The wireless industry, by its nature, is characterized by innovation and a spirit of outside-the-box thinking that has revolutionized the way people live, work and play. The industry is full of examples of all kinds of people identifying a challenge and solving it with creativity, smarts and perseverance.
Take the unlikely influence of Austrian actress Hedy Lamarr, who was more than a pretty face on the big screen in the 1940s. Lamarr and composer George Antheil used frequency-hopping spread spectrum technology to develop a radio guidance system for torpedoes at the outset of World War II. Lamarr and Antheil hold patents for the radio-transmission method that is now used in many modern communication technologies, including Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and GPS.
This month, as the nation observes National Inventors Month, WIA celebrates the innovations and inventors in the wireless infrastructure industry who have made broadband connectivity possible, changed the way work is done on towers, and even pivoted operations to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. Each of these inventions, and many others, are impacting the wireless infrastructure industry in different ways, and helping to create a more connected world as a result.
Corning: Low-loss Optical Fiber
In the mid-1960s, the race was on to replace the existing copper wire infrastructure used to transfer data and voice, as it clearly lacked the bandwidth for the future. Building on a long history of innovation, Corning researchers developed a new, highly pure optical glass thinner than a human hair that could effectively transmit light signals over long distances for the first time. While clearly a major achievement, they never imagined how fully their invention would revolutionize the telecommunications industry. Today, the majority of signals still travel along fiber-optic networks and utilize the same basic principles of data transmission. Corning’s iconic innovation continues to harness light and shape the way we communicate — sending voice, emails, music and videos around the world at the speed of light.
The world in 1970 teetered on the edge of a data and communications explosion. There was a growing need to transmit enormous amounts of data and conversations over long distances at low costs. Researchers at the time had a theory about what might work, thanks to Charles Kao, a physicist at Standard Telecommunication Laboratories, a research facility in England. The term “fiber optics” had been coined in the 1960s. Kao was the first to see a world connected by light, with optical fiber as its medium. In a seminal paper published in 1966, Kao wrote that, in theory, fiber was potentially far superior to copper cable or radio signals. The problem was the impurities in glass, which caused the signal loss scientists call “attenuation.” The challenge was finding a “low-loss fiber” – glass that could carry light for long distances without an appreciable loss of light. Kao hypothesized that by purifying the glass, thin strands of fiber would be capable of carrying huge amounts of data over long distances with minimal signal loss.
But no one yet knew how to make such purified fiber. The British Post Office, which was also responsible for the United Kingdom’s telephone system, approached Corning for help in finding new kinds of high-volume data lines. Corning assigned a physicist on staff, Robert Maurer, to head a team that included two young researchers new to the company: Donald Keck, an experimental physicist, and Peter Schultz, a glass chemist.
The path to innovation, however, is invariably a frustrating one, marked by missteps and failed experiments. That led to countless combinations of glass, as well as experiments with different design dimensions and production methods for creating and purifying the compositions with which they were experimenting.
The team had fabricated yet another new variety of fiber and, late on a Friday afternoon in August of 1970, Keck inserted this latest sample into the team’s equipment for testing. Keck was eager to start his weekend but wanted to measure this latest attempt before going home. Bending over his microscope, he was astonished by a bright pinpoint of light. Later, Keck described it as “the most glorious thing I think I’ve ever seen.” Light loss is measured in decibels. Dr. Kao had said for his idea to work, the light-carrying ability of a glass needed to exhibit a light loss of fewer than 20 dB. The light pulsing through this new fiber measured between 16 and 17 dB. It was as if, Keck said, he could “just about feel the spirit of Edison in the lab.” In his notebook that day, Keck wrote the word “Whoopee!”
“Optical Waveguide Fibers,” as its inventors described it in their patent application, was a fiber capable of carrying 65,000 times more information than copper wire. Another four years passed before that “Whoopee” moment in the summer of 1970 would be immortalized by U.S. patent # 3,711,262.
For those that are interested in the full story, Corning’s 50 Years of Fiber site has many details about the journey of Corning to make low loss optical fiber real and its impact on our society up to today.
KGPCo – Premier Hand Sanitizer
Delivering creative and cost-effective solutions to customers is a cornerstone principle of KGPCo. Focused on doing whatever it takes to step up and help solve the nationwide hand sanitizer shortage at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, KGPCo conceived the idea of addressing the gap in supply by setting up its own sanitizer production. The production would meet the significant demand of its customers and get sanitizer out to their technicians in the field and retail stores.
Now, KGPCo has produced over 40 million ounces of hand sanitizer and counting. It may have never imagined running a production operation of this nature, but through ingenuity and established partnerships, the company rose to the challenge. As long as there is demand, KGPCo said it will remain committed to supplying its customers with hand sanitizer and PPE products to keep their team members, technicians, and customers safe.
“It was an all-out team effort to produce the vast quantities of sanitizer that our customers needed,” said Tyler Putrah, Chief Analyst and Director of KGPCo’s hand sanitizer operation. “With severe raw material shortages around the world, we had to be creative and persistent to get our hands on the materials required to produce high volumes of product. We had daily tanker trucks of Ethanol delivered from Ethanol plants in small towns in Minnesota, bottles and caps on boats from China, and custom hand sanitizer labels printed by a ketchup company’s labeler. Fortunately, we were able to manage the many moving parts and ultimately meet our customers’ needs during that very uncertain time.”
Crown Castle – Bolted Split Pipe
In 2018, a group of Crown Castle engineers including Matt Branagan, Jesse Fresch, Rafael Del Toro Gomez, Alyssa Scott, and Drew Skupien collaborated to develop a solution to reinforce the legs of cell phone towers using a bolted design rather than the traditional method of welding. This solution reduces the risk of potential fires, and is safer for the public and the contractors performing the work. The design was installed for the first time by Sky Tek Wireless Solutions, Inc. in August of 2018, and is now used on Crown Castle towers across the country to safely reinforce structures. After the installation was complete, the contractor that performed the installation stated, “The bolted solution is the way to go and the entire crew agrees it’s much better than welding.”
“Our goal was to develop a leg reinforcement that eliminates fire hazards and reduces fitment issues in the field,” said Rafael Del Toro Gomez. “Moving to a bolted solution provides continuous threaded bars and gives us the flexibility to work around multiple scenarios.”
Crown Castle – Step Bolt Peg
In 2016, the Crown Castle team including Chris Beauchamp, Matt Branagan and Kerry Johnson, as well as former Crown Castle Engineer James Ruedlinger, was conducting maintenance updates to a Crown Castle monopole tower. As they started looking at options to re-attach step pegs, they saw an opportunity to create a bolt on step peg that was not only safer, but was also more cost effective. They created a blind bolt Step Peg, which combined a step bolt and fall protection anchorage system that could be bolted to a monopole. This eliminated the need for elevated welding and it included an integrated clip that climbers can use as a tie-off point. The team worked together to patent and manufacture the new peg, and today it is used on Crown Castle’s monopoles across the United States.
“Our primary focus is to build secure communications infrastructure so our tower climbers, our contractors, and our carrier customers can do their jobs safely.”
CurvEnergy – AI-Powered Energy Management Platform
CurvEnergy developed and is operating an AI-powered energy management platform — CurvAITM — which enables customers to capitalize on the massive “behind-the-meter” energy market opportunity to reduce energy costs, generate new customer revenue, and increase flexibility and resiliency of the grid. CurvAITM enhances the business case for renewable energy investment and facilitates the transition to net-zero emissions by controlling distributed energy resources (DER) like rooftop solar, battery storage, EV chargers, HVACs, hydrogen fuel cells and others.
Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) have significant battery storage at their cell sites and switching locations that generally is there to maintain service when there are grid outages. CurvEnergy allows operators to maintain the integrity of their operations while reducing energy costs and generating new revenue from those battery resources. The technology also supports the drive to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions.
The benefits of the technology include utilizing back-up energy assets as a Virtual Power Plant (VPP); reducing energy costs and generating revenue from stand-by assets; and reducing carbon emissions.
The technology was developed by Peter Simko, an innovator and executive with over 15 years of extensive experience in the energy industry in the areas of strategy design & implementation, systems integration, sales & distribution operations, energy market transformation and innovation. Keith Kaczmarek, a long-time member of WIA who has more than 30 years of wireless industry experience in various roles, is president of CurvEnergy.
PPC Broadband Inc. – FutureLink Hand-Off Terminal Box
The FutureLink® Hand-off Terminal Box (“HOB”) was developed by PPC Broadband engineers Pete Carapella, Jerry Meier and Cameron Adams to meet detailed application requirements specified by a major U.S.-based wireless service provider. The HOB facilitates the optical transition between the wireline and wireless portions of a mobile broadband network, and is specifically suited to 5G buildouts that require a range of fiber densities and options. The innovative design of the HOB offers built-in accessibility and serviceability, and features an incredible breadth of versatility, including 6/12/24/48 port models to accommodate up to 48F; SC/APC, SC/UPC, LC/APC, LC/UPC connection options; indoor and outdoor ratings; multiple mounting options including surface mount, pole mount, and strand mount; and 100 percent access to all ports for inspection or testing
The FutureLink Hand-off Box has contributed to the rapid expansion of 5G availability across the country. Its design and versatility have simplified and sped up deployments at application sites, and it has played a role in bringing next-generation wireless access to people at venues and in cities throughout the United States.
“Our goal was to create a uniquely versatile solution to meet all of the different application needs our customers might face in the field,” said Jerry Meier, Product Line Manager. “The unique design of the Handoff Box e nables end users to utilize all of these connectivity options: 6port; 12port; 24port; 48port; SC or LC; APC or UPC; stubbed or non-stubbed; indoor; outdoor; surface mount; pole mount; strand mount.”
Birdzoff – BirdSpring
Back in 1979, Gordy Sabine started a tennis court washing business, Tennis Services Ltd., and noticed bird droppings on many of the courts he washed. Unable to clean the droppings without damaging the court surface, Gordy set out to design a device that physically and visually prevented birds from perching on the tennis court lights.
Armed with his knowledge of bird psychology and physiology, as well as several consults with bird behavior experts, Gordy took his idea to his garage where he manufactured several prototypes and ultimately an industrial-grade bird deterrent. Now known as the No-Perch Wire System, this product has been installed on more than 5,000 tennis court lights in the Los Angeles area.
From there, Birdzoff expanded as Gordy began designing devices for the FAA and Port Authorities across the country. Equipped with curiosity, resourcefulness, and propensity for problem-solving, Gordy rolled out new and effective devices to address the bird control issues brought to him by wildlife biologists and business owners alike.
The BirdSpring is an industrial grade bird deterrent designed to eliminate perching of medium to large birds on manmade structures. BirdSpring components include 12-inch springs, 5-foot wires, capture clips, and attachments. The system is made of marine-grade 316 stainless steel, making BirdSpring highly durable in harsh and hostile environments.
BirdSpring acts as a visual barrier, alerting birds to an undesirable perch. If activated by bird contact, BirdSpring bounces and sways, humanely scaring the bird away. The system is easy to install, improves work site safety, and requires minimal maintenance.
The wireless infrastructure industry has long been impacted by the interaction between birds and wireless structures. The presence of birds protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) on these structures creates costly delays in maintenance and construction for the industry. This presence also generates environmental and personal safety hazards for climbers.
When choosing a nesting site, birds scout out locations by perching. BirdSpring eliminates that first perching interaction a bird has with a wireless structure. By preventing this interaction, BirdSpring also preempts birds’ attempts to nest, leading to a decrease in delays and improved environmental conditions for climbers.
“The BirdSpring design is the product of many years of studying bird behavior and learning about industry needs,” said Sabine. “I’ve worked alongside wildlife biologists, environmental regulators, and installers to develop an understanding of what I call ‘the science of the perch.’ Through this understanding, I developed the simple yet highly effective BirdSpring design. I’m excited about how BirdSpring can bring peace of mind to tower owners, operators, and climbers alike. This product is one of Birdzoff’s many designs that protect wireless infrastructure from bird perching and nesting.”
Advanced RF Technologies, Inc. (ADRF) – SDR-ICS Series
ADRF‘s SDR-ICS combines the modularity and software-defined flexibility of ADRF’s popular SDR Series indoor repeater with the high power and patented Interference Cancellation System (ICS) of ADRF’s ICS outdoor repeater. The ICS makes it ideal for enhancing the coverage of any indoor or outdoor application, and its high gain and output power ensures wireless coverage in even the most remote locations. Through digital signal processing (DSP) filter technology, the SDR-ICS helps eliminate adjacent channel interference. The system can also be configured and monitored remotely using a web-based GUI, and remote access and monitoring provides the ability to receive alarm notifications or make minor adjustments instantaneously.
Already deployed by the primary U.S. wireless carriers, the SDR-ICS enables quick, cost-efficient deployment of both commercial and public safety bands, including LTE Band 14, in a single rugged IP66 rated enclosure. The modular structure supports any combination of quad-band service in one body and each module is self-sufficient, making it the most flexible and cost-efficient high-power repeater solution.
It positively impacts rural areas that often have dead zones requiring connectivity as well as first responders that need adequate connectivity during catastrophic events when the macro network is disrupted.
“Dead zones in rural areas serve as a barrier to technological growth and that barrier becomes even more damaging as new wireless innovations elevate well-connected areas,” said ADRF’s Will Wong, DAS Engineering Manager. “With ADRF’s SDR-ICS, building owners in areas with little to no cellular signal can cost-efficiently deploy a wireless solution that expands their coverage to ensure they are well connected. It is also ideal during emergencies, such as major catastrophes, where first responders need connectivity when cellular coverage is disrupted.”
Neptuno USA, Corp. – Reality Capture for Telecommunication Towers Surveying
While Neptuno USA didn’t invent Light Detection and Ranging (Lidar) technology, it can proudly says that when it adopted it in 2005, and was amongst the first companies to identify 3D Laser Scanning as an ideal tool to provide a precise Digital Twin and accurate CAD Drawings (resulting from the 3D Laser) for telecommunication tower surveying. While the main challenge it encountered throughout the years is resistance to change, Neptuno USA has been given the opportunity by forward thinking CTOs to 3D Scan more than 5,000 sites around the world and to prove the substantial operational savings (up to 40 percent!), increased worker safety, and workflow and decision-making efficiencies that this technology brings to the table. The company’s goal is to standardize digital data while using and adopting industry-leading technology.
A single 3D dataset of a tower can be used by engineers, facility managers, subcontractors and even city planners to make sure that all stakeholders are using an accurate and consistent set of data for decision making.
“We are one of the most technologically advanced industries and yet much of our workforce still works with extremely rudimentary tools,” said Leticia Latino-van Splunteren, CEO of Neptuno USA. “3D Surveying and Lidar Technology enables us to provide precise measurements without even climbing the tower. Neptuno is on a mission to reinvent telecom asset inspection and analysis by combining 3D computing with artificial intelligence creating a new standard for the preventive and corrective maintenance of critical infrastructure. Virtualizing telecom assets nationwide better prepares us, as a country, to face and promptly respond to natural and man-made disasters while creating true resiliency.”
WIA members, do you have an innovation and inventor you want to highlight here? Email Kristen Beckman for more information.