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Blending In: Telecom towers now offer better aesthetic value and functionality

March 06, 2019
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To cater to the growing demand for wireless communication, an increasing number of telecom towers are being set up, changing the country’s skyline. However, in recent times, setting up tower sites has become a sensitive issue owing to the rising environmental concerns associated with their deployment. There have also been several complaints about telecom towers becoming eyesores. To deal with this concern, in some countries, towercos are coming up with creative and unusual ways to camouflage antennas or mobile towers.

Indian towercos too are experimenting with camouflaging techniques to help tower structures blend with the surrounding landscape. They are deploying more aesthetic towers, disguising them as trees and plants. These modern tower sites, also called monopoles, are being developed to match aesthetic cityscapes and premium urban locations. Designed as a single-pole, they are the least intrusive, making them the most popular tower types in the wireless communication industry.

In India, Indus Towers pioneered this concept  while Bharti Infratel and American Tower Corporation followed soon. Today, these towercos are deploying monopoles in several locations. On the operator side, Reliance Jio Infocomm Limited is highly active in this space. Back in 2015, it had installed the country’s first camouflaged 4G mobile tower in Jamshedpur. It was a 35 metre first-of-its-kind tower in the shape of a palm tree, set up near the Centre for Excellence. Jio has also come up with high mast towers that look like street light towers in Nagpur.

Advantages

There is more to monopoles than mere aesthetics. Unlike traditional mobile towers, which require 2.5 kW of energy provided by a diesel generator, monopoles consume only 750 watts, which can be easily provided by a battery bank. This makes them more energy efficient as well as non-polluting. Ericsson has developed a Tower Tube, which has been designed in such a way that operators or tower companies can install it in textures suitable to the surrounding landscape. It consumes 40 per cent less electricity, produces 30 per cent less carbon emissions and occupies 60-75 per cent less space.

Monopoles are made of prefabricated material and can be installed in five to six hours, in contrast to traditional towers that take days for installation. They also take up less space and do not need a shelter as all the equipment is tucked into the hollow of the mast shaft.

Economically, they are cheaper to build and cost around Rs 1 million each as against Rs 2 million-Rs 2.5 million for a traditional ground-based tower or Rs 1.2 million-Rs 1.5 million needed for a tower mounted on a rooftop. Further, these towers are doubling as street lights, and are being used to deploy cameras for traffic control and other devices for monitoring air quality.

Ensuring higher capacity

A single monopole typically has a low range of 300-500 metres, and thus cannot be used for massive coverage like traditional ground-based towers.  Monopoles, instead, provide the capacity to handle huge amounts of data at high speeds and have become extremely relevant today with growing 4G proliferation. They handle more data within a smaller range, catering to a fewer number of subscribers. Monopoles will be best suited for 5G, which is 100 times faster than 4G, will require huge amounts of spectrum in higher bands.

Being smaller in size, monopoles can only support two tenants. But this is not an issue given that industry has now consolidated into three big players. While rentals might be lower, it will get neutralised by the fact that many more of such towers will be required.

Going forward

Only about 5 per cent of the existing towers are of the smaller variety. In the next two to three years, this share is estimated to grow to 30-40 per cent. The industry would see a hub and spoke model wherein big towers will provide coverage, and will be complemented by smaller towers, which will provide capacity. In the coming years, 250,000-500,000 towers are likely to be added to India’s telecom ecosystem and a bulk of these will be small-range towers.

That said, these monopole towers will require extensive fibre backhaul, which is highly inadequate at present.

 
 

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