Wireless carriers hope to add cellular towers in town

Tuesday, September 14, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 12:05 a.m. CDT, Friday, July 11, 2008

The Columbia skyline might soon feature two new cellular towers with digital transmitters as wireless carriers work to enhance their digital network coverage here, just as they are doing across North America.

“We perform an extensive engineering analysis to find a spot where we can enhance service,” said Frank Merriman of Cingular Wireless, which is applying for permission to build one of the towers. He said more transmitters in the appropriate locations would make the firm’s digital network more pervasive and consistent.

Cingular has applied to build a 155-foot tower at 3100 Blue Ridge Road, near Paris Road and U.S. 63.5 Star Communications, a private tower developer, plans a 110-foot tower at 3500 1-70 Drive Southeast, near Interstate 70 and U.S. 63.

Merriman said Cingular has committed to being among the carriers placing a transmitter on 5 Star’s tower.

The Columbia Board of Adjustment will hold a hearing on requests for conditional use permits for the two towers at 7 p.m. today in the City Council chambers in the Daniel Boone Building.

Interim Planning Director Chuck Bondra said he doesn’t foresee much opposition to the structures at tonight’s meeting.

“You never know what to expect, but in the past there hasn’t been a lot of opposition,” he said.

Cingular’s transmitters are not likely to be the only ones on the towers.

“Carriers prefer to build co-location sites,” said Mike Dellwo, an engineer with U.S. Cellular in Columbia. Dellwo said most carriers look first to place transmitters on buildings or lease space on an existing tower before building one of their own. This is more cost-effective and spares the community more towers. He describes the construction of towers, which can be shared by as many as five or six carriers, as an industry in itself.

Carriers constantly monitor service to determine where new transmitters must be placed to improve service. More transmitters not only improve coverage for customers, but also are important to services such as 911.

There are 50 communications towers in Columbia, according to the Planning and Development Department. Many more transmitters, however, have been placed on buildings, water towers and other structures. Dellwo said towers in dense, urban areas are shorter, usually less than 100 feet, and have a shorter range. In open areas free of hills or interfering structures, towers can reach 300 feet and have ranges of five miles or more.

Cingular’s digital network uses Global System for Mobile Communications technology. The system is one of two digital network technologies in use in North America; it allows carriers to offer phones with features such as digital image transmission, Internet access and instant messaging. The other, Code Division Multiple Access technology, offers the same capabilities using different equipment. While the first is the standard in Europe and other parts of the world, the latter is more prevalent in North America.

“GSM is the fastest growing wireless technology in North America. Developers and customers want to be a part of the global wireless environment,” said Chris Pearson, president of 3G Americas, a wireless industry association.

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