A personal cell tower brings more connectivity without the expense of building conventional cellular infrastructure. Rural Internet service providers need to know about personal cell tower technology for three reasons.

1)  This technology gives you new ways to enhance your service offering.

2)  Second, your customers may ask about it. If you’re unable to speak about new and emerging connectivity trends, your customers may see you as out of touch.

3)  Governments are applying more restrictions on conventional cellular tower construction. In 2019, the US Supreme Court rejected the FCC’s efforts to lighten regulations relating to building new capacity for 5G. That’s why you cannot rely exclusively on traditional cellular towers.

To get you up to speed on the technology, let’s start by contrasting personal cell towers with other technologies.

Personal Cell Towers Vs. Conventional Cell Towers: Key Technology Differences

There are five primary differences between standard cellular towers and personal cell towers.

  1. Maximum Range Differences

While operational range varies depending on local conditions, personal cell towers (also known as Femtocells) have 1.24 mile (2 kilometers) range outdoors. The effective range indoors will be much less due to interference inside a building. In contrast, conventional cell tower range reaches ranges between 20 to 45 miles. The height of the tower, obstructions, and other factors will influence the range.

  1. Cost Differences

Building and operating a conventional cell tower is a significant undertaking. A 2015 conference paper estimated the deployment cost as $75,000 to $200,000 US to build a single 4G LTE tower. Operational and maintenance costs for a conventional cellular tower would further add to the operational expense.

A personal cell tower may be bought for $1,000 in some cases. While the price is much lower, remember that the device can cover much smaller areas as well.

  1. Typical Use Case

While both types of communications equipment provide connectivity, there are significant differences. Personal cell towers are best used to augment connectivity in an office building, stadium, or other crowded environments. They can also be used to enhance connectivity in a home. On the other hand, conventional cellular towers provide cellular connectivity at scale to many different people. The nation’s cellular network ultimately depends on traditional cellular networks to connect most phone calls, data, and text messages.

  1. Construction and Compliance

Due to the different sizes and complexity of the devices, construction and compliance are quite different. For a personal cell tower, you probably do not have to request a construction permit. Instead, you would need to clear the request with the building owner. That simple process means that you can add additional capacity easily.

Conventional cell towers, which measure up to 200 feet in height, are a different ball game. The size of these structures may upset residents. Some local governments are also imposing additional regulation on cell towers. In 2014, county commissioners for Brevard County, Florida approved regulations restricting cellular towers. In some cases, the height of cell towers will be limited to 80 feet, while the limit would be 199 feet in rural areas.

The prospect of navigating increasing regulation on cell towers is a significant challenge to consider. You can no longer assume ever-increasing demands for connectivity is enough to build more cellular capacity. Governments and residents are becoming concerned about cellular towers. That fact needs to be taken into account if your connectivity strategy relies on traditional cell sites.

  1. Flexibility Considerations

In the personal cell tower vs. traditional cell tower debate, flexibility is a crucial point to consider. Traditional cellular towers are effectively fixed in place. In the event of changing demand, population movements, or changes in the environment, you cannot move a cellular tower. Instead, you would need to build a new tower.

Personal cell towers are much smaller in weight and capability. That means you can move them much more quickly. For example, your country may host a significant festival like South by Southwest in Austin, Texas. In that case, your local infrastructure will face much higher connectivity demands for a short period. With a personal cell tower, you can increase service coverage for a short time and then move the equipment elsewhere after the event. Worried about keeping dormant personal cell towers in storage if you are a wireless Internet service provider? We cover that next.

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How Wireless Internet Service Providers Can Use Personal Cell Towers

As a WISP, you need all the connectivity options you can get. Personal cell towers have a role to play in your service offering. First, use this technology to test new markets. Set up a personal cell tower in a new area and offer service for a promotional period. This type of test will let you gauge demand with limited downside. Second, use personal cell towers to extend capacity for difficult to reach customers. For example, your service area may have natural barriers like lakes or uneven terrain. Adding a few personal cell towers is a way to add capacity in these areas.

Personal cell towers provide more coverage than other wireless technologies. Take WiFi networks as an example. At best, WiFi networks reach up to 300 feet in ideal conditions, often much less than that. Interference from glass, concrete, and other common building materials often reduces speed and signal reliability. Personal cell towers can be installed in multiple locations and provide more coverage than WiFi. Despite these advantages, you cannot put all your eggs in the personal cell tower basket.

Why Personal Cell Towers Are Not Enough To Provide A Full Solution

As you consider which technology to purchase, what role should personal cell towers play in your portfolio? They are best seen as a supporting player which can provide additional service in edge cases. The majority of your customers will need fixed wireless access solutions. That’s the most reliable way to provide consistent, cost-effective wireless Internet access to rural customers. Find out more about our network solution in a box to provide LTE network speeds to your customer base.

If you’re looking to deliver rural Internet access, we’ve got you covered. Read our post, “Providing Non-Satellite Internet For Rural Areas: The Key Hardware You Need.” If you want to discover more cutting edge hardware technologies, you need our list of must-attend conferences for WISPs.

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