On many occasions, the industry refers to cell towers interchangeably with the term “cell sites.” A notable example was during the 2016 Super Bowl, during which T-Mobile advertised that it has more LTE towers than Verizon. To be perfectly accurate, T-Mobile should have said that it has more LTE “cell sites” than Verizon. Even the press regularly publishes the words “cell tower” or “cell phone tower” when referring to a specific site build or location.
In 20% of news articles that we read about cell sites, the reporter refers to a cell tower when they really should be saying cell site. What is the difference you might ask?”
A Cell Phone Tower is the actual physical structure that the antennas are attached to. Please see our page on types of cell phone towers for more information about recognizing different types of towers.
It’s also worth noting that a tower can have multiple sites installed upon it. For an example, please see the image above where there are two cell sites (let’s suppose these belong to T-Mobile and Verizon, respectively) installed on a cell phone tower. The technical term for the installation of a cell site on a cell tower is “collocation.” The tower could be owned by T-Mobile or Verizon; or one of the two carriers might have sold the tower to a third party tower company such as American Tower or Crown Castle. Even if the tower is sold, the “cell site” itself still belongs to the wireless telecom.
With the advent of Distributed Antenna Systems (DAS) and small cells, there is more diversity today in the deployment of cellular equipment than ever before. The various types are designed to work with each other comprehensively in a system.This system is known, in the industry, as a Heterogeneous Network (aka Het-Net).
A rooftop cell site is built when antenna and transmission equipment are installed on a building’s roof. The Subject Site, in this case, is located on top of a building or other support structure (such as a church steeple, billboard, flagpole, etc.). Its antennas and equipment are placed on the roof (or very top), typically with the antennas mounted near or on the parapet of the roof so that they can communicate in all directions. Most rooftop cell sites include three sets of antennas (aka “sectors”), which are pointed at 120 degree intervals from each other. There are typically between 2-4 antennas per sector. The equipment on the roof is connected to power and to backhaul (either via telephone service, microwave, or fiber optic cable) to the main telephone system.
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