Continuing with the theme of solutions for no signal (started by the post No Signal?! Top things to try), I’d like to explore a much more permanent option for improving signal, albeit one that takes much longer and has a much smaller likelihood of ‘actually happening’. This option is the construction of a new cell tower.
Okay, that’s obviously not something YOU can do on a whim. But what if you live in an area with poor signal, and you’d be happy with a new tower on your property? How do you start? Who do you talk to? In this blog post, I am going to explain the processes and considerations of different players when building cell towers, using examples of specific companies from the United States. However, you should be able to extend this to your country by looking for the same types of companies and organisations.
1) The First Steps
The first thing you should do if you are willing to lease your property for a cell tower is register your intent, either with a tower infrastructure company (such as Crown Castle or American Tower), or with the network providers themselves. Some network providers will have their own infrastructure branches, as you can see with T-mobile’s Real Estate arm.
What does registration entail? It’s pretty straightforward – basically address, GPS coordinates, and type of property. If we take a look at the registration form of Crown Castle, we can see that there are several default property types (namely, tall constructions as well as land parcels). This makes sense, given that there are several types of tower deployments – standalone towers, rooftop installations, small cell deployments, and collocations (placing of new antennas on an existing tower).
2) The Decision Process and Limitations
Now that you’ve registered your intent, it is up to the tower company to decide whether to consider your land for a new cell tower location. Tower infrastructure companies look for new tower locations based on the requirements of network providers, and as American Tower states, they will “contact you directly if there is serious interest in utilizing your land to develop a tower site.” So what are the chances? What do they look for in a tower site? While the full list depends highly on the context, here are a few common themes:
- Your property is inside the ‘Search Ring’ – the area defined by the carrier as needing a cell tower.
- Topography and position of your property (elevation, easy/difficult construction area, access to cell site)
- Size of property in relation to tower requirements – different kinds of towers have different free area requirements.
- Zoning – Zoning determines restrictions on constructions above a certain height, but also, specific communities can have “individual” regulations on cell tower construction due to visual aesthetics and health concerns. At the same time, cell towers – a ‘public utility’ – might be so important that zoning regulations can be overruled. There’s a very interesting summary on “Municipal Zoning of Cell Towers and Antennas” by the Office of the General Counsel in New York.
While your property might fit these specifications exactly, there are other considerations that may affect your chances of getting a tower built on your land. As posted by the FCC (US telecoms regulator), the tower location must be compliant with:
- The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) – the tower site must not adversely affect:
- threatened or endangered species
- designated critical habitats
- migratory birds
- The National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) – the tower site must not adversely affect historic properties or tribal lands
3) Offer Made, Lease Negotiations
Assuming your property passes the above requirements and fits the tower company’s specifications, you may receive a lease offer. Whether and how much you negotiate is again dependant on context – are there other good options for the tower company to construct the tower? You could consult a tower lease consultancy – Steel in the Air and Airwave Advisors are two examples- to help you with the negotiations. An interesting important detail to remember is future co-location rents: if a tower can support more antennas than are initially installed, you could get an increase in your lease when other networks install their antennas on the same cell tower. For you to receive collocation rents, the appropriate terms need to be part of your lease agreement.
That’s the basic process of getting a tower company or network to build a new tower, or collocate an antenna, on your property. Do you have a tower on your property? Did you have an experience similar to the one described here? Please share below or in the OpenSignal forums!