path transfer method (LPTM) augmentation.

A one-third scale model with orange members that represent load path transfer method augmentation.

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.

An LPTM internally inverted truncated cone base attachment.

An LPTM internally inverted truncated cone base attachment.

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?

Structural Reinforcement

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.

A turnkey LPTM installation.

A turnkey LPTM installation.

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 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 

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