Tower Companies Eye Public Safety, Utilities in Broadband Era
October 19, 2011
Several tower company executives noted their interest in partnering with public-safety agencies and utilities at an industry conference earlier this month.
Louis Olsen, vice president technology for American Tower, played up what tower companies can bring to public-safety agencies as they build Long Term Evolution (LTE) networks. Tower companies can host or create broadband backhaul using a mix of microwave and fiber, said Olsen. Towers have good survivability and suitability for ring architectures. They provide wide-area connectivity across challenging terrain.
The number of U.S. tower sites could increase from about 300,000 to more than 2 million sites by 2020, said Ted Abrams, founder of tower consultancy Abrams Wireless. Industry experts have said public-safety agencies will likely need at least three times the number of current towers for broadband networks to achieve the same coverage as their current two-way radio networks. Utilities will likely need additional towers as they roll out smart grid networks and enhance their communications systems.
“We have a strong desire to get involved with public safety,” said Olsen. “We have strong balance sheets, and other assets such as distributed antenna systems (DAS), backhaul, power, survivability and multitenant arrangements.”
Because public safety will operate on a common frequency band, 700 MHz, and common technology, LTE, as commercial broadband networks, partnerships between public-safety agencies and tower companies make sense, Olsen said. The agencies can share LTE eNodeBs, power system batteries and other elements at a tower site. Next-generation 9-1-1 (NG 9-1-1) is another area for collaboration, he said.
“We want the land the government has or we want to lease it,” he said.
Cynthia Wenzel Cole, a consultant to the Texas Department of Public Safety, said public safety needs two key things to get the broadband ball rolling. “We need funding, and getting the D block reallocated to public safety would help,” she said.
Marc Ganzi, PCIA chair and CEO of Global Tower Partners, said his tower firm is partnering with utilities including Duke Energy and some Las Vegas substations. “We like the uniqueness of those properties,” said Ganzi, referring to utility tower sites.
In fact, buying the land under towers, network sharing, adding DAS systems and getting more spectrum were themes for the tower companies at PCIA’s 2011 Wireless Infrastructure Show held in Dallas Oct. 3-6. PCIA could serve as the mediator to bring the tower companies together with mission-critical communications companies, said some members.