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The Many Shapes and Sizes of Telecommunication Towers

Updated on March 29, 2013

I work in the telecommunications business, and have for quite some time now. As I was driving my morning commute to work this morning, I was struck by how ubiquitous telecommunications towers are in day to day life, yet how few people outside of my industry I talk to have any remote clue as to what I do for a living. Whether you live in the city or on the countryside, you'll be guaranteed to a see a telecom tower or two – but you may not realize it. That's because these things come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, depending on (a) what kind of job it needs to get done and (b) what sort of space it has to do that job in.

I want to guide you through all the types of telecommunication towers you'll see, and maybe a couple you won't. The goal here is to, next time you see one, you won't consider it just a part of the landscape the way they're normally viewed – these are highly advanced pieces of equipment that keep the world spinning on its axis, providing you with four bars on your cell phone, your favorite shows on your television at the same time every week, your NPR programs fresh and your favorite classic-rock radio station rocking around the clock.

The Self Support Tower

These telecom towers are those massive, three- or four-legged towers you will often see in large open spaces and fields, usually made from lattice steel. Essentially, a self support tower is the big boss of all telecommunications. It can handle the biggest loads with the most power and consistency with the most range you can find in the industry. From Wi-Fi and mobile phone service to radio and satellite communications, simply put, this tower can do it all. Self supports also have a lot of lasting power, because they are typically hot-dip galvanized to keep them strong and sturdy for years and years to come. If you've got a lot of space and a lot of work to get done, you really couldn't do better than one of these.

The Monopole Tower

I live near downtown Chicago, and I see these all over the place, likely due to the amount of demand for phone reception and the lack of space to work with. Monopole towers say it all in the name: They consist of a freestanding single, tall pole that reaches anywhere from 70 to 120 feet high. Don't be fooled by how lightweight and seemingly unsupported these towers are – a monopole tower has a very basic design, but can stand up to wind and other harsh weather conditions with the best of them, and is made of flexible galvanized steel that's ultra-strong and ultra-durable. Monopole towers, too, can take on loads from any amount of different telecommunication industries, so if you need a more affordable strategy in a smaller amount of legroom, a monopole tower won't let you down.

Cell on Wheels

It may not be able to handle the big jobs the way the two aforementioned towers can, but a Cell on Wheels (COW) tower is the absolute picture of convenience and using square footage efficiently. Also known as a mobile cell tower, these things are portable, self-contained and can even be hitched onto the back of a truck or SUV. That means that, if someone has a telecommunications job that is either indefinite, temporary or simply has barely any space to put a tower in, the Cell on Wheels will be just the thing he or she is looking for. The set-up for one of these towers takes almost no time at all, and can be used in a pinch for numerous different telecom purposes. So, especially if you need a temporary solution when you're between more permanent telecom towers – or if ecological restrictions just restrict you from using a larger installation like the self support tower – there is a mobile cell tower with your name on it.

Other Telecom Towers

There are a lot of other types of towers out there, though you may not see them too often anymore. The English, for instance, used to build their telecommunications towers out of wood around WWII – for obvious reasons, not many of these are around anymore. Additionally, concrete towers were a popular choice in the U.S. in the 1950s; these aren't really built in America anymore because of how expensive they are to construct, but again for obvious reasons, almost all those built are still around today. Concrete towers are, however, still popular around the Netherlands and Germany.

Whatever they're made of, telecommunication towers aren't much appreciated or recognized in today's society – they've become so commonplace that seeing one is as blasé as seeing a roadside hot dog stand. But each telecom tower is built with love by expert craftsmen to help make your world more connected. Don't make the mistake of ignoring your nearest telecommunications tower; without it, you likely wouldn't be able to read this webpage right now.


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