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.