3rd Party Engineers, T-Mobile & Local Jurisdictions

T-Mobile’s National External Affairs (“NEA”) Newsletter is a monthly online publication aimed at T-Mobile’s  outside siting professionals and others related to siting.  NEA was kind enough to add me to their subscriber list.

What follows below is an article appearing in the July 2013 issue of T-Mobile’s National External Affairs’ Siting Newsletter.  It describes T-Mobile’s view of 3rd party engineers retained by local jurisdictions primary to evaluate towers for structural integrity during upgrades.

While we on the government side might expect the article to be one sided and dismissive, I have to say that NEA’s presentation is thoughtful, considered, and very balanced.  As the article concludes, “It’s not just technical answers that will help achieve success, it is also building understanding from all sides of the equation.”  Well said, T-Mobile.

I encourage you to read the entire article below.  I reprint it here with T-Mobile’s prior written permission.

Siting from Different Perspectives:
3rd Party Engineers, T-Mobile & Local Jurisdictions

A growing number of jurisdictions are outsourcing wireless site engineering to third-party firms, especially when it comes to municipally owned water tanks. The practice creates challenges not only for T-Mobile but also the engineering firms themselves as they strive for a happy medium where wireless facilities can quickly and efficiently be deployed while satisfying municipal objectives surrounding safety and asset protection.

Municipalities turn to outside engineering firms for several reasons, including a feeling that their own staffers are ill-equipped to judge the assertions made by wireless carriers regarding siting. Budgetary constraints also restrict the time and resources municipal employees can dedicate to siting issues.

“They just want to make sure that they’re protected, that they’re protecting their assets, which is why they’re hiring these firms,” said Steve Carlson, partner delivery manager for real estate in T-Mobile’s Minneapolis market.

Minneapolis has a high percentage of wireless facilities installed on water tanks. T-Mobile’s modernization project in the market includes 162 water tank sites out of 698 total sites. It is common practice for cities in the market to require reviews of site applications by third-party engineers anytime a carrier wants to perform a new installation on a tank or conduct any kind of an upgrade.

However, there can be drawbacks for carriers when it comes to dealing with third-party engineering firms. Municipalities generally select the third-party engineering firm with which a carrier must deal, and that firm will bill all charges for time and materials to the carrier. In Minneapolis, the cost of each full review might be $3,000 to more than $10,000, Carlson said.

Often, municipalities provide no oversight of these engineering firms, some of which may run up what appear to be exorbitant bills for their reviews, said Lori LeBlanc, T-Mobile’s senior development manager in Minneapolis. “There’s no checks and balances put into place with regard to the city. It’s almost like an open-ended checkbook,” she said.

Indeed, some engineering firms appear to be taking advantage of the situation by requiring more reviews than needed. For example, T-Mobile has on occasion submitted duplicate plans from a previous installation that an engineering firm approved, only to have the same firm find issues with the new installation. “It’s always a three-review process one way or another,” Carlson said.

In addition to the financial impact, there is also an opportunity cost involved, not just for carriers, who suffer delays in deployment plans, but for local residents, who must wait for upgraded service. Individual site reviews in Minneapolis for T-Mobile modernization projects have taken from three months to more than a year.

Additionally, once a building plan is approved, a number of inspections might be instigated, all of which must be paid for by the carrier.

Further complicating matters is the fact that in Minneapolis, the three third-party engineering firms hired to conduct site reviews are vastly understaffed, with generally only one or two individuals at a firm available to perform all of its water tank reviews. This is especially egregious given the number of site upgrades currently being implemented by T-Mobile and other carriers.

“They did not staff up for the workload that they have. The cities, who are ultimately our landlords, don’t really understand that,” Carlson said.

A view from the other side

While carriers cite a number of issues in dealing with third-part engineering firms, it’s important to remember that those firms also face numerous challenges when it comes to conducting site reviews and granting approvals for wireless installations.

Paul J. Ford and Company was started in 1965. The employee-owned company, which is strictly focused on structural engineering, has offices in Columbus, Ohio; Orlando, Florida; and Atlanta, Georgia. It is registered in all 50 states, Puerto Rico, Canada and Venezuela.

Some 40 people work in Paul J. Ford’s telecommunications unit, which has been kept busy lately with requests for site reviews related to LTE upgrades, said the company’s President Kevin Bauman.  He started with Paul J. Ford in 1976, working with the company’s tower business from the start.

Placing communications antennas on a water tank usually involves three parties with divergent interests, Bauman said.

“The municipality wants assurance from a design professional that there will be no negative impact upon their water tank due to the addition of the communication equipment.  The wireless carrier knows that mounting something as small as an antenna on something as large as a water tank should have a negligible impact on the water tanks structural stability.  The structural engineer understands that it isn’t logical to require a thorough and time-consuming structural analysis of the entire water tank for this type of installation, yet some due diligence is required if that company is going to assume the responsibility for the adequacy of the installation,” he said.

Bauman explained the process that engineers go through to ensure that structural integrity and conformance to building standards are fully considered when wireless facilities are planned for installation on water tanks.
“Generally we try to get as much structural information about the water tower as we possibly can. If the water tower is adequate as it now stands, it’s usually impossible to overstress it by adding communications antennas to it,” Bauman said.

However, if the building code has changed, then a thorough structural analysis of the water tank might reveal that the water tank is structurally deficient even though the cause has nothing to do with the addition of the communication antenna. Further, Bauman noted that in many areas of the country, seismic (earthquake) loads are the controlling design criteria and not wind loads or weight.

He contends that mobile carriers often “do not have a real good understanding of the type of things that we need and the type of things they need us to do.”

For one thing, carriers often provide third-party engineering firms with insufficient information and rarely have the original drawings for a site. Bauman said he has received photos of water tanks with no additional specs from carriers that need a site review.

“A structural engineer can’t create a set of drawings and place his/her professional engineers seal on a drawing, if even the most basic structural information about the water tank is unknown,” Bauman noted.

“Many times we get so little information, we back out of the project, and that makes everybody mad,” he said. “But if we lack adequate information we can’t perform the necessary due diligence to form a professional opinion.”
When it comes to water tanks, firms such as his often have a difficult time convincing municipalities that changes to a wireless deployment on a water tank can be so insignificant from a structural viewpoint that they do not require a whole lot of engineering work.

“It’s kind of a no-brainer, but municipalities don’t like to go along with that. They want to see reams of calculations to prove that everything’s okay,” Bauman said.

That’s not to say installing wireless communications equipment on a water tank is child’s play: There are actually lots of unique issues with which to contend.

“The tricky part about doing water tanks is that they have water in them,” Bauman said. It is tough to weld anything to the side of a water tank because the water inside acts as a giant heat sink, making it difficult to develop enough heat for a good weld. In addition, when installing equipment on top of a water tank, any exterior welding can impact the coating inside the tank that protects the water.

Carriers can sometimes attach antennas to water tanks using an epoxy, which can be successful with the right epoxy and environmental conditions. There are also magnetic mounts that can be used for mounting equipment atop a water tank.

“How a structural engineer ever proves to a municipality that the magnets are strong enough, I don’t know,” Bauman said, noting there are no numbers available to prove such a setup works. But numbers are exactly what municipalities want from their third-party engineering firms.

To conduct the necessary structural reviews and provide all of the information demanded by municipalities is a time-consuming endeavor. Bauman said most carriers underestimate the amount of effort involved in water tank site reviews.  “We probably turn down 70 percent of all water tank work because it’s just not worth it,” he added.

Smoothing the process

There is clearly room for improvement in relationships between carriers, municipalities and third-party engineering firms.

Understanding the pressures put upon third-party engineering firms is one way that mobile operators can build rapport with the outside engineers. Simplifying the process from the carrier side is also beneficial.

In the Minneapolis market, where T-Mobile has modernized 106 of 162 water tank sites, the market team has strived to make the third-party review process more efficient. For example, T-Mobile assigned one construction manager to handle all interactions with third-party engineers regarding water tank placements. That helped T-Mobile in terms of tracking projects and consistency in handling issues as they cropped up, though this has admittedly sped up the process only minimally.

However, there is still work to be done.  “In the future, how do we approach the cities for future projects?” asked LeBlanc.

T-Mobile hopes that initiating more conversations with all of the parties involved will lead to more creative solutions for streamlining the approval process for new wireless installations and site upgrades when third-party engineering firms are involved. It’s not just technical answers that will help achieve success, it is also building understanding from all sides of the equation.

Copyright © 2013 T-Mobile US, All rights reserved. The National External Affairs’ Siting Newsletter is a publication that highlights topics of interest to anyone wanting to know more about siting and T-Mobile’s work with communities. For more information, please contact us by telephone (425.383.8413) or by email at natextaffairs@t-mobile.com.
Our mailing address is: T-Mobile US,  12920 SE 38th Street, Bellevue, WA 98006



Current Issues in Cell Tower Leases

March 3, 2011: 2 hour live teleconference
1 pm ET (12 pm CT, 11 am MT, 10 am PT)

Teleconference Highlights:

The wireless industry has built more than 250,000 cell sites in the United States in the past 20 years. But many more cell sites are needed as iPhones, iPads and the like strain existing network capacity with data, email, computer and video applications, as well as to fill gaps in coverage. New cell sites and significant modifications to existing cell sites will also be needed due to the FCC’s new advanced wireless services and goal of using wireless to increase broadband speeds and coverage.

This audio conference will help level the playing field by providing private and municipal property owners with the expertise of two faculty members highly experienced in cell tower and cell site leases – property owners usually are negotiating such leases for the first time, while the cell companies have teams who work exclusively on such leases.

This audio conference will focus on key business issues in wireless site leases, including lease rates, who gets the revenues from additional antennas or carriers being co-located at a site, potential underpayments by cell companies on existing sites and why rent reduction requests generally should be denied. An emphasis on the industry-specific elements and terms of modern cell site leases, and renewals and modifications of expiring leases, which are important for the property owner, their attorney and the leasing agent involved in these efforts. You will be better able to identify and resolve issues that are unique to wireless siting, including what may be included in a lease that cannot be included in a government-issued permit, site location and value, lease term and terminations, access requirements, interference regulation and mitigation, design and camouflage, and radio frequency emissions issues.

Learning Objectives

  • You will be able to maintain and increase the revenues the property owner receives, and discuss the common elements of private wireless site leases on developed and undeveloped land.
  • You will be able to utilize practice pointers, including key concepts, for owners of private property and their attorneys, as well as municipalities and municipal attorneys.
  • You will be able to understand the basics of wireless technology and the real property, technical and technology issues that drive a wireless carrier’s siting and leasing process.
  • You will be able to review insurance and indemnity provisions to protect the property owner.

Faculty Information

John W. Pestle, Esq., Varnum LLP
Jonathan L. Kramer, Esq., FSCTE, BTS, BDS, BPS, Kramer Telecom Law Firm, P.C.

MCLE/Educational Credit Information

  • AIA
  • AICP (Pending)
  • CC
  • CLE
  • ENG
  • PMI

Who Should Attend?

This audio conference is designed for attorneys, planners, directors of development, project managers, government administrators, council and board members, land use officials, public works and utilities directors, municipal government officials, engineers, architects, surveyors and real estate professionals.

5 Easy Ways to Register:
Online: www.lorman.com
Phone: 1-866-352-9539
E-mail: customerservice@lorman.com
Fax: 1-715-833-3953
Mail: Lorman Education Services, Dept 5382, PO Box 2933, Milwaukee, WI 53201-2933
Seminar ID: 387436

An Interesting AT&T Cell Site Opposition Music Video

AT&T has a pending proposal to install a new tower overlooking Granite Lake, NH, about 15 miles east of Keene, NH. While it’s not a surprise that there is some community resistance, what is a surprise is the quality and effectiveness of this opposition video published by “Cucchicru” at YouTube. This is worth a bit over 5 minutes of your time.

The video quietly makes its point using only images and music. The ‘Before’ music is “Carry Me Across the Mountain” by Dan Tyminski. The ‘After’ music is “Darkness, Darkness” by Jesse Colin Young, performed here by Young as the vocalist of the Youngbloods.

(I take no side in the underlying question about the cell site; I simply point out how effective this video is in expressing its position.  -jlk)


The FCC’s Shot Clock…Now a Game of Chicken

FCC Shot Clock

The FCC’s Shot Clock for siting decisions in wireless cases is turning out to be the bad idea that most governments expected it would be.   Right now we’re seeing the first round of “Chicken” …  The carriers are starting to demand siting decisions on cases because the Shot Clock rule entitles them to sue if they don’t get it.

“Okay… you want a decision?  DENIED for the following reasons based on evidence in the administrative record….”  is what some governments are starting to offer applicants who demand their ‘final’ decision on day 90 or 150.  At the last minute will one side or the other ‘blink’ in this high-stakes game of Chicken? 

In some cases, especially in California with its state law CEQA requirements and when looking at compliance with local siting ordinance requirements, the decisions simply can’t pop out on time like the output of an assembly line.

I suspect we’ll see a fair number of application denials in the next few months while all sides figure out how to live under the Shot Clock…at least until the rule is overturned or seriously limited by the courts.

It was a dumb idea for the wireless industry to push for this rule.  The only ones who will really benefit from strict and severe application of the rule will be the attorneys and experts.  As both, I still think this was a dumb idea becuase it will make siting a more rigid process.

Those are my opinions.  What are yours?


CPUC Investigates Allegations of T-Mobile Sites Without Permits

As reported by staff writer Seth Rosenfeld in the San Francisco Chronicle (Aug 30, 2008, Page C-1), the California Public Utiltiies Commission is investigating whether T-Mobile has been constructing cell sites in Northern California without following local building laws.

The article quotes Susan Carothers, a CPUC spokesperson who said, “CPUC staff is looking into allegations concerning T-Mobile cell siting.”

This isn’t the first time the CPUC has investigated wireless carriers for putting up sites sans all required local permits.  In 1993, the Commission levied fines of up to $4,370,000 against other carriers for violating the terms of city building permits.

It appears that Glotel, the London-based international technology staffing and projects company with U.S. headquarters in Chicago, will be a target of the CPUC’s investigation.  Two former employees of Glotel were quoted in the Chronicle article, one of whom said that the activities being investigated by the CPUC “…happened every day” and specifically identified these activities occurring in Marin, San Franicsco, San Matel, and Santa Clara counties.   Brian Lynch, the other Glotel employee quoted in the article, said he was fired when he told Glotel that they were not following the proper process.

Stay tuned…this should be interesting!  Here is a link to the original story at SFGATE.com.



Eco-friendly MonoPalm in St. Lucia? Not really.

Eco Friendly MonoPalm?

Cable and Wireless must get the prize for its odd attempt to position a fairly ugly monopalm as being eco-friendly.

This poorly designed monopalm is located on the Caribbean island of St. Lucia.

Poorly designed? Well, yes. Let take a close look at C&W’s monopine in the photo:

1. The monopalm has its antennas showing;

2. The site uses microwave for backhaul to the MTSO, so it requires a very visible dish below the palms;

3. The clamps are not camouflaged;

4. The metal of the trunk of the monopalm is partially exposed.

5. The climbing safety cable is visible.

All-in-all, fairly ugly.

Below is C&W’s news release praising itself for this project:

A history making moment was created by Cable and Wireless after the company installed the first ever environmentally-friendly Palm Tree Cellular Tower in St Lucia. The Mono Palm as it is called is shaped like a palm tree with a trunk and palms fronds at the top. The palm fronds are made of plastic and metal and they flutter in the wind. The Mono Palm stands majestically at 71 ft. and is located high up on ridge in Monchy where it blends naturally with the green vegetation in the area. The eco-friendly tower, like the other towers of Cable and Wireless around St Lucia, is able to withstand up to category five hurricanes.Cable & Wireless VP Networks, Sean Auguste said: “Cable & Wireless is pleased to have erected the first palm tree cellular tower in St Lucia which will not only provide enhanced mobile coverage to customers in the north but it also blends perfectly with the island’s natural habitat and preserves the aesthetic beauty of St Lucia’s landscape.” He was full of praise for the members of the C&W Networks, Operations and Mobile teams who worked diligently to set up the tower and have it activated.

“We are very proud of this quarter million dollar investment, which is located high above a new and expanding residential area overlooking Rodney Bay. This technologically advanced cell tower, plus its tremendous height makes it ideal for providing the expanded coverage that will be needed in the immediate area and areas further north, including Beausejour and Rodney Bay,” Auguste added.

Cable & Wireless has also installed a Mono Palm in Dominica in the William Estate in the Pond Casse area. The erection of the towers in St Lucia and Dominica means that in technical terms these are first such cell towers to be set up in the OECS.


New Port Richey, FL opens government property, buildings to be cell sites

The opening lines of the Tampa Bay Online (The Tampa Tribune) story from February 7, 2008 tell it all:

NEW PORT RICHEY – It began as a discussion between city council members on limiting telecommunications towers within the city, but it ended up doing the exact opposite.

The city council Tuesday night approved the first reading of an ordinance that will permit the installation of cellular phone towers on most local government and public properties.

It passed 4-1.

While this is an interesting step toward wireless deployment, it’s important to realize that not every wireless carrier can make every site work on government owned property.

To read the full story at TPO.com, click here.