Today, an increasing number of telecom towers are being built to meet the growing demand for wireless communication. However, increasing environmental concerns have made setting up to­wer sites a sensitive issue. Due to this concern, tower companies in some countries are coming up with innovative and unusual ways to camouflage their mobile towers. Towercos are also 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. For example, Jio installed camouflaged 4G mobile towers in areas such as Jamshedpur. The 35 metre tower is shaped like a palm tree and is made from high quality steel. In a similar manner, Ericsson has developed a “tower tube” that allows operators or tow­er companies to install it in textures that match the surrounding landscape. Tower tubes consume 40 per cent less energy, emit 30 per cent less carbon dioxide and occupy 60-75 per cent less space as compared to conventional towers.

Types of tower structures

Among camouflaged tower structures, one of the most commonly spotted towers is the lattice tower. They usually appear in the shape of the Eiffel tower. Lattice towers are freestanding and segmentally designed with rectangular or triangular base steel lattices. This type of tower construction can be useful in situations that require modifications such as mounting a large number of panels or dish antennas. They can be used as electricity transmission towers, radio towers or as observation towers. These towers often offer the most stability and flexibility as compared to other cell tower types.

Another type of tower structures are mo­nopole towers, which work well when space is limited, zoning is difficult, or harsh weather conditions need to be considered. These are the least intrusive towers in the wireless communication in­dustry, consisting of either a tubular section design or a tapered pole. A single-pole design is ad­van­tageous for reducing the visual impact and the construction time as well as cost as compared to traditional lattice struc­tu­r­es. The benefit of this type of tower is that it requires little ground space to erect and antennas are mounted on top of the mast.

Stealth camouflage towers are also popular monopole designs. They can be used to meet zoning regulations. Their cost is hi­gh­er than that of other towers because they requi­re additional materials to conceal their app­earance. Due to their smaller size, they are typically less efficient. Stealth towers can be spotted as a metal tree standing tall on the side of a highway. The purpose of this structure is to hide a tower from plain sight whenever it is necessary. Due to the fact that many people find bare cell towers to be ugly, or an intrusion, they are desig­ned in such a way that they blend in with their surroundings. These towers can take the shape of many other objects such as signs, flagpoles and even cacti.

Tower construction practices

Towers are commonly constructed using the build-up method. Each tower component is installed from the top to bottom, using this method. Towers are also ins­tall­ed using the section method, with ma­jor sections being assembled on the grou­nd and erected as units using a mobile crane or a gin pole. An emerging te­chno­logy solution for transmission tower erection is helicopters. Sterlite Grid has es­tablished itself as a pioneer in the use of aerial technologies.

Tower foundations must be strong and sturdy to be able to withstand strong winds, hurricanes, and oth­er ad­verse weather conditions. The direct embedded foundation is suitable for sites with a limited am­ount of space and can be managed with small spans. It can be applied to distribution pol­es, sub-transmission poles and transmission poles. Pol­es should be em­bedded for the foundation at a depth of no less than one-sixth of their total length above the ground level. Poles with a base plate can be used for any height or span. It is easy to assemble and install the foundation.

Micropiling is emerging as a foundation design for towers. Micropiles, or piles with a diameter of less than 200 mm, are used for tower foundations. Micropiles are suitable for use in a wide range of geotechnical conditions, making them an ideal solution for transmission projects in de­serts, mountains and marine environments. The other tower foundation desig­ns include precast foundations (for limited construction periods), grillage foundations (for firm soil areas) and reinforced cement concrete spread (for soil conditions ranging from soft to hard).

Emerging focus areas

In recent times, transmission towers are being offered as telecom antenna sites to telcos, where power is supplied to the telecom antenna through innovative step-do­wn voltage transformer. This mechanism guarantees 24×7 power supply. The adoption of this unique solution will enable an environment-friendly green energy solution and eliminate the need for a separate telecom tower capex. Fur­ther, end-to-end fibre connectivity, unin­terrup­ted power supply, location and height ad­vantage can make this a superior service proposition for telcos.

By Anjali Kumbhar