Several hundred vultures have built up and are roosting and nesting on the tower structure on the railings, catwalks, supports, and on rails and conduit on a radio tower operated by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) in Kingsville, Texas.
The presence of the birds leads to droppings mixed with urine on all of these surfaces and throughout the interior of the tower where workers are in contact with it, making for a hazardous if not toxic environment.
In order to research available options for a netting system that would deter the vultures, the agency has released a request for information (RFI) that is due at the end of this month.
The structure is approximately 320 feet tall AGL, with three sides measuring 27 feet wide at the base of the tower. Each leg is anchored on separate concrete slabs measuring 13 by 13 feet. Netting solution must be attached to the top of the structure, then follow straight down the angle beams in each section of the structure, follow the contour of the angle beams to the legs of the structure, then all the way to the ground (vertical).
To learn more about the RFI, CLICK HERE
A telecom tower located in Rothrock State Forest, near State College, Pennsylvania, collapsed on Thanksgiving morning November 28, a victim of 44 mile-per-hour wind gusts. The tower’s tenants included the State College translator for Sinclair Broadcast Group’s NBC television affiliate WJAC and GetWireless, a rural wireless internet service provider.
SBA Towers, which owns the tower, sought to replace the existing tower with a robust lattice structure, back in 2017, before the zoning hearing board in the Ferguson Township but was denied because the municipality’s ordinance only allows monopoles in such circumstances.
Since then no one has been able to climb the tower to make repairs because it was unsafe, according to Dan Myers, president, GetWireless.
On July 23, the 180′ lattice tower structure was again the subject of a Zoning Hearing Board meeting in local municipality Ferguson Township, where its owner SBA Towers appealed the earlier decision asking for a variance of the monopole ordinance and the right to replace the existing tower with a more robust structure, also of lattice design.
At the zoning hearing meeting, SBA’s attorney Joe Perotti said, “…the present tower is about to fall over.” Perotti added, “[the tower] is a health and human risk. The existing pole is going to fall, that is a risk and people will lose service.”
After hearing the arguments, the Ferguson Township Board went into executive session. Then it approved a variance to allow a lattice tower. But it was too late, the same winds that kept floats close to the ground in the Macey’s Thanksgiving Day Parade also buffeted central Pennsylvania bringing down the tower.
At press time, AGL eDigest learned the temporary tower that was put into place is not going to accept antennas, and the expected replacement tower is no longer going to be rebuilt, according to Myers. GetWireless has contracted to move its antennas to a structure owned by Centre Communications.
David Beyerle, a professional engineer in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and a IEEE Communications Society Wireless Communications Professional, helped with the reporting of this story. He works as a communications engineer at Pennsylvania State University nearby the tower site.
Speakers gave upbeat assessments of the tower industry on the “View From the Top: Tower Executive Roundtable,” moderated by Jonathan Adelstein, president and CEO of the Wireless Industry Association during its Connectivity Expo earlier this week.
Earlier this week, which has been crowded with wireless news, FCC Chairman Pai announced that to receive approval from the FCC for the Sprint merger, T-Mobile had committed to deploying its 5G network into rural areas, with 85 percent of rural Americans covered within three years and 90 percent covered within six years.
Alex Gellman, Vertical Bridge CEO, said he believed even if the FCC had not required the rural coverage, the New T-Mobile would have done it anyway.
“I always believed that T-Mobile would be aggressive as a standalone wireless company post-merger,” Gellman said. “It will be a positive for the tower industry to have an aggressive, co-equal third carrier, especially one that is focused solely on wireless investment in their network. AT&T and Verizon, on the other hand, have competition from other segments for their capital.”
The previous day at the Connectivity Expo, T-Mobile Chief Technology Officer Neville Ray showed a graphic that depicted a three-layer 5G rollout cake with the bottom, largest layer consisting of 600 MHz spectrum, topped by mid-band spectrum layer with the top, and smallest, layer of millimeter wave spectrum.
David Weisman, president and CEO, InSite Wireless Group, responded to the carrier’s plans, saying he views the T-Mobile 600 MHz rollout as validation for macrocells, but he noted how far the industry still is from understanding what approval of the merger will look like.
“The Department of Justice has not spoken. When they do there will be a whole set of details and concerns as to how it is going to rollout. It may create a three and a half carrier environment. The devil is in the details,” he said.
Jeffrey Stoops, SBA Communications CEO, said T-Mobile’s proposed deployment at 600 hits SBA’s sweet spot, and he sees it resulting in a lot of collocation on existing SBA assets.
“T-Mobile, which is an active services client of SBA’s, will be requiring more services,” Stoops said. “We will help speed the deployment of the network so Neville won’t have to pay any penalties.”
Jay Brown, president and CEO, Crown Castle International, seemed less interested in prognosticating the future of the Sprint/T-Mobile merger. Instead, he noted that fundamentally the tower industry prospers when the carriers are well funded and there is spectrum to deploy, as well as growing data needs.
“The driver is the growth and usage of data. As we progress from a 4G environment toward 5G, we are better off concentrating on the opportunities and the need for infrastructure, regardless of the number of carrier customers in the market,” Brown said.
Speaking of wireless industry growth drivers, the panelists touched on the early stages of 5G development and the ongoing saga of Charlie Ergen, DISH and the deployment of a nationwide IoT network.
The tower industry is barely at the beginnings of what will be a decade long deployment of 5G, according to Steve Vondran, American Tower Executive VP, president, U.S. Tower Division.
“As you see the use cases develop and the usage of the network go up 30 to 40 percent per year, we expect the same evolution of 5G that we saw in 4G,” he said.
Brown pointed to increased number of connections per base station, which will be enabled with the 5G equipment, making Internet of Things applications possible.
“It opens up the business model for lower-use devices, as well as lower revenue devices that should allow the carriers to generate better economic returns for the spectrum that they hold,” he said. “As we see better economic returns, the carriers’ willingness to invest in their networks to improve their networks is a virtuous cycle that we all benefit from.
Stoops noted, and Brown and Weisman later agreed, that since there is little 5G equipment available, the driver for tower growth remains in the future. Weisman has seen some initial demand for supplemental millimeter wave hotspots for venues with heavy demand.
“It is great for our industry in that we are at this very early stage in the evolutionary rollout,” Weisman said. “We are going to see a whole host of rollouts that are going to lead to more utilization of our infrastructure. There is doubt that 5G has the potential to be part of a new industrial revolution.”
Weisman said he is confident that business cases for 5G will eventually be developed, perhaps through using network slicing to provide a premium product with a higher price tag, but until then carriers will need to work on their business model for consumer users. “It will come. There will be an Uber for 5G, but in the meantime carriers will move away from unlimited data. They can’t continue to give data way,” he said.
DISH and other Comm-infra Opportunities
SBA Communications has been doing a lot of business with DISH Network, helping it deploy its nationwide Internet of Things network. Stoops described DISH has appreciative of SBA’s help in its efforts to deploy its technology. Brown called DISH diligent in its buildout efforts, and Weisman referred to the company as a “sleeping giant with an enormous amount of spectrum capacity.”
“One of the things we have been able to help them with is to rely on our roots as a network development company with our services side of the business,” Stoops said. They have a lot at stake. We are working hard with them to see that the [spectrum buildout requirements] get met. There is a lot to be done and we are right in the thick of it.”
Brown said it is important to look beyond the Big Four carriers to find infrastructure opportunities so much spectrum laying fallow and capital flooding in looking for wireless applications.
“I think we are in for a prolonged duration of growth rate. Look at the amount of capital that is looking to convert every type of data into a mobile application. DISH is one of those early players,” he said.
Towers have been targeted by thieves for copper grounding, wiring and even generators. Not often to they go for the whole enchilada. On April 3, several men set out for cut down and entire 150-foot cell tower in a forest in Washington County, Alabama, in order to harvest the scrap metal, according to Fox10 News.
However, when the guy wires of the structure were cut and the tower came down it crashed into the radio shack creating what neighbors said was like a “sonic boom” and the thieves left. After being alerted, the Washington County Sheriff’s Office began to patrol the area and nabbed the alleged thieves when they came back three days later to scavenge the scrap metal from the wreckage.
William Cameron, Ricky Reed and David Weaver were all arrested and charged with criminal mischief, a felony, the TV station reported. The three have been charged with a total of 37 felonies in the past.
The tower was not operational at the time, but apparently still had antennas installed.
All panelists agreed that the business of developing towers, really in any scale, is alive and well, Jan. 24, during the AGL SoCal Summit roundtable, “The Business of Wireless Infrastructure: Forecast 2019.” The panel, moderated by Don Bishop, executive editor, AGL Magazine, discussed the continuing need for cell tower developers and some of the opportunities that exist out in the marketplace.
Demand for towers from carriers continues unabated, according to Don Van Splunteren, global VP of sales, Phoenix Tower International, whose company is growing through both building and buying towers. Allan Tantillo, VP of new technologies, Vertical Bridge, agreed that “tremendous opportunity” still exists to build towers.
Eliminating the digital divide in rural areas is a key driver have yet to be built out with cell towers. The fundamentals of the tower business model still work, according to Jason Caliento, executive VP – Network Strategy, Mobilitie.
“Building towers is still the most efficient way to get wireless broadband services deployed. It is the most efficient to get capital deployed in wireless networks. As we look at the fundamentals down the road, closing the digital divide and building out the rural areas, it will be incredibly tower based,” Caliento said.
The business model for a small company build towers and sell them to a larger tower company still works, but it is getting harder, Van Splunteren said.
“The valuations of towers are getting higher, which sounds like a great idea because you can sell the tower for a high value, but the buyers are not interested,” Van Splunteren said. PTI owns 6,500 towers internationally and 700 in the United States.
Caliento agreed that good towers will always have value but keeping multiples in line with the cost of capital is more of a challenge today. “Smaller companies just need to find opportunities and build out particularly in rural areas,” he said.
Vertical Bridge has an aggressive build-to-suit program, according to Tantillo, but it works with smaller tower companies to develop and purchase their towers.
“Small tower developers play a really crucial role, because they play a really crucial role,” Tantillo said. “They have a special expertise and relationships in the local jurisdictions that larger tower companies don’t have the time or bandwidth to develop.”
Small tower developers have a special niche in the marketplace, according to Joe Mullin, chief technology officer, inSite Wireless Group,which has grown to nearly 2,000 towers in North America, the Caribbean, and Australia through acquisition, tower development and working with tower developers to find opportunities.
“Just like Congressman ‘Tip’ O’Neill once wrote the book ‘All Politics are Local,” all cell towers are local,” Mullin said. “People who live in the communities, with relationships with the carriers and the municipalities, are tuned into the local scene. They can build up a very support structure to produce good towers.”
Driving demand for towers is ample spectrum that has not been deployed yet, including 600 MHz being built out by T-Mobile, millimeter wave and the Citizens Broadband Radio Service at 3.5 GHz Band. Mullin also believes that the Sprint/T-Mobile merger will actually be a big plus for cell tower developers. 5G, with its emphasis on small cell densification, will actually be good for towers, he added.
“With the merger with Sprint, T-Mobile is going to be a much stronger company. They are going to want to build out their technology throughout the network,” Mullin said. They say 5G is going to be a threat to towers, but not so. 5G will evolve as an enhancement similar to 4G LTE, where it makes sense. There are a lot of great things going on that will help the tower industry. More equipment on the tower; more ways to service the insatiable demand for wireless.”
Tantillo noted that his former employer, T-Mobile, T-Mobile has pledged to roll out 5G on 600 MHz spectrum across every inch of the country, which will be an opportunity for the tower industry. He also noted opportunities in the Citizen Broadband Radio Service and broadcast towers.
“There are companies talking about using CBRS to augment coverage outdoors in the rural areas,” Tantillo said. “There is a whole revolution on the broadcast side that could impact towers they are switching technologies to ATSC 3.0, which will broadcast a signal that be received by phones, tablets and laptops with a special chip. We are the largest broadcast tower owner. American Tower has a big portfolio, as well.”