Most people are aware of the existence of radio frequency transmitting (RF) towers or masts. They’ve grown in popularity over the last decade or so and have become an almost ubiquitous feature in modern life. But as with any piece of technology, there’s a lot more to their story than meets the eye. If you’ve ever wondered about these towers, here are five interesting facts you might not have known about them.
RF towers are the backbone of wireless communication, as they transmit signals not only between mobile telephones and cell sites but also for a host of other wireless devices. These towers play a significant role in our lives, as we rely on them to stay connected to friends, family members, and colleagues while we’re on the go. Towers are typically located on high points such as hilltops or peaks so the signal can cover a wider area. With more people than ever using wireless devices such as smartphones and tablets and demanding more services and faster data, we need increasingly more towers to meet demand.
1. Largest commercial radio communications system in the world
The cost of a mast or tower is more or less proportional to the square of its height. Today, there are over 1.9 million cell towers and antennas in the United States alone, making this a multi-billion-dollar industry.
2. Not all towers are created equally
Guglielmo Marconi conducted the first radio communication experiments in 1894. During 1895–1896 he invented the vertical monopole or Marconi antenna, which was initially a wire suspended from a tall wooden pole – the first radio tower. He found that the higher the antenna was suspended, the further he could transmit, thus recognising the need for height in antennas. Material requirements changed and subsequent towers were built with reinforced concrete. The Stuttgart TV tower, which was the first tower in the world to be built with this material and was designed in 1956 by the local civil engineer Fritz Leonhardt.
3. The tallest of them all vs the oldest of them all
It may be common knowledge that overall, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai is the tallest man-built building in the world at 828 metres, but have you ever wondered what the tallest RF tower might be? Or where the oldest, still operational, tower might be? Until its collapse on 8 August 1991 during guy wire exchange, the Warshaw Radio Mast in Poland was the highest RF tower with a pinnacle height of 646.4 metres. The record is currently held by the KVLY/KTHI-TV mast in North Dakota. However, the Nauen Transmitter Station in Germany is the oldest, continuously operating radio transmitting installation in the world.
4. Tower climbers do more than just scale towers
Tower climbers are not only responsible for repairs on RF towers, they also build new towers and dismantle them when they become obsolete. In addition, they also tend to carry out maintenance-related work on the towers. This can include changing lightbulbs, painting the towers and even scraping rust. All of these are essential for keeping mobile phones and wifiWi-Fi services fully optimised.
5. Drones assist with cell tower inspections
As mentioned in our previous post, performing tower inspections is one of the most dangerous jobs a person can perform. Thanks to advancements in drone technology, drones can now assist tower climbers to collect visual data. For example, drones were used to inspect an unclimbable monopole telecommunication tower on Vashon Island in Washington.
If you found these facts about RF towers and tower climbers as interesting as we did, you might also enjoy our post “RF Safety Measures for Tower Climbers”.