News

AT&T antennas get mixed reception in Palo Alto

Architecture panel says proposed antenna network has promise but needs revision

AT&T's proposal to install cell antennas on utility poles throughout Palo Alto found a mixed reception at a public hearing Thursday morning, with residents and Architecture Review Board members raising fresh concerns about the impacts of the new facilities.

The proposed antennas would be far smaller and less intrusive than the controversial cell-tower AT&T had hoped to mount at St. Albert the Great Church in Crescent Park earlier this year. The company pulled back its plan after intense opposition from a group of neighborhood residents.

At the Thursday hearing, the company pitched its new plan -- a Distributed Antenna System that would locate antennas on existing poles at nine locations within the city. The locations are: Waverley Street and Whitman Court; Waverley and Lowell Avenue; Lincoln Avenue and Emerson Street; Emerson and Kellogg Avenue; Coleridge Avenue and Alma Street; Bryant Street and Seale Avenue; Rinconada Avenue and Alma; North California Avenue and Ramona Street; and Leland Avenue and Ash Street.

AT&T officials said the goal of the new antennas is both to increase the bandwidth capacity in Palo Alto and to eliminate the city's "coverage gap" -- the absence of a wireless signal in some parts of the city. Minh V. Nguyen, the company's area manager for construction and engineering, wrote in the application for the antennas that the company tried to balance the city's technology needs and the community's values in presenting its proposal.

"We strongly believe that the preferred design that we have presented before the ARB is the optimal and least obtrusive and best for the community overall," Nguyen wrote.

The board did not take any votes on the proposal Thursday but members voiced some concerns about the potential visual and noise impacts of the new antennas. After hearing from residents who oppose the new facilities and business executives who support them, the panel gave the proposal a mixed review. Vice Chair Heather Young said the new antennas "are not particularly endearing" aesthetically.

"They do seem to be driven almost entirely by engineering," Young said. "Which is a great start, but in this instance I do not feel it should be a finish."

But other members acknowledged that the antennas, which would come in pairs and point up from the top of utility poles, aren't any worse than other utility infrastructure around town. Board member Alex Lew compared the antennas to devices such as cobra-head lights and electric transformers -- the "normal ugly range," in the words of his colleague, Judith Wasserman.

"To me, the design is within the range of those items," Lew said.

Board Chair Clare Malone Prichard agreed.

"They're not great looking, but if you look at poles without these things on it -- they're also not great looking," Malone Prichard said.

She and other board members expressed some concerns about the noise impacts from the fans AT&T would have to install to keep the equipment cool. They also asked the company to come up with other options that the board can review. The company is expected to return to the board at a later date with more information about noise impacts and design revisions.

"I think now we are in the beginning stage and a lot can happen between the preliminary review and a further proposal," Board member Grace Lee said. "I look forward to seeing the proposal move forward."

Comments

Like this comment
Posted by Wayne Martin
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Aug 5, 2011 at 10:37 am

Cell phones have become a part of our combined public safety service delivery model. People can now call 911 from anywhere there is cell phone signal. Government should be promoting the increase in bandwidth, and signal availability, not create arbitrary roadblocks to telecommunications providers making "signal" available everywhere.

The following two videos discuss issues associated with cell phones here in Palo Alto:

Motorist's Life Saved By Cell Phones While Crossing Caltrain Crossing:
Web Link

Illegal Signs Protest Cell Phones/Towers In Palo Alto:
Web Link

If people can not see illegal signs in the planter strips around town, it's unbelievable that they are going to see the DAS antennas (maybe 80 of them scattered over hundreds of utility poles).

Another tempest in a tea pot.


Like this comment
Posted by They are ugly
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 5, 2011 at 10:42 am

This story underplays the almost universal description of them as UGLY.
One commissioner picked up on a citizen's suggestion that AT&T should consult a design firm to improve their appearance.
Did they discuss the pittance the city is asking for these installations? When AT&T installs towers on private property they pay huge monthly fees. Why is the city giving away this legitimate source of income? When they talked to St Alberts and to the President Apts. the owners wouldn't divulge the big money they were expecting.
Who in the city is being so nice to AT&T?
Where is the map of all the locations? You mention only a very few.


Like this comment
Posted by Wayne Martin
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Aug 5, 2011 at 10:50 am


> Why is the City being nice .. ?

Well, because the FCC has spoken ..

Web Link

FCC Creates Order for Pole Attachment Antennas (DAS)
Posted on June 3, 2011

In April, 2011, the FCC released an order that gives non-discriminatory access to pole tops, regulated rates, and timely access to utility poles for the DAS antennas and other wireless technologies.

Essentially, the order:

Set a maximum timeframe of 148 days for utilities to complete make ready work for pole attachments in the communications space, and 178 days for pole top attachments. It allows an extra 60 days for requests of between 300 and 3,000 poles.

Set the rate for any attachment by telecommunications companies at or near the rate paid by cable companies. Wireless providers are entitled to the same rate as other telecommunications carriers.

Confirms that wireless providers have a right to access pole tops.
Allows ILECs, which are not covered by the rate schedule, to file complaints with the FCC for relief from unreasonable rates, terms and conditions.

Clarifies that a denial to a request to attach must explain the specific capacity, safety, reliability, or engineering concern.
Removes the cap on penalties for unauthorized attachments.

Encourages negotiated resolution of disputes and pre-planning and coordination between pole owners and attachers, which will be taken into account in any enforcement action.

The FCC’s oversight of utility poles stems from Section 224 of the Communications Act of 1934, as amended by the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which directs the FCC to ensure that rates, terms, and conditions for pole attachments by cable television systems and providers of telecommunications services are just and reasonable.

This recent Order is specifically for “pole attachments” – antennas and equipment located on utility poles. This also cuts the amount of revenue that a city can obtain (or the pole owner) to a rate that is “at or near” rates paid by cable companies. Typically, those rates are around $7 per foot; some pole rentals were at $20 a foot. Since some cable company lease payments were from decades ago, this will give wireless companies a lower rate for pole space rental.
---


Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 5, 2011 at 10:55 am

The utility poles are already very ugly. Making them uglier will do nothing detrimental except provide an excuse for not putting them underground after all.

We want better cell phone coverage, so we need more antennae.


Like this comment
Posted by Nick
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 5, 2011 at 11:21 am

It would help in forming an opinion if PAW-TS would get PICTURES of these things---ugly? cell towers, non-ugly distributed tower-ettes, whatever---- from ATT and make them available for online readers. How else to opine?


Like this comment
Posted by JA3+
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 5, 2011 at 11:46 am

"They do seem to be driven almost entirely by engineering," Young said."

Thankfully so. Antenna performance is driven, in part, by design. I hope the engineers at AT&T and its supplier(s) put antenna performance first; aesthetics are valuable, but, in my opinion, secondary here.

AT&T's DAS has the potential to dramatically improve cell coverage here; I really like the idea for Palo Alto: the antennas are smaller and, thus, less intrusive.

Earlier, I wrote to the Board in support of the application.


Like this comment
Posted by Wayne Martin
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Aug 5, 2011 at 12:13 pm

AT&T has an informational site .. with a picture of a DAS antenna installed on a utility pole:

Web Link


Like this comment
Posted by Joe
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 5, 2011 at 12:27 pm

The SJ Merc has pictures of the non-functioning mockup located near Palo Alto Animal Services on East Bayshore Road: Web Link

Or, you can visit the area and see it for yourself. Again, the unit is non-functioning, so there are no operating fans, etc. The coverage of AT&T's DAS in the Weekly has been as spotty as their phone service. The City recently voted on a "master license agreement" which set rates and terms for pole attachments related to this project. There wasn't anything in the Weekly. The SJ Merc had a story, as did Palo Alto Patch: Web Link

The term "4G" is somewhat controversial (see: Web Link), but the rest of the article is pretty accurate. If you're interested, the master license agreement is here: Web Link

As Wayne mentions, the rates and terms are dictated by the FCC. You can read FCC order here: Web Link

I'll leave it you to decide which major carriers actually wrote this mind numbing set of regulations.


Like this comment
Posted by Rich Scherer
a resident of Gunn High School
on Aug 5, 2011 at 1:35 pm

Turning this over to the Architectural Review Board is a joke. They are the ones that approved the condos/townhouses at the old Hyatt site.


Like this comment
Posted by KP
a resident of South of Midtown
on Aug 5, 2011 at 1:55 pm

I think this is so funny. Everyone uses cell phone, but no one wants the towers around to get the reception.
People ban together to stop the towers at the church, the ball park, etc. These towers would create an income for them - everyone knows churches and the ball park can use that extra money, duh! How stupid can you be?
I so am glad the community couldn't stop the towers from going in on my commercial property. I LOVE the free income from it on top of the rents it already brings from tenants! Sorry ball park, you have to deal with the ignorant community to try to get yours!


Like this comment
Posted by palo alto mom
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 5, 2011 at 3:32 pm

The proposed antennas don't make the poles any uglier - just taller. The improved reception would be worth it. The fans should be tested and made quieter if needed.

Rich - I agree that the ARB's approving the aesthetics of pretty much anything in Palo Alto is a joke. For some reason, their current trend seems to be adding bars to the outside of buildings making them look like jails (see the AT&T building on ECL, the new Walgreens downtown, the new building next to Winter Lodge). The building at the entrance of University (where Blockbuster was years ago) is a particular embarrassment. It is possible to design and approve attractive modern buildings... just not in Palo Alto. Then again, one of the ARB members has a dragon painted on their garage...


Like this comment
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Aug 5, 2011 at 6:00 pm

Great headline.


Like this comment
Posted by ARB
a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 5, 2011 at 6:40 pm

Nothing like a bunch of failures in life, posing as a board, telling us that structures engineered for a specific purpose should be made to look "pretty"because this is palo alto!


Like this comment
Posted by Whirring Fan Noise
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Aug 5, 2011 at 7:13 pm

Not only will these antennas look ugly, they will emit a whirring sound constantly 24/7 from a service box 9 ft. up the poll.

According to the Daily News article today "the noise will not exceed 46 decibels" which may not sound like much but if the poll is outside your front door or in your backyard you've got that constant whirring sound that will not go away.

The ARB stressed that it was unfair that neighbors did not have the opportunity to evaluate the noise factor because the test antenna on East Bayshore is not fully operational. It is not equipped with the service box with the whirring fan inside.

I presume this is deliberate just to make sure we cannot hear this obnoxious constant whirring sound before the antennas are installed.


Like this comment
Posted by JA3+
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 5, 2011 at 7:27 pm

From the Daily News article:

"Though AT&T created a "mock-up" antenna system for residents to check out near Palo Alto Animal Services on East Bayshore Road, the fans weren't on, board members said. Planning Manager Amy French said the noise could not exceed 46 decibels."

So, is Ms. French confirming the applicable noise standard in Palo Alto? Or is she re-stating data given to the City by AT&T?

In other words, what is 46 decibels? The City Municipal Code standard applicable here? Or the specification for the fan or fans proposed by AT&T?

If it is the City standard, where is the measurement taken? At the house-side of the sidewalk adjoining the utility pole? At the nearest house itself?
_____

"According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, 46 decibels fall within a "moderate" range of noise levels, with 50 decibels being moderate rainfall and 40 decibels a quiet room."

Is the AT&T fan noise constant? Or does it vary?
_____

"According to the Daily News article today "the noise will not exceed 46 decibels" which may not sound like much but if the poll is outside your front door or in your backyard you've got that constant whirring sound that will not go away."

The fan noise may be similar to the noise of a pool pump; in my neighborhood, we have several in close proximity to our rear yard fences. The pump noise is constant -- at least when the pump is on -- and, to me, seems to fit the definition of 'white noise'.


Like this comment
Posted by Whirring Fan Noise
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Aug 5, 2011 at 7:45 pm

JA3+ says: "The fan noise may be similar to the noise of a pool pump; in my neighborhood". Not exactly, when I had a pool the pump would be on for 4 or 5 hours in the early morning it was off for most of the day and evening. The problem with the AT&T fan is it will be constant 24/7.

I also suspect the 46 decibels is probably AT&T's figure. To my knowledge the City has not tested these fans, in which case I feel reluctant to accept AT&T's figures. The fan noise may be closer to moderate (50 decibels).


Like this comment
Posted by Wayne Martin
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Aug 5, 2011 at 10:00 pm

> "the noise will not exceed 46 decibels"

Sound is measured at a distance from the source. And when the distance - r - from a power source doubles, the sound pressure level decreases with 6 dB. This relationship is also known as the inverse square law.

So .. the 46dB sound level drops as you move away from the pole.

Decibel Examples--
Web Link

50dB---Quiet suburb, conversation at home. Large electrical transformers at 100 ft. One-fourth as loud as 70 dB.

40dB---Library, bird calls (44 dB); lowest limit of urban ambient sound. One-eighth as loud as 70 dB.

30dB---Quiet rural area. One-sixteenth as loud as 70 dB. Very Quiet.
---

It's a shame that AT&T hasn't made some audio recordings and put them up on its web-site, or Youtube, so people could hear the actual sound that these antennas generate.


Like this comment
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Aug 6, 2011 at 12:12 am

Nobody had air conditioners in the old days. Now the new McMansions put a large droning unit in the sideyard. Not real loud, but really obnoxious outside your bedroom window all night, cycling on and off. Can't sleep with the window open for fresh air anymore. Progress.


Like this comment
Posted by JA3+
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 6, 2011 at 6:58 am

From Web Link:

"The equipment can be housed in a cabinet on the ground with its antennas mounted on a utility pole, street light or traffic signal, or can be built with both equipment and antennas mounted on a pole. Pole mounted equipment may include a power supply and meter, fiber splice box, oDAS cabinet (node), and battery cabinet, in addition to the antennas."

Where is the fan? Near the power supply? Within the oDAS cabinet?

Assuming AT&T is using Tyco as a supplier here (the photo posted to AT&T's web page includes Tyco's name), does Tyco have an alternate design with a quieter fan? How does Tyco's fan compare to those made by alternative providers (assuming there are alternative providers)?

If Tyco's fan is the 'best alternative available', is there some sound attenuation possible? In other words, what might be done to lessen the fan noise?

Like Mr. Martin above, I think AT&T would be wise to post recordings -- made from a variety of distances with careful controls placed on microphone quality, microphone direction, and audio post-processing -- on the web.


Like this comment
Posted by JA3+
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 6, 2011 at 7:23 am

Last year, Tyco purchased ADC, targeting their DAS product portfolio in particular; see:

Web Link

Tyco's outdoor DAS is branded 'Flexwave™ Prism'; see here:
Web Link

A link to the Flexwave™ Prism product brochure is posted to such web page.

From page 5 of the brochure:

"Typical mounting options for the Remote Unit include:
pole-mount, inside pole-mount, wall-mount, and sub-terrain vault-mount."

From page 10 of the brochure:

"Remote Unit
Cooling Fan (exterior only)"

My question: if the remote unit is located underground, is a fan needed?

In other words, could AT&T place the remote unit underground near the utility pole and eliminate the fan? If so, does the Remote Unit generate any noise?


Like this comment
Posted by Wayne Martin
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Aug 6, 2011 at 10:32 am

The following link has a picture of the DAS antenna, and the electronics needed to make the antenna work--

Pictures of DAS Antenna and "Cable Box" In San Mateo setting:
Web Link

It seems to me that it would not be all that hard to add some sort of weatherproof sound insulator around the "cable box" which would reduce any noise to a point that it probably would be inaudible.

However, given the incredible noise that Caltrains make, and the never ending noise from low-flying helicopters, and airplanes coming/going at the Palo Alto Airport, that a few of these antennas will not be heard, or even noticed, over these other very loud sources of noise in our community.


Like this comment
Posted by peninsula commuter
a resident of another community
on Aug 6, 2011 at 10:45 am

Besides the noise issue, AT&T's proposed pole top antenna is soooo Ugly. If I were on the ARB, I would suggest that AT&T implement San Jose's solution - a monopole antenna mounted on top of a separate wood pole. This is much cleaner looking and I would rather have this in my neighborhood any day than the proposed "two-headed monster".

AT&T's cell and 3G coverage is fine where the monopole antennas are installed. Plus it eliminates the need for AT&T's contractor to work above energized 12,000 volt utility wires, which is an accident waiting to happen...


Like this comment
Posted by Wayne Martin
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Aug 6, 2011 at 11:26 am

The following link is to a copy of an application made to the City of San Jose to install a monopole antenna:

Web Link

There is a line drawing of the monopole antenna at the bottom of the file.

> 12,000 volt lines ..

The lines could be powered down while the antennas are connected, if that really were a problem.


Like this comment
Posted by peninsula commuter
a resident of another community
on Aug 6, 2011 at 11:36 am

>The monopole installations in the Cambrian/Willow Glen area look to be on 30-40 foot wood poles, not the 100 foot pole shown in the link.

>Sure the 12,000 volt line could be powered down, as long as the 50 to 1000 or so electric customers typically served don't mind taking a power outage for the benefit of AT&T. Or an unscheduled outage when the pole top installation fails in a wind storm.


Like this comment
Posted by Wayne Martin
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Aug 6, 2011 at 12:15 pm

> Sure the 12,000 volt line could be powered down, as long as the
> 50 to 1000 or so electric customers typically served don't
> mind taking a power outage for the benefit of AT&T

The benefit would for the thousands of cell phone users, not just AT&T.

And remember, a airplane crash took out the power for the whole town, and no one on the City Council even noticed. Further, once the antennas are affixed to the top of the utility poles, the "cable boxes" are installed below the electrical cables, so there would be little/no danger from any high voltage wires above, should these boxes require some attention.


Like this comment
Posted by It is a ploy
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Aug 6, 2011 at 12:19 pm

Wayne--claims of noise, like claims of traffic, are tried and true ways for small groups of negative people to stop any progress in our city. Another couple of overused claims are "hurting property values" and "negative impacts on quality of life". People will do whatever it takes to further their narrow minded agendas


Like this comment
Posted by peninsula commuter
a resident of another community
on Aug 6, 2011 at 1:54 pm

And remember, a airplane crash took out the power for the whole town, and no one on the City Council even noticed.

>Your observation is factually incorrect. At the city council's request, the airplane crash outage was added as a discussion item to the Utilities Advisory Commission's meeting on April 7, 2010. The agenda and minutes are on the City's web site. Council and UAC have mandated that Utilities work with PG&E (the plane hit a PG&E tower) to upgrade the transmission system to avoid a repeat of this outage.

The benefit would for the thousands of cell phone users, not just AT&T.

> You missed my point, the point being that there are alternatives (Such as San Jose's separate pole installation, transmitters disguised as a flag pole, etc.) that also provide benefits to thousands of cell phone users without the outage issues for electric customers. But hey, if the 10 hour city-wide electric outage last February didn't bother you then I suppose another outage in your neighborhood to install AT&T's transmitter wouldn't either.


Like this comment
Posted by JA3+
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 6, 2011 at 2:45 pm

From the City of San Jose staff report:

"The existing monopole/wireless communications facility was approved for a three-year term in 1990 through a Conditional Use Permit (File No. CP90-044). A Development Variance (File No. V90-025) was also approved to allow the antenna to be 100 feet tall rather than 60 feet which is the maximum height otherwise allowed...

"The two other monopoles located on the same subject parcel are 100 and 110 feet in height and were originally approved over 15 years ago (File No. CP84-075 and CP96-053)."

Does the use of a single-radome antenna require significant height?

In other words, could AT&T use a single-radome antenna in Palo Alto given the standard utility pole found here? Or is the standard utility pole in Palo Alto 'too short'?
_____

As shown on Sheets A3 and A4 -- each found at the end of the City of San Jose staff report -- the diameter of the radome at the top of each antenna is five feet (5').

I'm unable to find the diameter of the dual radome in Tyco's Flexwave™ Prism product. Relying on the photo included in AT&T's application to the City of Palo Alto, I'd roughly estimate the diameter of each radome at 12" to 15".

Could AT&T use a single radome with diameter of 12" to 15" here in Palo Alto?
_____

Does a dual radome design offer certain advantages over a single radome?


Like this comment
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 8, 2011 at 8:42 am

There are photos of an actual AT&T pole antenna installation in this article.
Web Link


Like this comment
Posted by member
a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 8, 2011 at 10:35 am

In order for at and t's equipment to work they'll need a cellphone tower on every block.


Like this comment
Posted by Edward
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Aug 8, 2011 at 5:18 pm

I'm wondering ... do Palo Altans spend a lot of time looking at the tops of telephone poles? And do they not have anything more pressing to worry about? I doubt they would even notice the antennas since they'd be too busy keeping their eyes glued to their "smart" phones so they won't misspell anything while text-ing.


Like this comment
Posted by JA3+
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 9, 2011 at 8:11 am

"There are photos of an actual AT&T pole antenna installation in this article."

NextG's installation in San Francisco appears to rely on equipment provided by Andrew Corporation; as a result, the photos appear to show a DAS design dis-similar to the one proposed by AT&T for certain locations in Palo Alto. Here, AT&T appears to rely on equipment provided by Tyco.


Like this comment
Posted by RadioGuy
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 9, 2011 at 3:02 pm

RadioGuy is a registered user.

The pole top antennas are most likely manufactured by Kathrein (Scala) and have a 16" diameter. AT&T's application (Web Link) says that the antennas will be quad band, but they are similar to these dual band versions: Web Link

The Tyco Prism remote antenna system gets mounted below the electrical, phone and cable TV attachments at a height of approximately 20'. They are separate from the pole top antennas. It's likely that two pole top units get used in order to provide spatial diversity. This layout helps reduce signal fading which will greatly improve signal quality. For example, see: Web Link


Like this comment
Posted by blank
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 9, 2011 at 8:31 pm

Shouldn't they use the street light poles instead. That way when the neighborhood gets undergrounded they don't have to change stuff around or leave one out of place pole standing up? They look fine for what they are, noise should be investigated a bit further.


Like this comment
Posted by JA3+
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 8, 2011 at 1:19 pm

It's been a month or so since the last forum post here.

Is there any update, either from AT&T or from the City of Palo Alto?

Has AT&T filed a new submittal to the City in response to the earlier public hearing?


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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