Here’s the dilemma. With 5G in the offing, wireless carriers are installing antennas anywhere they can get closer to customers – on rooftops or sides of buildings, on poles or other street furniture. But municipalities are pushing back on where and how many antennas can be installed, citing lack of installation standards and visual pollution.
Making 5G antennas less conspicuous in urban areas, especially along busy thoroughfares, is a big deal. For both sides, there is a lot at stake. The question is how to blend antennas into their surroundings, making them inconspicuous yet cost-effective.
One could hide antennas in a stealth structure or faux façade that is added to the building. But some owners do not want to add anything that changes the original building design. Moreover, stealth designs in large installations can be expensive.
A simple solution is to paint the antennas the same color as the wall on which they are mounted. Paint on metal doesn’t last long though when exposed to the elements and may require more maintenance than it’s worth.
Novel, adaptive approaches involve “concealing” or camouflaging the antennas in place, effectively hiding them in plain sight. 3M (yes, that 3M) produces film that is applied directly to the antennas before they are installed. Two film versions are available. One version can be printed with colors and patterns that match the exact background such as a brick or stone wall. The other is a reflective film that reflects ambient light so rooftop antennas blend into the sky when seen from the ground. 3M film is weather-proof and water resistant, and once applied, requires no maintenance. With a long life-span, the film can outlive the antennas.
RF engineers will like the film. It is non-conductive and applying it to antennas neither affects signal propagation nor introduces passive intermodulation (PIM) interference. More important, the film has been tested and proven on antennas that operate from 600 MHz to 39 GHz millimeter wave (mmW). T-Mobile, Verizon and AT&T already approved 3M film for their 5G antennas in all planned frequency bands.
Obscure Technology (obscuretechllc.com), based in Cincinnati, Ohio, is a prime 3M film supplier for wireless. The company promotes use of 3M film on antennas to benefit both carriers and municipalities.
“It’s a new era in concealment” says Scott Duncan, Obscure Technology founder and COO. “We support the carriers and their contractors to ensure new antennas are really obscure to the casual observer.”
The company works closely with architectural and engineering (A&E) to find the right match of film to the building. Once matched, Obscure Tech prints, preps, and deploys the film to the market, then applies it to the antennas before they ship to the site. Duncan points out, “We prep the antennas and apply the film either on-site, at the GC’s warehouse or at our own facility. Our technicians are all 3M-certified and install the film knowing its application will perform as designed.”
Obscure Tech collaborates with RF engineering firms such as Velocitel, NB+C and AMP to ensure 3M film is specified on these firms’ carrier customers’ antennas.
“We have already seen the uptick for concealment with 5G antennas,” says Duncan. “While we haven’t seen any need for film on to macrocells or small cells, it’s still early. We do see a big demand for concealing smaller antennas wherever they are installed on the sides or on top of buildings, or even indoors.”
John Celentano is Inside Towers’ Contributing Analyst. He can be reached at [email protected]
By John Celentano for Inside Towers
October 14, 2019