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The Year of the Drone

2015 in Review

By J. Sharpe Smith —

A number of applications for drones or unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) in the wireless industry came to light this year — everything from asset auditing, RF planning and line-of-sight testing between radio towers. And companies were formed to use them.

It all began in April when the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) began granting exceptions to its rules to allow the use of commercial drones.

One of the first companies to get an exception was Solusia Air,  which wanted to use UAS to perform asset audits and safety inspections for wireless and utility infrastructure firms.

Solusia Air attaches video, still and infrared cameras and other instruments on Leica Geosystems’ Aibot X6 multi-copters, which it then flies around the cell tower. The multi-copter has six rotors encased in a carbon fiber frame and a maximum payload of 4.4 pounds. The inspections produces high-definition photo and video inspection, asset audits, RF microwave path validation, intermodulation/interference identification and safety assessments.

In July, Nokia Networks employed drones carrying smartphones to analyze the wireless network at Dubai International Stadium. The drones gathered network data and provided key performance indicators at the stadium, which seats 25,000, and were also used for tower inspections, radio planning and line-of-sight testing between radio towers.

The INSPIRE1 drone was used for network optimization at the stadium, and Microdrones md4-1000 was used for tower inspection, LoS and radio site planning. With automated testing, drones can cover the desired area more quickly than a manual test. Additionally, the test data is sent to a server at Nokia Networks’ Global Delivery Center so that it can be processed and reported to the engineers in the field, who then improve network performance in a timely fashion.

In October, Sentera, a UAS designer and manufacturer, brought its knowledge in acquisition and management of image-based data to the wireless industry.

Sentera, which initially worked with military systems, launched a mobile app and desktop client that provide the ability to analyze image data and a record of the location, date, time, and asset type. Photos are then presented in a searchable map view. Sentera began developing the product after it was approached by a tower company that had an abundance of images of its towers but no way to organize them and fully utilize them.

In September 32 Advisors spun off a drone-as-a-service company, Measure, and then in December it hired Chris Moccia, former CEO for Solusia Air, to serve as vice president of infrastructure.

“Measure’s Drone as a Service model allows cellular tower owners and operators to use drones for inspections without making a heavy capital investment,” said Measure CEO Brandon Torres Declet. “Chris’s skill set combines his experience as a businessman and industry expert with a keen ability to navigate emerging technology markets. With his leadership, Measure will help companies with vertical infrastructure realize the benefit of incorporating drones into their operations.”

Government regulators and industry associations engaged with the drone industry. The National Association of Tower Erectors (NATE) established a UAS committee, which will monitor the trends and regulatory environment associated with UAS technologies. Additionally, it will make recommendations to NATE members on best practices concerning UAS integration. NATE has also participate in the National Telecommunications Information Administration (NTIA) meetings on Unmanned Aerial Systems that have been held in Washington, D.C.

NATE Elects 2016 Board of Directors

Jones, Lee, Miller and Train Re-Elected; Dougherty Assumes Board Seat

(Watertown, SD) – The National Association of Tower Erectors (NATE) today released the official results of the 2016 Board of Directors election. The Association announces that candidates John Paul Jones, President of Tower & Turbine Technologies LLC in Cedar Park, Texas; Bryan Lee, President of Lee Antenna & Line Service, Inc. in Springtown, Pennsylvania; Jimmy Miller, President of MillerCo, Inc. in Gulfport, Mississippi and Don Train, President of Train’s Towers, Inc. in Haddon Heights, New Jersey, were re-elected and will retain their seats on the NATE Board of Directors.

Candidate Kevin Dougherty, President of MILLENIA CONTRACTING, Inc. in New Castle, Delaware, also assumed a seat and will be serving as a new member of the Board of Directors.

The five candidates who were elected by their industry peers will officially begin their two-year terms on February 21, 2015 at the NATE UNITE 2016 Conference in New Orleans, Louisiana.

“On behalf of the Association’s 715 member companies, I would like to congratulate the successful candidates in the recently concluded Board of Directors election,” said Executive Director Todd Schlekeway. “It is an exciting time in the Association’s history to serve on NATE’s Board of Directors and we look forward to collaborating with the elected members in order to continue to lead the organization to new heights,” added Schlekeway.

The 2016 election featured a slate of seven accomplished candidates from eligible voting member companies vying for five open seats on the NATE Board of Directors. “I would like to personally thank all of the candidates who placed their hat in the ring during this election. NATE is stronger due to the ideas and commitment displayed by these leaders,” Schlekeway stated.

OSHA Calls for Help in Protecting Tower Workers

By J. Sharpe Smith —

April 16, 2015 — The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is asking the tower industry for information about safety hazards in tower construction and maintenance to assist the agency in determining what measures are needed to prevent worker injuries and fatalities.


“NATE has worked closely with OSHA over the years educating them on the unique nuances of this industry,” said Todd Schlekeway, executive director, National Association of Tower Erectors (NATE). “It is not general construction. There are so many challenges to constructing and maintaining communications towers. This is another opportunity for the industry to continue that process of education.”

PCIA — the Wireless Infrastructure Association has made workforce safety a priority and has engaged with the Department of Labor and Telecommunications Industry Registered Apprenticeship Program in working to find ways to ensure that workers are better equipped to perform under safe conditions.

“We want to help create the wireless workforce of the future with the best training available to those who are deploying wireless infrastructure. PCIA welcomes the opportunity to work with OSHA and other government leaders on this critical effort,” said Jonathan Adelstein, PCIA president and CEO in a prepared statement



OSHA welcomed input from tower workers, wireless carriers, engineering and construction management firms, tower owners, and tower construction and maintenance companies on the causes of employee injuries and fatalities, and to share best practices used by workers and employers in the industry to address these hazards.

“This is an early part of their process to gather information on the industry to determine whether they want to move forward with a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking,” Schlekeway said. “We encourage our membership to review the RFI and respond to some of the specific questions that they feel strongly about.”

In particular, the RFI asks about the significant hazards that tower climbers face the job and what circumstances contribute to the hazards. The RFI asks tower climbers about what they do to remain safe on the job, and what additional safety-related practices they would like to see implemented. OSHA also asks about the specific safety rules and work practices that are provided to tower climbers and who gives them that information.


Schlekeway welcomed OSHA’s effort in the name of tower safety, but he wants to make sure the government knows the efforts the industry is making to address issues brought up in the RFI.

“We will make sure that everyone knows what the Wireless Industry Safety Task Force is working on and the direction of the National Wireless Safety Alliance in terms of assessment certification,” he said.

The deadline for submitting comments is 60 days after publication in the Federal Register. Interested parties may submit comments and additional materials electronically at www.regulations.gov, the Federal eRulemaking Portal. Comments may also be mailed or faxed.

Community College Adds Cell Tower Tech Training

By J. Sharpe Smith —

March 5, 2015 — Kalamazoo Valley Community College, Kalamazoo, Michigan-based member of the National Association of Tower Erectors, has launched a training academy for cell tower technicians, with classes beginning mid-April 2015.

The curriculum will include classroom instruction, demonstration and laboratory practice in worksite safety, electrical basics, fasteners, cell site basics, lines and antennas, RF fundamentals, computer skills and fiber-optics.

“Trainees will leave the six-week program well prepared for employment. Training to develop the skills needed to perform this work safely is a key component of the program,” the program brochure says.

Along with support from NATE, the KVCC program has garnered the support of local businesses such as Newkirk Electric and Earthcom, a Michigan-based communications contractor.

NATE has several community colleges as members that provide either comprehensive training programs or individual courses, including LakeShore Technical College, Cleveland, Wisconsin; and Corporate College (Western Iowa Tech Community College), Sioux City, Iowa.

“We are starting to see more tower technician training activity at community colleges, and I like that because it helps promote the profession as well as create another training pathway to bring workers into the industry,” said NATE Executive Director Todd Schlekeway. “I anticipate that we will continue to see more of these programs being developed in the future as organizations like PCIA work with Virginia State University to develop educational framework models that community colleges could potentially adopt.”\

Assessment and Certification Group Formed

The Wireless Industry Safety Task Force has created the National Wireless Safety Alliance (NWSA) to certify the industry’s workforce to the various worker categories outlined in the national wireless skills-based training standard that is currently being developed.

The 501(c)(6) assessment and certification organization will be the governance arm of the task force’s national wireless skills-based training standard, providing independent assessments of knowledge and skills and verifiable certification for professionals who work on towers and at tower sites. The NWSA will serve workers who have completed training programs, including third-party private training, internal company training programs and local community college training.

The development of the standard continues. The task force’s skills-based training subcommittee has developed a skills-based training standard that outlines the minimum competencies and skills required for five categories of workers in the industry: helper/ground worker, ground technician, Telecommunications Tower Technician I, Telecommunications Tower Technician II and General Lead/Foreman.

Additionally, the task force is developing three specialized foreman tracks that will be added to the National Wireless Skills-Based Training Standard. The three are the worker categories of antenna and line foreman, tower construction (stacking foreman), and structural modifications foreman. Plans are in the works for other specialized worker tracks to be developed and added to the standard in the future.

Within the standard, each worker category has a list of both knowledge-based and competency-based skills that the tower technician will need to master to be capable of performing that scope of work. Upon completion, the standard will be broken down by each work category and will be made available to the industry, so that community colleges, such as KVCC, will be able to see what the workers are required to know in order to be certified.

“The National Wireless Skills-Based Training Standard will serve as a playbook that will ultimately improve the various training programs’ ability to prepare individuals for assessment and certification and subsequently the employers’ ability to hire qualified workers,” Schlekeway said.

Tower Climber Certification Group Formed

February 24, 2015 — In an effort to provide certification for the national wireless skills-based training standard being developed for tower climbers, the Wireless Industry Safety Task Force has created the National Wireless Safety Alliance (NWSA), it was announced this week at NATE UNITE 2015 conference in Lake Buena Vista, Florida.

The 501(c)(6) assessment and certification organization will be the governance arm of the Task Force’s national wireless skills-based training standard.

The NWSA was designed to provide independent assessments of knowledge and skills and provide verifiable worker certification to recognize the skilled professionals who work on towers.

“Creating a national assessment and certification entity is the next logical step in order to ensure that industry workers in the future will be trained in accordance to the various worker categories outlined in the National Wireless Skills-Based Training Standard,” said Pat Moore, vice president of operations at Velocitel.

The National Wireless Safety Alliance will serve workers that have completed existing training programs, including third party private training, internal training programs and local community college their training.

In order to accomplish its objectives, the NWSA organization is in the process of developing written and practical assessments for various levels of worker categories outlined in the national wireless skills-based training standard. The NWSA is also creating partnerships with a third party testing firm and a website certification database firm.

Members of the Wireless Industry Safety Task Force have pledged to provide transparent, timely and relevant updates to the industry as key benchmarks are achieved in the establishment of the NWSA assessment and certification program.