Why not skip the middleman and just put up your own cell tower?

Who wouldn’t like perfect cell service? That’s the promise of having a cell tower in your backyard. Not only that, it’s a moneymaker! Most cell towers are privately owned and leased to the different carriers, and there can be a lot of profit out there. I decided to spend some time finding out what it would take to build my own cell tower in the back yard.

The planning
This was the first, and if I were really serious, the last step. Operating a cell tower takes permits, plenty of them. You need an FCC permit. You need something from the city. You need to have an architect draw up the plans (silly me, I had thought a pole sticking in the ground wouldn’t take a lot of planning.) There are architectural surveys, drainage surveys, power use surveys… right away I could see this would take months. So I skipped to the next step.

The carriers
If all the government agencies actually agree that a cell tower wouldn’t be a bad idea, then you have to convince the carriers that it’s a good idea. That’s another whole thing. You have to prove to each carrier that there’s a need or they won’t sign off on the equipment you’ll need. Each carrier wanted to send out their own survey team. It was becoming clear that unless I wanted to do this for a living, I may as well just make it a hypothetical exercise.

The licenses
After you get all the permits, then come the licenses to operate all that equipment. After all, you’re running a fairly large scale broadcast operation, and that takes FCC approval. I asked how long that would take, and I was told for a novice, it could take months. Bigger companies that have been through the process can get it done faster because they know what to do.

The construction.
You have to figure about six weeks, I’m told, to actually build the tower. There’s heavy equipment, construction people, all that. But it’s no big deal, they tell me, because you have all the permits ahead of time. But then again it took a repair person 4 days to install a new faucet for me (the one time I didn’t want to do it myself.) So I don’t believe them.

The installation
Believe me, there’s a separate group of people who actually install and test the tower equipment, compared to the people who stick the pole in the ground. So you have to schedule those people, and you have to arrange the electric company to come and do the hookups. Getting everyone together takes some time, and then it can take a few days to install and test.

At this point, my guess is I’m about 8 months in, and about $60,000 out of pocket. I get to charge the carriers to use my tower, but at the rate the want to pay me (which I had to guess since they wouldn’t tell me) maybe it takes 2 years or so before I can make up my money, and at that point I will have to upgrade my equipment so that I can use the latest technology that people will want.

Oh well, I guess I’ll just stick with a cell booster.