The telecom industry has been undergoing widespread changes in recent years. Data usage in the industry has been increasing year on year, while existing towers are being loaded with equipment to handle the increased coverage requirements. Further, coverage gaps are being addressed through new infill sites. With time, low-footprint, small cell and in-building solutions will become more critical, and more infill sites will be required.

Challenges and solutions

Despite the growth, the industry still faces certain key challenges, as the need for more network outreach and strength is propelling the demand for strengthening overloaded towers and foundations. Due to increase in wind speed, the present structures in wind zones will require an analysis of their structural stability and calibration. In this context, the following tower design models might prove to be useful.

Optimised tower design

Falling profit levels have prompted telecom companies to look for innovative sol­utions in order to reduce tower and foun­dation costs significantly. Several measures can help cut costs, including adopting triangular cross-sections and circular profiles for reduced wind drag. Using tubes can also help cut costs.

Low footprint telecom sites

Built-in equipment platforms have been designed to enable optimal utilisation of a tower and the overall space. They allow for all equipment, including the base tra­ns­ceiver system, the power bank and the diesel generator, to be placed within the tower itself. This renders the earlier procedure of using a system shelter for such equipment obsolete. This, in turn, reduces the size of the plot and ensures that the fencing is protected by the foundations of the tower itself, without harming the sa­fety of the equipment.

Rapid deployment solution

Another sustainable technology is the ra­pid deployment solution (RDS), used whi­le assembling or deploying the tower str­ucture. Different from traditional concrete foundations, RDS does away with the steps of excavation, pouring concrete and creating an embankment. RDS reduces the time needed to set up or deploy the tower structure. It also facilitates easy relocation, not needing cranes to be shifted from one location to another. Moreover, it functions independently of soil type and thus provides steady and str­o­ng support to the tower.

Smart city solutions

As cityscapes are getting overcrowded, and the need to keep streets and roads accessible is increasing, tower structures are now supporting multiple functions. These include LED lights, surveillance cameras and environment sensors, meant to facilitate the safety of pedestrians.

Add-ons such as Wi-Fi routers, mobile charging ports and electric vehicle charging points are also being offered. In res­tri­cted spaces, towers may have equipment ra­cks, placed above or below ground.

Camouflage solutions

In metropolitan cities or places of historical importance, towers can be camoufla­g­ed to not damage aesthetic value. This system can help in maintaining the aesthetics of professional spaces or tourist spots. Towers may be designed to resemble pine trees, chimneys or water tanks. They can even be fully camouflaged.

Tower maintenance

Towers also need regular life cycle management and maintenance. Structure ins­pec­tion, load validation activities and ma­in­tenance ins­pe­c­tion need to be performed occasionally. Currently, su­ch check-ups are performed individually for stations as per their need. However, in time, they will be part of a comprehensive audit conducted as per Depart­me­nt of Telecommu­ni­ca­tions’ guidelines.

Sustainable tower designs

With the rise of green finance, sustainable energy has also levelled up in the telecom industry. Solar panel structures are now being used to supply electricity to telecom infrastructure in rural areas. In rural areas with an average wind speed of 5-6 metres per second, telecom installations are also deploying wind turbines. This helps telecom networks work independently of the erratic electricity supply in the rural parts of the country.

Upcoming trends

The use of sustainable and other new materials in tower structures has drawn interest from international clients. India currently does not see much demand for new materials due to cost factors. Tim­ber, bamboo and carbon fibre structures will gain promine­nce in the near future. Such structures can ensure that signal strength is unaffected by any hindrance from metals. Some of these technologies, such as RDS, have eased several concerns around safety, while built-in eq­uipment platforms have simultaneously en­abled compact designs and efficiency. Ot­h­ers, including timber tower structures, are yet to be tested for feasibility in terms of safety and performance. Many more, such as camouflage for tower structures, are yet to be explored by the Indian telecom industry.

Based on a presentation by Suresh Babu Kanugula, Director, Tower Solutions, Ramboll