How to accelerate spread of broadband access? Put wireless antennas on existing AM towers
Wireless industry innovator Lawrence Behr, chief executive officer of LBA Group, Inc., had a message for government and industry leaders who assembled Feb. 9 in Washington, D.C., for the FCC’s Broadband Acceleration Conference: A practical way to increase public access to digital networks is to utilize AM radio’s existing infrastructure.
Behr was invited to speak as a recognized authority on co-utilization of AM radio towers by wireless carriers. LBA Technology has developed collocation techniques that are popular with carrier and tower companies. Even as Behr spoke, an LBA Technology team in Hawaii was facilitating installation of a wireless antenna on an AM radio tower, the very latest application of the pioneering LBA system.
“This is shovel-ready technology,“ Behr told the broadband conference attendees, using the jargon popularized during the federal government’s stimulus funding activity in 2009. “It can be done right now.”
Behr acknowledged that some who work in the wireless industry are wary of connecting up with what they consider the throwback technology of AM radio. He said that technical leaders in the two starkly different generations of telecommunication “don’t understand each other’s technology. Not only are they 1,000 megahertz apart, they are a hundred years apart.”
Yet, he continued, the two technologies are compatible and synergistic at the point of convergence on an AM tower. Recognizing this, LBA Technology developed two proprietary collocation techniques to integrate wireless and AM hardware at reasonable cost.
The CoLoSite system is practical for both single tower and multiple tower AM antenna systems. Using the system, wireless antenna and coaxial cable installations have virtually no effect on host AM towers and the AM signal has no effect on the wireless antenna.
On non-directional towers, an isolation system called CoLoPole typically is employed. CoLoPole directly grounds an AM tower. The system benefits the AM station with improved efficiency, “air sound” and lightning protection. Antennas and transmission lines can be added later without additional isolation devices.
Directional stations use multiple towers to form an FCC-licensed radiation pattern crucial to protecting other stations from interference. LBA has developed CoLoCoil to prevent wireless transmission lines from interfering with the operating parameters of the directional AM towers. Because CoLoCoils are modular, adding wireless equipment to a tower in the future is done systematically.
A chief virtue of turning to collocation to spread broadband access is the ready availability of sites. “Many people don’t understand the broad swath of AM broadcast infrastructure in the United States, encompassing some 10,000 or more towers that are employed by some 5,000 individual broadcast stations,” the LBA executive told conferees. What’s more, he added, station owners can lease their towers and no prior notification of the FCC is needed. Instead, carriers install an antenna on a tower and inform the FCC of the arrangement.
A final—and no small—consideration in evaluating collocation is its ease of public approval. Because the collocation occurs on existing towers, public concern about erecting new structures is minimized. Consequently, Behr said, “zoning and permitting typically is much simpler.”
FCC chairman Julius Genachowsk convened the one-day conference and delivered the opening address. He challenged a recently formed FCC task force to find ways to ease regulatory barriers and cut by 20 percent the time needed to deploy a broadband system.
Behr has over 50 years of AM and wireless telecommunications experience. LBA Technology is a leading manufacturer and integrator of radio frequency systems, components and test equipment for broadcast, industrial and government users worldwide. Lawrence Behr Associates is the engineering consultancy of LBA Group, Inc.