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Picture driving through an open countryside without a care in the world and your phone suddenly rings. You answer the call (hands-free of course), chat for a while, then hang up. As you’re continuing your drive, you notice a huge tower off to the side of the road surrounded by a fence that has small buildings peeping over the little gated compound. As the tower comes closer into view, your eyes are drawn upward, and you start to notice some weird little objects sticking out from the top of tower. One of the little objects seems a little familiar and you realize it resembles a satellite dish. This piece of equipment is called a microwave antenna. I’m sure you are starting to connect the dots, but there is a major connection between your cellphone and that huge tower that many of us don’t pay much attention to. That microwave antenna is crucial in ensuring whatever data you are trying to send to someone is received, and it can even be a more cost-effective solution for developers than traditional fiber cabling methods.

Microwave antennas join in a microwave link network (also known as a microwave hop) to enable you to make phone calls and send other forms of media to others. A microwave hop is a microwave communications channel between two stations with directive antennas aimed at each other. When you have two tower compounds with microwave antennas directly facing one another, they can send and receive information in the form of data signals systematically. The direction of the antenna (also known as the azimuth) is key because the microwave antennas must have azimuths that point directly at one another for data to be moved from one place to the other. If the azimuths of two microwave antennas are not directed at one another, then the antennas will be unable to communicate effectively.

Microwave hops are a great alternative for developers who are weary of traditional methods for getting their carrier’s equipment online. Typically, if a developer has a new tower site and needs to connect their carrier’s equipment, fiber optic cables would need to be dropped into the site by a nearby telephone utility company. This process can be labor intensive and very costly for the developer because they would need to bore a new utility conduit or run fiber overhead to their tower. However, microwave hops do not require a developer to bring in fiber cabling to their site if it has a clear Line of Sight (LOS) and factors such as bad weather conditions do not affect the transmission of data.

Here’s an example of when a microwave hop makes more sense than a traditional fiber cable drop:

  • “Tower A” is built off a main highway and has telco service brought in via fiber hardline.

  • “Tower B” is built a few miles north on the top of a mountain. The LOS on this tower is great and can provide coverage in all directions, but there is no way to bring fiber cabling to the compound for data connection without a long route up a steep and curvy access road from two miles away.

  • A microwave link can be installed to hop the telco service from “Tower A” to “Tower B” through directional microwave antennas that face each other.

  • Data will be transmitted through the microwave antenna on “Tower A” and received by the microwave antenna on “Tower B”, bypassing the need for fiber coordination from a local utility provider.

The act of two people making a phone call, sending a text message, or exchanging a photo is a more in-depth process than just that of a single click on a phone. There are many factors ensuring you are as seamlessly connected as possible, and developers often have multiple solutions available to consider on specific sites. In some cases, microwave hops make the most sense and can save time and money. And now you’ll know what you’re looking at when you drive past a cell tower and see a little satellite near the top!

About Foresite Group

Foresite Group is a multidisciplinary engineering, planning, and consulting firm providing services to public and private sector clients nationwide. Our team’s collaborative process results in creative products and services that help our clients achieve their goals. Our team takes pride in enhancing and developing the cities and communities where we live, work, and raise our families.


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