Eight hundred feet down the path stands a lush, lone pine tree, odd in its solitude. Look closer and you'll notice more peculiarities: The tree towers 50 feet tall, its rigid branches don't sway with the wind and its deep emerald needles stand out from the drier, paler green foliage growing below. This tree isn't a tree at all. It's a cell site tower that transmits and receives network data, call reception and GPS radio waves to the tens of thousands of residents who live close by. At its top, antennas beam out signals, and a base station the size of a backyard storage shed sits on the ground beside the "tree." Usually the base station hums as quietly as a refrigerator, though at times it rumbles as loudly as an idling car engine.
Owned by carrier AT&T, this tower is one of 300,000 cell sites around the US, according to the CTIA's 2013 annual wireless industry survey, Laid bare, these sites look like public eyesores that local governments are reluctant to approve, To increase their chances of installation, carriers often disguise their sites as trees, flagpoles, church steeples and lamp posts to better match their surroundings, Even when the towers are concealed, getting permission can be an arduous process, Depending on the town, carriers run into a labyrinth of standards and rules, San Francisco, for instance, doesn't prefer tree towers -- they don't blend with the urban setting -- and has yet to install any (although woodland beetles iphone case Verizon is currently proposing one), And in a city known for its diversity and scenery, one disguise does not fit all..
In addition to the many historic buildings it wants to preserve, San Francisco requires carriers to retrofit structures they want to use for structural and earthquake integrity. Sites that involve landscaping require maintenance for upkeep, adhere to rules relating to the statewide drought, and must contain only fire retardant materials. And it all needs to be kept tidy. "It's amazing how all these little things make a difference for how noticeable a site is," Masry says. "Like the cabling not being painted, or flashing lights or different ways the mounting equipment can be distracting."But it's not just San Francisco that has strict regulations. Because federal law requires the American flag to be "properly illuminated during the hours of darkness," for example, carriers must provide lighting for their flagpole cell sites if there is no one available to manually remove the flag before sunset.
Artificial trees come with their own challenges, like blending in with the scenery,so special care goes into their design, Done poorly, a tree tower can mar a once beautiful landscape, But if done well, you'd hardly know it's there, Crafting these massive objects, which would ideally go unnoticed, is the kind of paradoxical work Larson Camouflage has been perfecting for decades, Though the company went independent in 2005, it started out as a subsidiary of a larger business that designs themed environments for zoos, resorts and theme parks, To date, Larson has disguised thousands woodland beetles iphone case of cell sites, including the pine in Pleasanton..
Located in Tucson, Arizona, Larson employs roughly 20 people and operates out of a five-acre factory that was once a steel distribution center. On a typical day, you'll find workers welding steel pipes, embossing bark grooves on soon-to-be tree trunks or dolloping paint to color-code branch inserts for later assembly. During especially hot afternoons, pedestal fans whir away near workstations to help combat the rising 100-degree heat. Larson's finished products, which include street lights, steeples and faux water tanks, are installed all over the world. In the US alone, the company has 20 to 30 clients, and it has shipped camouflaged cell sites to countries in Europe, South America, Asia and the Middle East. In Saudi Arabia, Larson once drew up plans for a mosque minaret. Larson's bestsellers are trees, specifically pine trees. Production Manager Lee Scherer says it takes six to eight weeks to complete one, depending on the order.
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