Cell phone towers are structures built on specific parcels of land that are designed to accommodate wireless tenants. Wireless tenants utilize cell towers to deploy various technologies to a subscriber base, such as telephony, mobile data, television, and radio. Cell towers are typically built by tower companies or wireless carriers.
We receive many inquiries from property owners who confuse the actual tower with antennas that are placed on rooftops. These antennas are more accurately described as cell “sites,” but the real definition of a cell site is an area within a wireless service provider’s network that can be serviced by an antenna array. Thus, there can be multiple cell sites (and multiple tenants) on any given tower (or rooftop). This article will help clarify the difference between the types of towers and the equipment that is placed on and used for cell site transmissions.
The Lattice Tower is sometimes referred to as “self-support” or SST because it is free-standing. It stands 200-400 ft. tall with a triangular base and three-four sides. It is typically used for telephony. The Eiffel Tower is a lattice tower.
The Guyed Tower (pronounced like “guide”) is basically a straight rod supported by wires that attach to the ground for support. It’s cheapest to construct, especially at heights of 300 ft and beyond. Some guyed towers reach as tall as 2,000 ft. Typical uses are telephony, radio, television, and paging.
Concealed and Stealth® Towers. Stealth ® towers are a particular brand of concealed towers. Another manufacturer of concealed towers in Larson Camouflage. Concealed towers are deployed to satisfy zoning regulations and range in size to accommodate their surroundings. They are more expensive than other types of towers because they require additional material to create a “concealed appearance,” yet at the same time, they provide less capacity to tenants than other towers do. This is one of the more interesting concealed towers, located at a church in California. Some towers may also be hidden as a fake pine or palm tree.
Broadcast Towers provide mounting space for FM radio, AM radio, and Television (TV) antennas. Their antennas are massive, weighing anywhere from 1,000 pounds to 15 tons depending upon the type of service they provide and the coverage they are purposed to deploy. Most broadcast towers are guyed towers with three or more guy wires attached to grounded anchors. Broadcast towers can take up a great deal of ground space – up to 300 acres, which is why they are typically found in rural areas or on mountaintops where natural elevation provides the best means of transmitting signals.
An Antenna Array is a platform where tenants mount antennas, which signal transmission and reception to mobile devices within a specific area. The number of antennas (typically between 3-18) is based on several factors, including the number of tenants (wireless carriers), the type (voice or data) and volume of transmission, the technology utilized (eg: CDMA, GSM, LTE, WiMAX), and the frequency of spectrum (in MgH) used.
The Microwave Dish is a large round antenna, which is used for a specific type of transmission, and also commonly used for backhaul.
The Ground Space is the area that wireless carriers lease from property owners, upon which they build cell towers and cell sites, and place shelters, generators, and additional equipment.
The Generator is powered by gas or diesel and used as emergency back-up to keep cell sites operational during power outages.
The Base Transmitter Station is a large round antenna, which is used for a specific type of transmission; also commonly used for backhaul.
Utilities are also necessary for the operation of cell sites. Wireless carriers will run lines or cables to the site to complement their specific technology.
You may be interested in browsing SITA’s Knowledge Base of informative articles, such as: Cell Tower Zoning and Permit Requests, DAS and WiFi Contracts for Venue Owners, Renegotiating Cell Site Leases, About Lease Optimization Companies, or more.
The most common type of cell tower is the monopole type, primarily because they are generally seen of by local zoning jurisdictions as less impactful aesthetically. Self-support towers are used when either the ground area available for a tower is limited, or when there is a heavy loading on the tower. Guyed towers are generally the cheapest to build but require a lot of land due to the guyed wire anchors.
A cell tower is a physical structure that supports cellular equipment. A cell site is the antenna and transmission equipment a wireless provider deploys at a cell tower or other structure. Multiple cell sites can be deployed on a cell tower or building.
Generally, the cell tower itself isn’t powered unless there are FAA obstruction lights placed on the tower. It is the cell site equipment on the tower that is powered. Cell site transmission equipment typically uses 220-amp service. A typical 4G cell site uses 6 kilowatts of power, while a 5G site uses closer to 10 kilowatts.
The average cell tower can support three to four cell sites with each cell site having between three and fifteen antennas.
We estimate that the average cell tower is 150’.
A cell phone tower may have multiple generators. Generally, the tower owner does not deploy a generator for the tower, but each wireless provider on the tower may have their own generator – especially in areas prone to power outages.
There isn’t much difference between 4G and 5G cell towers in terms of height. The wireless providers deploy 4G and 5G on their cell sites at the same height. Some people use the term “5G cell towers” when they are really thinking of small cells. Small cells are shorter structures generally on utility and traffic poles in the right of way. The average height of a small cell is 35’.
There are 4 main types of towers in telecom – guyed, monopole, lattice or self-support, and concealed towers. However, there are variations of each of these. If you count all of the variations, there are in excess of 25 types of telecom towers.