Cell Tower Site Selection: How Carriers Select Tower Sites?
Cell towers and cell tower sites tend to primarily serve one of two purposes. They either increase the coverage (area where your phone works) or they increase the capacity of the network (number of calls and data requests that can be handled simultaneously). Thus, every cell tower site is designed to accommodate one or both of these purposes.
Cell Tower Coverage Map
For coverage sites, the wireless phone carrier typically consults their marketing department to ascertain where the carrier currently doesn't provide coverage that would prove valuable to the carrier. This can be because the wireless phone carrier wants to either add subscribers in that area or because they have subscribers in the area that don't receive coverage and have complained to the carrier. The marketing department in some cases will choose to cover a large commercial or industrial building or will expand to cover rural areas to provide more complete coverage. The coverage maps that the carriers provide are examples of how much coverage the carriers have.
However, the coverage maps don't tell you or the marketing department where a cell tower site is needed due to capacity. The wireless phone carrier does have the advantage of reviewing their trouble tickets from subscribers as well as their logs which tell them every time you dropped a call. They know where their trouble areas are. In some cases, they simply can't add enough cell tower sites in an area to meet the number of callers. (Ever try to make a call at a large convention or a stadium full of people?) In other cases, zoning restrictions prohibit a wireless phone carrier from adding a new site where they want and they have to make concessions which unfortunately impact capacity.
Once a carrier decides that they have a need for a new site in an area, their radio frequency department starts to review the area and how that need can be accommodated. Radio frequency engineers review the existing towers and cell tower sites they have in the area and use radio frequency propagation software to model how additional sites will fit into the network. The radio frequency engineer may physically drive the area with sophisticated testing equipment (a drive test just like in the Verizon commercials where the technician is driving around making calls). They examine whether natural or manmade factors like topography, existing buildings or foliage might interfere with the operation of a new cell site. Then they run additional models and suggest that a new cell tower site is built by that wireless phone carrier.
At that point, the executives at the carrier review the proposed cell sites and the justifications for each. They evaluate their budget and they prioritize all of the proposed cell tower sites or towers. Those proposed locations that are accepted by the executives are issued to the real estate department as search rings, which cell tower site acquisition companies are then issued to find towers, rooftops, or raw land sites to lease. These search rings are proprietary and closely held by the wireless carrier. Thus, every cell tower site starts because there is need in a given area either because additional coverage is needed or because additional capacity is needed in the network. The carriers don't build sites where they expect future population growth, they build because there is a specific and current need.
If you are a landowner or a building owner and you haven't been contacted for a lease, the best advice we can give is just be patient. You have virtually no chance of encouraging a carrier to choose your property for a tower site UNLESS it already falls in one of the budgeted and proposed search rings. If it doesn't, you are just wasting your time and money trying to pursue it. While we would love to help you get a tower on your property, we can't. If you need help with evaluating or negotiating a proposal for a new lease after you have been contacted to place a tower on your property, please contact us.