RFS is supporting American Tower at broadcast sites in major U.S. cities, including Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas and New York City by provided broadcast equipment, such as multi-station transmission systems and multi-channel antennas that feature RFS’ patented Variable Polarization Technology.
For example, in Boston, RFS is providing American Tower with a PEP70E top-mounted broadband UHF panel antenna that allows multiple broadcasters to share the antenna, but individually use different polarization ratios. The 14-level antenna includes 70 panels with more than 200 kW of input power capacity and can broadcast horizontal, elliptical or circular polarization.
Polarization ratios can be easily adjusted with a simple phase change in the high-power multi-station channel combiners, which are used throughout these sites. Equally impressive is a truly broadband elliptically polarized SBB series antenna with fixed 25% +/- 5 percent vertically polarized component from 470 MHz to 700 MHz with a total input power up to 100 kW, installed as an auxiliary at the Norfolk site.
Despite early reports of broadcaster reluctance to move to new spectrum, it appears the Broadcast TV Repack is off and running. With the first phase deadline of the repack slightly less than nine months away, engineering firms have seen orders jump in the last month as broadcasters prepare to move off their spectrum. But it is not just the broadcasters required to vacate in phase one (Nov. 30, 2018) that are moving. Broadcasters from all of the phases are getting in gear.
“Whether it’s phase one or phase 10, the broadcasters are all trying to get in the door so they can get the work done. They are working on it,” Madison Batt, PE, SE, president/senior structural engineer, Tower Engineering Company (TEC), said. “We are working with a company that is not scheduled to move until next year, but they want to get their ducks in a row right now. They don’t want to wait till the last minute.”
Stainless, a business division of FDH Infrastructure Services, has had more broadcast orders in the last month than it has had in all of the last year. The big push for Stainless comes from working with a single company that owns several TV stations across the nation.
“The orders generally request the removal of an antenna and either connecting to an existing transmission or the deployment of a new transmission line,” said Donald Doty, Stainless business development manager. “Some TV stations may have an old analog antenna, which wasn’t removed in the conversion to digital, that can be replaced and connected to a transmission line.
Doty is not surprised that the broadcasters are getting off the dime. “It’s common knowledge that the FCC is not going to allow extensions to the TV stations,” he said. “Even if they are not ready, the FCC will make them turn off the station.”
TEC began to receive queries from clients about a year ago and then the flow picked up about six months ago.
Engineering Companies: The Lynchpin to the TV Repack
Engineering companies are critical to the success of the Broadcast TV repack. But they are a finite resource. The FCC’s phased in approach, which created 10 deadlines from Sept. 14, 2018 to July 3, 2020, allows the industry’s tower services and engineering companies to spread out their resources over that span of time.
Beyond ordering the new antenna, they must make sure the existing tower can handle the replacement antenna and then safely execute the removal of the old antenna and the deployment of a new one. This requires highly skilled workers that many times must operate at heights of up to 2,000 feet.
To keep up with demand, Stainless plans to increase its staff up to four crews. It has 23 people right now, which equals a little more than three crews. “Four crews are enough to do everything we need to do plus a little extra,” Doty said. “We need six people on a crew unless we are doing major modifications.”
The trick was being staffed up when the orders come flooding in, according to Doty. “Thanks to the foresight of the owners, Willis Stein & Partners, we have been able to add people as we have gotten busier,” he said.
His current approach contrasts to when the firm worked with 22 crews converting the broadcasters from analog to digital.
“We are not going to do that again,” he said. “It was a nightmare because we tried to be all things to all people. We will be selective in who we do work for.”
Doty said it remains difficult to find technicians for tall tower work, so the company does training itself, when it cannot hire individuals that it knows or has worked with in the past.
TEC works directly with the broadcasters and picks up work from other engineering companies, as well as working with fabricators and contractors. Seven engineers comprise TEC’s workforce doing tower analysis, design and site observation of tower structures. Batt sends two engineers for each job to climb and observe a tower that it is doing an analysis on.
“We then get the tower modeled on a computer, run the analysis for an as-is condition and for whatever new loading situation,” he said.
J. Sharpe Smith
Senior Editor, AGL Media Group
J. Sharpe Smith 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.
WASHINGTON, D.C.–House Republican Conference Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) and Representative Anna Eshoo (D-CA) with 54 members of Congress sent a bipartisan letter to the FCC Chairman Ajit Pai urging the FCC to support an on-time completion of the broadcast incentive auction’s repacking timeline.
The buildout resulting from the FCC’s recent auction of 600 MHz spectrum will make significant steps toward closing the digital divide.
The Representatives were concerned that delays in the Broadcast TV Repack would delay billions of dollars in wireless investment. They urged the FCC to use its waivers to speed the process to help the TV stations move channels.
“We also encourage all stakeholders to work together to find creative solutions for faster clearing where possible,” the letter said.
Matthew Sanderford, Jr., P.E., president of Marsand, has some sobering thoughts the wireless industry’s ability to meet the 39-month window for the Broadcast TV Repack. Multiple issues are slowing up the Broadcast TV Repack. Individual Broadcast TV stations are reluctant to go off the air to allow for the antenna swap, bad weather pushes the timeline back, and there is a lack of qualified tower crews, he said in a phone interview with AGL eDigest.
Marsand is an engineering consulting firm that is being hired by the broadcasters to replace their antennas as they move from their frequencies, which were sold to wireless operators as part of the broadcast TV incentive auction, to channels in the lower 600 MHz band.
“I don’t think we will make the 39-month window to complete the Broadcast TV Repack effectively,” Sanderford said. “The reason is not just the cooperation with the broadcasters, but there are not enough tall tower crews to meet the ongoing demand. It is also weather. I just talked to a crew in Idaho that was on a four-day job that is now in its third week, all because of weather delays.”
Sanderford said the limited number of tall-tower crews working in the industry today makes the loss of one crew from TowerKing II in a gin pole accident in Florida even more damaging to the speed of the Broadcast TV Repack effort.
“With all the investigations, I am not sure when that company, which is one of the major players, is going to get back up to speed,” Sandord said.
Broadcasters, which have to turn off their networks in order to allow crews replace their antennas, are more reluctant to cooperate than in the past. “They don’t see the necessity of going off the air to allow crews to change out antennas,” he said.
Broadcasters are treating the Broadcast TV Repack as maintenance on their towers and are scheduling it around their daytime hours, causing projects that would have taken a few days to last several weeks.
“Basically, it forces the tower crews to have to work nights, minimizing the ability to use helicopter lifts,” Sanderford said.
Marsand has an ongoing project where the broadcaster refused to go down during the day, so the tower crews have to climb the tower at nighttime, cut sections of the antenna off and bring them down on a nightly basis.
“They are not refusing to go down but they are making it very difficult in limiting the hours that they allow it to happen,” Sanderford said. “It is always an underlying issue when you have tower projects with multiple tenants.”
Sanderford said he tries to resolve the situations with the TV stations by letting them know the impact they are having on repack project and also reminding them of the golden rule; they may need the cooperation of others in the future to go off-air someday.
Sanderford spoke at 2018 IEEE Broadcast Symposium, held 9-11, in Arlington, Virginia, on issues affecting the Broadcast TV Repack
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 28 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.
FCC has made its initial allocation of $1 billion to reimburse TV Broadcaster for expenses related to the construction of station facilities on reassigned channels, also known as the Broadcast TV Repack. The Bureau will continue to monitor closely the draw-down of Fund amounts and allocate additional amounts later in the transition period.
The Commission is required by The Spectrum Act to “reimburse costs reasonably incurred” by broadcast television licensees that are involuntarily reassigned to new channels as a result of the repacking process and by MVPDs in order to continue carrying the signals of licensees reassigned to new channels as a result of the incentive auction and repacking process.