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Advances In Technology

There are some relatively new advances in technology that could significantly alter the appearance of wireless communication antenna facilities in the future. Motivated by difficulties in obtaining approved sites and, at least for some providers, a sensitivity to community concerns, the industry has developed alternatives to the traditional towers they were hoping we would learn to accept.

Exhibits 1, 2 and 3 are samples of traditional towers. Exhibit 1 is an actual photograph of a 400' tower, fortunately in another state, approximately 90 feet from the neighbor's patio. Exhibit 1
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Exhibit 2 is a photosimulation; prepared by Sprint Spectrum, of the 100-foot lattice tower they wanted to place in a developed residential neighborhood in Medina. Of course, that application was turned down. Exhibit 2
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Exhibit 3 is a photosimulation that a siting agency prepared for an industry sponsored workshop while Medina was preparing to issue new regulations. The Walter Group touted this plan since it allowed for collocation of 3 carriers at the Saint Thomas Church parking lot. They really believed that the monopole with three sectors of panel antennas at the top would blend into the scenery so well that no one would object. Exhibit 3
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Exhibit 4 is a photograph of an existing Sprint facility in Clyde Hill. It uses "stealth technology" by being disguised as a telephone pole. As you drive by, assuming you did not know what you were looking at, you might not notice any difference from the pole it replaced. Exhibit 4
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Exhibit 5 is a photograph of the underground equipment vault that Clyde Hill insisted on at the site shown in Exhibit 4. The industry told Medina they could not do this because of the high water table. Some providers still claim they cannot go underground with their support equipment, especially the air conditioning, but that is now a pretty hard sale. Exhibit 5
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Exhibit 6 is a Sprint antenna disguised as a street pole, holding a 4-way blinking light at an intersection shared by Clyde Hill and Medina. It matches the other poles in the intersection and many people are surprised when they first learn that it is a wireless antenna. The antenna at the top of the pole is what is called a tubular panel or cross-polarized antenna. It replaces the "top hat" of three sectors of panel antennas shown in exhibits 2 and 3. It is approximately 18 inches in diameter and less than 6 feet tall. Exhibit 6
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Exhibit 7 shows two facilities that were permitted by Medina in the Saint Thomas Church parking lot. Fortunately they are difficult to see. Directly behind the white car is a 50 foot whip antenna installed by AirTouch, a cellular provider. In the foreground is a 35 foot tubular panel antenna installed by GTE, a PCS provider. Both are painted a dark bronze to blend in with the poplar trees in the background. Note that they are well below the height of the poplars. GTE originally asked for a variance so its facility could also reach 50 feet to match the Airtouch facility. When GTE candidly stated that it would have the same service capacity at 35 feet as at 50 feet, the variance was denied. Please note the wooden fence on the left-hand side of the photograph. This was to conceal the ground equipment cabinets required for antenna sites and to partially muffle the noise from the generators and air conditioning units. Exhibit 7
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Exhibit 8 is a photosimulation of the "Three Sectored Susan" flagpole. It allows three providers to collocate and use stealth technology at the same time. Note that there is little or no separation between the tubular panel antennas at the top of the pole. Representatives from several companies I spoke with said the purported need for up to 20 feet of separation is an industry myth promulgated by the antenna providers who do not want to engage in the "fine tuning" which allows these antenna to be placed in very close proximity. Exhibit 8
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Exhibit 9 consists of photographs of a wireless antenna developed by Nokia. It is a completely self-contained PCS sending and receiving station. All it needs is to be plugged into a 120-volt power supply and a telephone line and it is ready to go. It can be placed on the side of an existing building or on a telephone pole. It is smaller than many pole-mounted electrical transformers, approximately 26 inches high, 16 inches wide and 6 inches deep. It can be 30 feet in the air or only a few feet above the ground. It covers an area of 1 to 2 miles in circumference. It needs no equipment enclosures and should generate little, if any noise. Similar equipment is available for each of the various technologies used by the industry (GSM, TDMA, CDMA). Exhibit 9
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Exhibits 10 and 11 are photographs of two minicell sites on Island Crest Way in the city of Mercer Island. These antennas were installed by Airtouch and AT&T Wireless, both cellular providers. Like most of my favorite antenna sites, it is difficult to see the antennas through the tree coverage. These antenna do require equipment cabinets on the ground. Exhibit 10
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Will minicells eliminate the need for other antennas? Not unless local jurisdictions require it. There are many reasons why the industry does not wish to use them individually. A few that I am aware of are:

1. It is easier, cheaper and quicker to build a smaller number of tall towers than to put in a greater number of minicells.

2. One knowledgeable source believes that some of the carriers are beholden to antenna manufacturers who have large stockpiles of what could soon become outmoded antennas. These providers do not want to move to state of the art technology until the stockpiles have been reduced.

3. The providers will argue that minicells are too expensive.

4. Some minicells may be more difficult to maintain. Because the self-contained units do not have equipment cabinets on the ground, a boom truck is necessary to check or service those antennas which are mounted any distance in the air. Even when it is in use everywhere, the minicell will not solve everyone's concerns. Those who worry about the health effects of radio frequency emissions will still not be happy, even though the minicells should produce a much lower level of radio frequency emissions. For those concerned about health effects, a substantial setback requirement from residential areas may be the only answer.

The Law Offices of Kirk R. Wines
210 Crockett Street, Seattle WA 98109 | ph: 206/301-9558 | fax: 206/213-0021