By Rienk Ayers of Chameleon Engineering
I agree with Caroline Watson’s comments yesterday about how maintenance of Concealment can save so much money over time. Although her comments primarily reference rooftop and panel type concealment, the same can be said for cell towers – and especially trees. Carriers make a significant investment when installing camouflage systems, but then practically ignore them when moving on to the next new site. It seems that the attitude of the Site Development teams is, “once it’s done, it’s no longer our problem – the tower companies or the real-property division will deal with it later.” This tactical error has huge strategic consequences – especially for trees. As Ms. Watson states, “Maintenance is the easiest, most cost effective way to keep neighbors, landlords, municipalities, carriers and their customers happy. In fact, we find that a track record of good maintenance on existing sites can help permit-seekers avoid zoning pitfalls.” Leaving camouflaged sites in disrepair is indeed a very shortsighted approach.
However, I would suggest that paramount to maintenance is “investing in quality” in the first place. Let’s face it, concealment doesn’t seem to directly add to the bottom line, so is tolerated by the carriers only because jurisdictions force it on them. Therefore they usually try to get away with as little as possible, awarding projects simply according to low bid. Now, if they called out the exact same quality and structural ‘specs’ for everyone, this would make sense. But in a race by concealment manufacturers to lower cost at any price, it is actually quality that is sacrificed in this process: realism, durability and longevity are abandoned in order to save a few bucks. So instead of tree branches looking real, most look like what a grade-schooler would concoct; instead of lasting for five to ten years, they last for only a few; instead of being able to handle heavy wind, snow or ice loads, most can easily break – often just being unloaded off the truck before they’re even installed! Most of the innovations that have come along in the last ten years are ignored, because they can’t be included and still win the ‘low cost’ bid – as there are plenty of companies that will gladly omit them. Because the playing field is never level, excellence is ignored. It’s ironic that carriers will spend a fortune upgrading antennas and equipment to increase efficiency and profitability, but fail to realize how that also applies to camouflage materials.
The results are obvious. The wireless industry is facing a huge pushback from jurisdictions over simple aesthetic and longevity concerns, and the cumulative cost to the industry is stunning. For example, based on what an average cell site generates in revenue, if only two months were shaved off the approval process of sites needing concealment – after paying for even the most expensive tree – the carriers could still realize a bottom line increase of $250,000 per site by getting on-air sooner! That doesn’t even include how much time (and money) site development teams would also save by shortening the process.
Chameleon Engineering joins Stealth in advocating for a new focus on site maintenance – but we would make the case for “investing in quality” first. Tens – maybe hundreds – of millions of dollars of direct costs and missed revenue have already been squandered by ignoring this. Fortunately, it’s a simple matter to reverse the process.
Start with quality and maintain it.
Not only will the carriers and tower companies reap the financial rewards, but they will also do much to improve their reputation and relationship with jurisdictions and communities – a truly win-win approach.