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Michael Harris

How Wireless Carriers Choose Cell Sites

By Michael Harris


Seeing the proliferation of cell sites, many property owners are eager to land a tower and earn extra rental income. And, property owners that already have a tower lease are keen to attract additional wireless carriers as tenants to boost revenues.  In practice, however, competition among property owners for the limited number of available cell site leases is intense. For property owners, capturing cell site lease revenue can feel like trying to find a winning lottery ticket. 


Identifying the Need for a Cell Site

Yes, cell sites are critical to wireless carriers. But, in an effort to rein in expenses, carriers have become very sophisticated about cell site development and placement. Engineering teams are continually monitoring existing cell site performance indicators and usage statistics. By tracking dropped calls, voice minutes used and data bandwidth consumed for each site, coverage holes are identified, as are sites facing future capacity crunches. A formal search for a new cell site location is only started when a genuine need is identified. At that point, a carrier’s engineering department issues a “search ring” defining the precise geographic area where an additional cell site is needed to expand network coverage or capacity. Any location that is to be considered must meet a carrier’s basic building specifications.  (See “Verizon Cell Site Design Criteria for Property Evaluation” on bottom of page  as an example).


Selecting the Cell Site Location

A site acquisition specialist is engaged to spearhead the process. The search ring request will include detailed information about the carrier’s engineering specifications, including the projected tower height, number of antennas, antenna size, radio frequencies to be used, and the amount of space needed for base station equipment. Additionally, concerns about terrain, elevation, harmony with existing cell sites, and potential sources of radio frequency interference are addressed. Marketing considerations are also factored into the equation, such as population density and demographics, vehicle and pedestrian traffic, and the mix of local businesses.  


Through a combination of sophisticated database analysis and inspection of the targeted service area, potential cell sites are identified.  A due diligence process is then conducted for each site, including environmental impact studies, as well as surveys and architectural drawings for the local zoning authority. The entire process -- from the issue of a search ring to making the final selection of a cell site, gaining zoning approval and a building permit -- can take as long as a year.  


The bottom line: decisions about cell site placement are meticulously made and driven by a carrier’s network coverage needs, business objectives, local zoning rules, and the unique characteristics of different wireless frequencies and technologies. 


Verizon Cell Site Design Criteria  for Property Evaluation


Land for tower sites:

·      Should provide a leased area approximately 100' x 100'

·      Should be no more than 100 to 500 feet from a major paved public street

·      The property should be within a zoning classification that allows communications structures

·      Must provide 24 hour access, 7 days a week, 365 days a year to all portions of the facility


Building or Rooftop sites:

·      Should be a minimum of 3 to 4 stories tall

·      The zoning of the building should allow for communications facilities to be placed at your location

·      Should be a flat roof, capable of handling a Minimum of 150 lbs./Square Ft. of roof loading

·      Must provide at least a 20' x 30' area for equipment on the roof, in the building, or on the ground immediately next to the building

·      Must provide 24 hour access, 7 days a week, 365 days a year to all portions of the facility


 Source: www.verizonwireless.com/b2c/realestate





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