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Antenna Camouflage Makes Technology Without Intrusion Possible

By Charlie Roper and Robert Renfro

Solar Communications International and Steelhead Metal and Fab bring a unique and lasting partnership to the wireless concealment industry. Their 20-year collaboration is driven by deep experience in the science of RF-transparent technology and engineered steel design and fabrication.

The “Twisted Tower” is RF transparent on all four sides.

Whether you seek to deploy macro cells or a series of small cells, you face similar challenges, for the most part. For example, with rooftop installations, self-supporting clock towers or pine tree monopoles, the problems you must overcome share similar fundamental characteristics. When you select a design and fabrication provider that has shown an ability to satisfy a broad range of stakeholders, you improve your potential to resolve whatever occasional contrary interests there may be on the road to a successful finished product.

If you are working with a site acquisition firm representing a wireless carrier or a vertical real estate company, you need to find common ground with a jurisdiction about placing antennas in a collectively agreeable location. Over the years, the actual number of players involved in this kind of debate has grown significantly, especially for concealed antenna sites.

The typical team that works with carriers and vertical real estate companies on a concealed rooftop or tree installation includes the general contractor, the network of subcontractors, the site acquisition firm, the engineering firm, the architectural firm, the building owner, the jurisdiction, the RF-transparent concealment design and fabrication team, and the engineered steel design and fabrication team.

It makes sense that the service providers would want to offer the best technologies and coverage in the most highly populated areas. As a result, concealment technology in the last five to 10 years has focused more on urban areas, which have more people in a more concentrated area.

The products you need to deploy have become more sophisticated, and the work that vendors perform to fabricate these components requires more specialized talent than ever before. For example, drafting teams need to have certain design capabilities to be able to provide concept drawings to a potential client.

Responding to the need for urban antenna concealment designs, Solar Communications International (SCI) and Steelhead Metal & Fab combine RF-transparent technology and engineered steel components to provide options and solutions,whether they stand alone on anchor bolts or they mount on a rooftop platform. (SCI has applied to register RFTransparent as a trademark for RF-transparent wireless infrastructure products.)

One example of a concealment widely used during the past 10 years or more is the pine tree monopole. For the most part, the pine tree is well received in markets, for several good reasons: The pine is a tall and majestic-looking tree; it maintains its branches and needles year-round; and it blends well with other pine trees in a forest setting.

Nevertheless, the pine tree monopole came with some problems. For one, pine trees come to a point at the top. The pointed top reveals antennas and distorts the natural look of the tree. For another, pine trees are not at home in urban or high-traffic public areas. Efforts to add matching leaf-colored socks over the antennas provided additional, although marginal, concealment. But this step did not address the problem of the antennas being in full view or the distortion to the natural shape of the tree.

The Monoeuc eucalyptus tree, or EUC, hides antennas, RRUs, radios, ancillary equipment at the top better than faux trees, because of its wider profile.

On the other hand, if you use a tree that looks more at home in an urban area and that has a broad top, you advance your concealment project in an appealing way. The eucalyptus is an example of such a tree.
The Monoeuc eucalyptus tree (SCI calls it the EUC) offers breakthrough technology for antenna concealment designed blend in with the surroundings in both urban and rural environments (see the line drawing and photo at left). The eucalyptus fits well in a professional campus setting and in suburban and rural settings. Not only does the EUC hide antennas better, but it also covers quite well remote radio units, radios and ancillary equipment deployed at the top of the tree. The design opens a wide range of new applications for using a tree in a metropolitan setting or a rural scenic surrounding such as a winery or a corporate campus.

The Monoeuc eucalyptus has been so well-received by Southern California jurisdictions that carriers and their network of site acquisition teams and general contractors approached SCI and Steelhead to provide regionally modified versions of color, barking and leaf shapes, such as oaks, broadleaf, elms, cypress and others varietals. These aesthetic options to the original design took a popular design in Southern California and gave it a national footprint. This simple patented design, which features a tree wider at the top than at its base, made it easier and more effective to hide antennas in a multitude of locations.
The three-trunk eucalyptus designs represent a change in the structural concept previously used for pines and palms. Stacking poles would not work. The trunks needed pick points to balance the limb during installation on the site. The structural engineers, the SCI in-house design team and the Steelhead prototyping team solved the problem of how to properly locate these pick points.

Together, SCI and Steelhead engineers made prototypes of several models many times over in a shared effort to deliver a flexible and uniquely intrinsic value for the carriers and the installers. This value of structural integrity and ease of installation would not have been possible had they not worked together as a team to meet their clients’ needs after they saw the concept design on paper.

The eucalyptus assembles easily in the field. It takes less than three hours to erect. The EUC design allows room for multiple carriers on a single structure with truly hidden antenna arrays that blend well into the local character of the community.

The Water Tank

Some wireless communications sites use faux water towers to hide their antennas.

The standard faux water tank represents another solution for antenna concealment structures.
The choices the team made for the RF-transparent water tank focused on quick installation, low crane time and minimal field installation crews. The engineered steel frame sits perfectly as a cradle for the RF-transparent water tank. Many water tanks made by SCI and Steelhead include signage on the outer surface displaying the community’s name, a university campus, stadiums and businesses such as wineries that require prominence and elegance. Meanwhile, the tanks have space for high-bandwidthtransmit and receive capabilities and a flexible design that accommodates equipment change-outs as antenna hardware evolves.

Jurisdictions approve structures they like if they meet all local engineering codes. Local communities accept concealment structures for sites if aesthetic requirements are respected. Many contractors have commented that the package they receive on-site from SCI and Steelhead makes erecting the water tank easy.

Carriers and vertical real estate companies have deployed more than 200 EUCs and more than 100 RF-transparent water tanks. It is not unusual to see a EUC triple-trunk design or an RF-transparent water tank in high-traffic corporate, recreational or educational settings.

Urban Art and Furniture

In most applications, antenna concealment is meant to blend in so well that it is simply not noticed. Some examples of other applications are a bell tower, church steeple or a faux elevator shaft. These structures are usually perfectly matched to an existing façade or landscape by in-house artists.
For other installations, however, blending in may mean standing out. In these cases, the installation may be considered to be urbanart or urban furniture. In Photo 1, the aptly named Twisted Tower not only requires an RF-transparent face on all sides, but also it requires engineered steel framing that which does not interfere with the RF transparency. The RF-transparent steel structure also needs to meet local code requirements. It has to offer long-term operational use. The Twisted Tower design allows for future antenna change-outs without requiring additional conditional use permits.
Otherstructures that fall into the dual-use category include lighting, parks, malls, bus stops, train stations, message boards, clocks and, in some cases, local artists’ murals.

New Technologies

Carriers and vertical real estate companies have SCI and Steelhead working on options for new concealment technologies for low-frequency (4G) and high-frequency (5G) wireless communications, along with small cells. This work requires continued development, testing and verification of standards at frequencies such as 28 GHz and 39 GHz. The materials involved not only need to meet RF standards, but also structural and fire code requirements. To continue this progress, SCI and Steelhead are researching technologies such as coatings being used. Their engineering group meets regularly with carrier and real estate customers to explore where their challenges are. Site visits help the companies to understand what types of concealment, other than the popular street lamps, can help place antennas within the limited distance required for performance with the user devices.

The two companies’ teams have learned how to bring the structural disciplines found in engineered steel design to the design and science of RF-transparent concepts. With so many factors to be considered in choosing a design and making it work, concealment projects require a common language to find consensus among decision-makers. The sooner they begin working with the full team, the better the projects comes together.

Steelhead and SCI have been partners and sister companies in the concealment market from their beginnings. Along the way, they learned the value of that partnership. Their products reflect a single-source focus that brings together custom structural engineering knowledge and creative concealment design with the science of RF-transparent polymer structures that are deployed to provide concealment for rich wireless access in every corner of the working and living environment without visual intrusion.

Charlie Roper is CEO of Steelhead Metal and Fab. His email address [email protected] Robert Renfro is CEO of Solar Communications International. His email address is [email protected]

STEALTH Concealment Solutions Acquired by Raycap Group

Global solutions provider Raycap has acquired STEALTH Concealment Solutions. The transaction closed on June 29. Details of the deal were not disclosed.

“We’re excited to be entering into this relationship with a quality company that is very highly focused on supporting the needs of the customer,” said Raycap Group CEO Kostas Samaras. “In acquiring a concealment industry leader like STEALTH, we will look for synergies in our solutions and product offerings so we can serve our customers and our markets even better than each company did so far.”

STEALTH created the first-ever RF-transparent concealment system in 1992 to prevent jeopardizing the appearances of existing structures when adding antennas. Raycap’s acquisition of STEALTH will expand the reach of STEALTH’s products and take its custom concealment solutions global. Raycap’s immediate plans to invest and grow STEALTH will greatly strengthen the brand’s position in the wireless industry. According to STEALTH’s CEO, Sean McLernon, “Being exposed to the various resources inside the Raycap Group will position STEALTH to expand and enhance its capabilities while it continues to deliver the most innovative concealments in the telecommunications industry.”

Twenty-five years ago, the world was a different place – cell phones were larger than life, smart phones were non- existent and society was not connected by technology 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The industry has grown immensely with the advancement of new equipment and increased demand from mobile operators for more expanded and hardened networks. Both STEALTH and Raycap have grown along with the industry. Under the umbrella of the Raycap Group STEALTH expects to continue its success by providing the highest quality testing and most innovative concealment options for mobile carriers deploying macro and small cell sites.

Concealment Best Practices: 20/20 Vision after 25 Years’ Experience

By Keara Piekanski

A focus on performance, complexity, aesthetics and innovation creates long-lasting, completely undetectable concealments. Best practices consistently bring in projects that are on time and under budget.

A 65-foot Stealth concealment tower in Chula Vista, California, showcases RF-friendly ventilating louvers, cupola and asphalt shingles.

Stealth Concealment Solutions has spent over 25 years designing, engineering and furnishing camouflaging systems for the wireless industry. In that time, the company that founded the concealment industry has learned — sometimes through trial and error — that there’s a right way to save customers time, money and resources.

Concealment Best Practices
Having completed more than 20,000 concealment projects since the early 1990s and working with every carrier in every state nationwide, Stealth understands the challenges a concealment project can present. Yet, the company also knows how to avoid common obstacles before they derail a project. Stealth has assembled some best practices that, when adhered to, help expedite timelines, reduce manpower and maximize budgets across a myriad of concealment projects.

A 198-foot Stealth tower in Eagan, Minnesota, contains 185 LED light fixtures with more than 5,400 bulbs that can be programmed to run an infinite number of color combinations to liven up the night sky.

“We’ve identified common underlying components that contributed to our most successful projects,” said Sean McLernon, the company’s CEO. “We believe it’s our responsibility to pass this knowledge on to our partners and clients. This includes what price really means when evaluating a bid, the best stage to involve a concealment partner in a project, how to standardize certain aspects of a concealment project to optimize resources, plus how to plan now for the future.”

Price Comparisons
Today’s savvy customers are looking well beyond price to determine which company should win a particular concealment bid, including evaluating expertise.

“We always recommend looking at a company’s experience — who’s done the type of work needed most often, demonstrating real-world examples of actual installations in the field,” McLernon said. “The proof is in the pudding, as they say. And after 25 years, we’ve seen it all, from finding a solution for tricky concealment spaces including historic sites, urban and suburban areas, academic campuses and city parks, tomajor sports stadium projects. Not to mention the evolution of mobile communications standards from 3G to 5G wireless preparations and everything in between.”

A historic Liverpool, New York, roof replacement measures in at 15 feet and identically matches the previous roofline.

One piece of advice when looking beyond price, especially for a Fortune 100 company, is to consider the financial strength of potential collaborators, which will ultimately affect partnership longevity.
“Forming a partnership with an industry leader who has proven themselves time and time again is an important consideration when evaluating concealment bids,” McLernon said. “Anticipating which companies are going to be there for the long haul can impact the long-term success of a company’s concealment portfolio.”

Before embarking on a concealment initiative, remember there is definitely truth to the age-old adage, “You get what you pay for.” When evaluating the true cost of ownership for a concealment project, it is good to know that there is always a more expensive investment up front, including time, money and resources. However, with a strong partner, the final product will last for a decade or more, if best practices are incorporated into the planning and execution stages.

Maximize Efficiencies
Any veteran Stealth employee will advise customers to involve a concealment partner as early as possible in a project plan.

“Over the years, we’ve seen customers get the most bang for their buck when it comes to their concealment project if they involve us from the beginning,” McLernon said.

Three identical, 5-foot-tall louver screenwall concealments sit atop this historic, mid-century modern Santa Monica, California, building.

Clients often find it necessary to tackle multiple concealment projects at one time. Stealth has learned that understanding the big picture — from a 360-degree vantage point — is essential to get ahead of varying factors that can affect a project negatively from the bottom up. This includes aspects that can place a burden on budget, timelines and resources. However, with early involvement, an expert concealment company can advise a client on how to avoid these obstacles.

“Being present during the planning stages allows us to minimize material costs and shorten the window on approvals and overall timelines,” McLernon said. “We’ve seen scenarios where engineering resources were shared and both time and money was saved, but that’s only because we had insight into the bigger picture early on in the process.”

Creating Guidelines
Believe it or not, standardization in the concealment business is a necessary best practice. As Henry Ford, the innovator of systematic processes, said, “If you think of standardization as the best that you know today, but which is to be improved tomorrow; you get somewhere.”

Concealment projects should be approached the same way. There are techniques to standardize the foundation of many projects, so as not to continuously reinvent the wheel, but with enough flexibility to incorporate client requests and mandatory components needed for local government approval. Then, as regulations evolve, improvements will follow.

This 21-foot Baltimore, Maryland, water tower was hand-painted to resemble woodgrain in order to fit into its urban surroundings.

“At Stealth, we are always investigating how we can standardize an aspect of a product to use over and over again, but also add different nuances to meet unique client needs. We are looking for the most cost-effective option coupled with time- and resource-efficient ways to make concealment projects work. We’re able to utilize this type of standardization plus consider the township or municipality where projects will live to create a perfect marriage between the two,” McLernon said.

Maintaining Concealment
When making decisions about a particular project, think about the long-term needs, not just what is obligatory in today’s world. Your company will benefit over the long term by hiring a concealment partner to maintain, not just create, your concealment portfolio

“Concealment materials are vastly different than regular building materials, and you’ll want to get the maximum life out of every project,” McLernon said. “Additionally, always keep in mind the first and foremost reason for concealment is to let the signal through. No matter how complex or fancy a concealment project can get, we always have to focus primarily on functionality.”

Concealment Best Practices

  • Customers achieve the best results when they know what price really means when evaluating a bid.
  • The outcome improves when the customer knows the best stage in a project at which to involve a concealment partner.
  • It helps customers when the concealment vendor knows how to standardize certain aspects of a concealment project to optimize resources.
  • Customers improve concealment project outcomes when they learn how to plan now for the future with long-term needs in mind.

When planning today for tomorrow, there are two key guidelines for achieving long-term success:
·     Build concealment projects to spec, based on proper planning and evaluation of variables.
·     Update infrastructure based on changes in the telecommunications world that could impede ongoing performance.

Remember that your concealment partner should be flexible with customization as wireless standards evolve.

“At Stealth, we’re always thinking long-term about how to ensure that as infrastructure changes, our clients’ won’t necessarily have to redo concealment projects,” McLernon said. “Of course, updates will be necessary, but it’s remodeling rather than rebuilding. These considerations avoid unnecessary resource drain.”

When approaching any type of concealment project — rooftops, small cells, DAS or others — consider adhering to best practices beginning with the planning stage. When evaluating bids, be sure to recognize the importance of factors beyond price. Once a partner is identified, involve the company early on in the project to optimize efficiencies. Lastly, think about your concealment portfolio now in anticipation of future telecommunications requirements. Savvy wireless professionals are finding success with this approach.

Keara Piekanski is the owner and marketing maven at Two Cents Consulting. Stealth Concealment Solutions designs, engineers and furnishes camouflaging systems for the wireless industry. Visit www.stealthconcealment.com.


To Disguise or Not to Disguise: That is the Question

By Don Bishop, Executive Editor, Associate Publisher

A monopole in El Paso, Texas, has a disguised antenna boom on the top and a plain antenna boom below it.

The Napa County Planning Commission in California approved an application from AT&T to build a 64-foot monopole without requiring camouflage, as reported by Barry Eberling in the Napa Valley Register. AT&T offered to build a 93-foot tower that would look like a pine tree. County law requires telecommunications towers to blend in with the landscape so they are effectively unnoticeable, Eberling wrote.

This isn’t the first time the county decided that a plain pole would be less obtrusive than a camouflaged pole. In 2013, the county’s planning commission concluded that a pine-tree monopole at another location would stick out like a sore thumb, as one commissioner put it. Eberling wrote that in other instances, the county has preferred a disguise, as it did with a wireless facility made to look like a water tower.

In some locations, I’ve seen disguised towers next to plain towers. It probably had to do with preferences having changed from one time to another.

A tower I saw in El Paso, Texas, over the holidays represents another interesting case. The builder disguised the tower to look like a palm tree. It might not be a convincing disguise, but at least someone made the effort. Below the disguised boom, a plain antenna mount hugs the tower. What the carrier, the tower owner or the jurisdiction might have been thinking could be difficult to learn. They normally won’t talk about such installations.

Maybe you’ve seen this before, but it’s the first time I’ve seen a disguised antenna and a plain antenna on the same tower.

This piece originally ran as the Editorial Comment in the February 2018 issue of AGL Magazine

Don Bishop
Executive Editor and Associate Publisher
Don Bishop joined AGL Media Group in 2004. He helped to launch and was the founding editor of AGL Magazine, the AGL Bulletin email newsletter (now AGL eDigest) and DAS and Small Cells magazine (now AGL Small Cell Magazine). He served as host for AGL Conferences from 2010 to 2012, appearing at 12 conferences. Bishop writes and otherwise obtains editorial content published in AGL Magazine, AGL eDigest and the AGL Media Group website. Bishop also photographs and films conferences and conventions. Many of his photographs have appeared on the cover, in articles and in the “AGL Tower of the Month” center spread photo feature in AGL Magazine. During his time with Wiesner Publishing, Primedia Business Information and AGL Media Group, he helped to launch several magazines and edited or managed editorial departments for a dozen magazines and their associated websites, newsletters and live event coverage. He is a former property manager, radio station owner and CEO of a broadcast engineering consulting firm. He was elected a Fellow of the Radio Club of America in 1988, received its Presidents Award in 1993, and served on its board of directors for nine years. Don Bishop may be contacted at: [email protected]


Small Cell Combines Art and Wireless

By Esteban DuPont

President, CELLTECH


Birds on Blue

Birds on Blue, as it is known, is a culmination of more than six years of hard work and dedication to its completion by several partners, including the artwork done by Sandy McDaniel and Ron Pekar, notable artists located in Southern California. The original concept was developed by Pekar-McDaniel Design Consultancy and presented to Crown Castle International when the California PUC renewal for the site became due.

Through the vision and foresight of Crown Castle’s own Jon Dohm, the project was brought to life. Initial planning began in February 2012 with Pekar-McDanel’s concept drawings, presented to Crown Castle for review and acceptance. By August of that same year, zoning drawings were completed and approved. The next phase, which included construction drawing and structural and engineering details, was completed in February 2013 with plan check revisions and final approval completed by May 2014.

In March 2015, CELLTECH was approached by Pekar-McDaniel to spearhead the fabrication, manufacturing and installation of the Birds on Blue Site. CELLTECH’s shop drawings were completed later that month and finalized on October 2016. During this revision period, CELLTECH completed fabrication manufacturing of all the component parts for the site, including the FRP framing, innovative hinge design for easy access, custom engineered standoff arms, outriggers & pole topper with engineering help from my longtime friend, Wissam Zalzali with All State Engineering.

CELLTECH overcame many obstacles to fabrication and installation due to the nature of field conditions and a project like this never existing before. Installation began on October 26, 2016, and was completed on Nov. 4, 2016.