A basic knowledge of how wireless technology works and its physical limitations makes it easier to understand the technical issues related to the siting of wireless facilities. As we supplement wooden pole and land-line infrastructure with wireless towers and alternative facilities, we must realize the visual impact of PWSFs.
When a call is made on your wireless phone, the message is transmitted by low-energy signals to the nearest antenna site connecting to the local phone network. Your call is then delivered by phone lines to the location you dialed, or by signals to another wireless phone. Wireless technology uses individual frequencies over and over again by dividing a service area into separate geographic zones called cells. Cells are equipped with their own transmitter/receiver antenna. When the customer using a wireless device approaches the boundary of a cell, the wireless technology senses that the signal is becoming weak and automatically hands off the signal to the antenna in the next cell into which the user is traveling. When subscribers travel beyond their coverage area, they can still place wireless calls. The wireless carrier in the area provides the service, referred to as roaming.
The original wireless networks carried analog signals only. Recently, many cellular systems have converted to digital technology. This digital service operates at the same frequencies as the analog and under the same license, but the signals are encoded differently. Digital cellular systems typically carry more calls simultaneously and allow for additional customer features like caller ID and voice-mail.
To make the telecommunications issue even more complicated, analog and digital cellular technology are not the only services being deployed. Personal Communications Services (PCS) and Enhanced Specialized Mobile Radio (ESMR) are now being deployed throughout New Hampshire and the rest of the country. ESMR service has traditionally been used for two-way fleet dispatch communications but is now being used for digital wireless phone service. PCS (digital) communication is similar to cellular service but it provides a higher quality reception and can be used to transmit data as well as voice. PCS uses higher frequencies than cellular, which results in PCS signals traveling shorter distances. As a result, a standard PCS network will require more facilities than a standard cellular network. The licensing system for PCS providers is also different. PCS providers are given a blanket license for their entire geographic area and are not required to individually license each transmitter site. By contrast, cellular providers must obtain a license for each facility. On the horizon we may also see fixed wireless and unlicensed services playing a role in the deployment of wireless service.
Service Providers and Vertical Real Estate Companies
Wireless service providers are currently deploying wireless services in New Hampshire. At least seven providers are constructing their networks across the state, but not all of these providers are licensed in all counties. Vertical real estate companies have also become part of this deployment. These are companies that construct ground and structure mounts and rent space on these facilities to wireless service providers. Vertical real estate companies differ from service providers in that they do not necessarily carry an FCC license. They can, however, contract with a licensed service provider and construct a facility for the service provider's use. We recommend that they be treated as service providers under the Telecommunications Act of 1996.
Technological advances are occurring rapidly in the wireless field and are then being handed down to the consumer. Phones are only one segment of the devices, which include handheld and small desktop units, providing access to voice, data, and video services. As a result, communities are, or will be, experiencing the deployment of other wireless services such as wireless internet and email, two way paging, wireless cable, and wireless data service.
These emerging services will also require facilities. In the age of the Internet, more and more wireless facilities are being deployed to offer “fixed wireless access” data and internet services. As the need for capacity increases, these companies will need to reuse the frequencies and smaller "cells" [i.e. more facilities] will be deployed. Wireless digital internet will require facilities within 1 to 2 miles of each other, but not all of these will be conventional tower-mounted facilities. This should, however, be an indication of how numerous future facilities will be and why it is important to have a plan to minimize their impact. Growing numbers of subscribers are also causing capacity issues. With more subscribers using the wireless infrastructure, the system becomes strained and additional infrastructure becomes necessary to expand capacity or improve service quality. This translates as a need for carriers to continue building their networks to meet coverage and capacity requirements. The result is an expanded network with a greater number and density of PWSFs.