With all the recent technological advancements, you may be wondering, will cell towers become obsolete? You might even be so convinced that you’re even asking when cell towers will become obsolete. There is a possibility that cell towers will become obsolete in 10 years. Hence, cell tower technicians and property owners who rent their lands to mobile network carriers to erect cell towers are increasingly concerned.
Experts in this field have also commented about the obsolescence of cell towers. During an interview with CNBC, Steve Papa said that cellphones could be transformed into cell towers in the future. Papa, the founder of the carrier Parallel Wireless, argued that a mobile phone could become part of the network. Although Papa’s argument is valid, this may not happen soon.
If this is a matter that concerns you or you just find it interesting because you are into science, this article will be a good read as you will get to know more about cell towers and how they work.
What are Cell Towers?
Cell towers, often referred to as cell sites, are electric communication facilities that include an antenna that supports cellular interactions in a network. The are used to increase the wireless signal and internet speed on connected devices. Cell sites house antennae, transmitters, and receivers.
In 2019, the number of cell sites was 395,562 in the United States, according to Statista. However, cell sites increased to 417,215 in 2020 with the introduction of 5G networks. The number of cell towers will rise based on the proliferation of mobile phones and the number of wireless carriers trying to extend network coverage.
Will Cell Towers Be Replaced by Future Technology?
Most likely, cell towers will be replaced in the future because device technology is constantly evolving. Change is unavoidable, affecting all aspects of life, including telecommunications. Below you will find some of the likely reasons future technologies will replace cell towers in the foreseeable future.
Efficient and Less Expensive Technologies
Maintaining cell towers requires a lot of money. Moreover, the cost of running a cell tower in rural areas triples because of the poor electricity supply. A cell tower needs a 24/7 supply of electricity to function. Some carriers are switching to solar systems or engaging the services of some of the best energy companies to power their cell sites.
However, the costs of constructing a system that can power a device this size are huge too. In some rural areas, a generator runs 24 hours to provide electricity for these cell towers. Major carriers are currently looking for alternatives to mitigate these costs. Furthermore, a cell tower lease agreement runs into billions of dollars, and it would be beneficial for cellular networks to avoid this operational cost too.
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Exposure to Radiofrequency (RF) Waves
The speculation that exposure to radiofrequency waves emitted from the cell towers causes cancer has caused great concern to researchers. Most people avoid living or staying in places where cell towers are erected. Although a lot of research is being conducted regarding the side effect of RF waves on humans, the results remain inconclusive.
According to the American Cancer Society, there is no proof that RF waves from cell phone towers cause cancer. However, the speculation that the RF waves cause cancer may impact how frequently they are used in the future.
Collapse and Accidents
Cell towers can be as tall as 50 feet or more, and there has been news of them collapsing a few times. If a cell tower falls, the immediate effect can be disastrous. Unfortunately, some cell towers are constructed in areas where people reside. This is usually the case with cell sites located in urban areas.
According to the data available from the Labor Occupational Safety and Health Administration regarding the US, there have been several incidents of communication towers falling and causing fatalities.
Technologies and Trends That Could Make Cell Towers Obsolete
Cell towers have been around since the 20th century. In 1977, the cellular carrier AT&T built the first one in Chicago. Since then, experts have continuously sought ways to replace cell towers with less expensive technologies. Although it may not happen soon, the following technologies and trends may replace cell towers in the future.
Low Orbit Satellites
A few years ago, trying to replace cell towers with satellite technology seemed impossible, and it didn’t make business sense. As you would expect, the high cost of maintenance and launching satellites into space was discouraging.
Fast forward to 2020, and several plans are made by tech companies like SpaceX, OneWeb, and Telesat to launch satellites. In May 2019, SpaceX launched 60 out of 12,000 Starlink satellites into low orbit. Moreover, these companies opt for satellites to be orbiting closer to the Earth because it minimizes the distance between the network and the end-user.
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Wireless Industry Consolidation
Each cellular carrier is constantly seeking better ways to transmit services to their cell phone users. The constant exploration of wireless technology and consolidation of telecommunication companies could reduce the need for cell towers. For instance, AT&T bought Cricket and T-Mobile purchased Metro PCS.
Based on these acquisitions, cell towers were decommissioned because of overlapping coverage. Industry consolidation is not over yet. Carriers are creating new ways to accommodate more wireless transmissions.
Microcells are small base stations that can be installed inside an office complex or by the side of a building. However, the effectiveness of microcells and their ability to cover an entire network is still a long way away, and cell towers’ capabilities greatly surpass those of microcells.
On the other hand, considering the growing trends in the telecommunications industry, some carriers may want to install microcells on every major street. Microcells are less expensive and provide a stronger network compared to cell towers that may be miles away.
When Will Cell Towers Become Obsolete?
Although technology is rapidly evolving, it is not unlikely that equipment like cell towers will become obsolete in 10 years. Nevertheless, the technologies mentioned here can’t replace cell towers immediately. So what will the future of cell towers be? Most likely, cell towers will be phased out in the next 40 years with the current tech drive.
What This Means for Businesses
No doubt, cell tower companies and other businesses linked to them will be affected either way. Cell technicians, radio, cellular, tower, and telecommunications installers and repairers will probably be the professions that will be affected the most. Moreover, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, telecommunications installers’ and repairers’ job outlook will see a one percent decline in the coming years.
If cell towers do become obsolete, it may affect businesses negatively. Let’s take a closer look.
Phased Out of Businesses
Businesses that have links to cell towers will be phased out or also become obsolete too. For instance, most of the cell tower sites will be shut down. We’ll probably notice there aren’t as many cell site upgrades, as cell companies will be looking for alternate ways to improve the quality of calls.
This will affect companies that specialize in leasing out property for the construction of cell tower sites. If the cell site lease values decrease, it could cause cell tower leaseholders to look elsewhere to make a profit.
Loss of Job Opportunities
There is no need to ask whether technical skills related to cell tower technology will become obsolete because they will. Cell technicians and other telecommunications experts specializing in cell towers will lose their jobs. Switching careers can be daunting, but other tech jobs in demand can pay equally well.
Faster Data Transfer and Fewer Dead Spots
If smaller antennae replace cell towers, then data transfer and signals will be less obstructed. Data transmission will be faster because the antennae will be closer to the phone users.
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Does the Cell Tower Have a Future?
With the cellular industry envisioning a future without cell towers, it is almost certain that there is no definite future for them. The wireless networks are looking to design much smaller cell antennae that are tiny enough to be held in one’s hand. Therefore, if this technology overcomes the current hurdles, it could phase out cell towers.
Furthermore, with Qualcomm’s recent development of a technology known as LTE Direct, cell towers may become obsolete quickly. The LTE Direct technology will allow mobile phones to communicate with each other without connecting to cell towers.
Meanwhile, the cost of running a cell tower makes other alternatives attractive to cellular networks. Cellular networks are profit-oriented, so any means to make extra revenue will be welcomed with open arms.
This article has provided you with some clear answers on whether cell towers will become obsolete. However, beacuse the future of cell towers is uncertain, you can begin learning other tech skills just in case you need to switch careers in the future.
Will Cell Towers Become Obsolete? FAQ
No, 5G will not replace cell towers. For now, the 5G network also needs cell towers to function optimally. Carriers will upgrade cell towers for use with 5G signals instead. The cell towers will be very useful in transmitting 5G signals throughout rural areas.
A cell tower technician earns an average salary of $45,439 annually, according to Glassdoor. However, in states or areas with many cell sites, a cell technician could make more.
A typical cell tower lease for small niche carriers can cost $10 to $10,000 monthly. However, the location and space occupied by the cell tower sites also determine the rental rates. For instance, a cell tower lease for major management companies could cost up to $15,000 monthly or more.
The lifespan of a cell tower is between 10 and 30 years. However, the cell tower’s lifespan may change as technology improves.
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