Why are cell towers so thick when other broadcast towers are so skinny?

The picture above is a typical cell tower. It’s very wide at the base. Sometimes they are a bit narrower but still very thick, similar to this one:

That’s still pretty thick compared to some broadcast towers which are extremely thin. Here’s a typical example of a broadcast tower:

That tower is so thin it needs to be held up by guy wires. Sometimes you’ll see cellular equipment on a tower like that, but it’s rare. Most often cell towers are fairly thick affairs.

So why?

It’s actually a pretty simple answer. Cell towers have more stuff on them. A typical cell tower will have transmitting and receiving equipment for more than one carrier, and in order to make the most of their investment, a tower owner will put multiple antennas up there. That gives the most capacity and let’s be honest everyone wants more cell capacity.

The weight of all that equipment means that cell towers have to be sturdier. A typical radio or TV tower is going to have one broadcast antenna on it, that’s it. The only reason the tower is there is to get that broadcast antenna up high.

And it’s a little bit of an optical illusion

Those broadcast towers aren’t really that much thinner, but they are taller. A TV station is going to want to put the transmitter really high up in the air to cover a larger area, but cell towers tend to be only about 50-100 feet up in order to serve a smaller area nearer to them. Some broadcast towers can be 1,500 or more feet in the air.

Sometimes you will see cellular equipment on the side of a broadcast tower, too; that’s just the tower owner trying to make a little bit more money.

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About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 8,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.