After Manatee County commissioners unanimously approved the construction of a 145-foot monopole at the southeast corner of Lorraine Road and State Road 64 on Dec. 2, 2021, those in cellphone reception misery had to believe they were seeing a light at the end of the tunnel.
How long it takes to get to that tunnel, though, remains uncertain in East County.
First Responder Network Authority, which is planning the installation on the Hide-Away Storage property, said it is not giving any installation dates due to the evolving process of building a monopole, or anything else during a time of supply chain issues.
“It’s definitely going in,” said Richard Bruno, an engineer with FirstNet.
Bruno said the project is still in its initial stages, but has made substantial progress in its permitting process.
The tower was solicited jointly through FirstNet, a partner of AT&T, and is being constructed by the Atlanta-based cell tower construction company CitySwitch. FirstNet's stated purpose is to build a comprehensive network for emergency calls, and while the tower will prioritize 911 calls, it will offer service to all users of AT&T and any subsequent clients.
Bruno said CitySwitch has room to accommodate other carriers in addition to AT&T.
He said the cell tower's location was selected based on the detection of a gap in the area of cell coverage by FirstNet.
“It is definitely a priority site for us,” he said. “We’ve got (the area) surrounded, and now we’re putting this pin right in the middle of that circle."
Bruno said a cell tower was needed in the area marking the northeastern side of Lakewood Ranch. He said a design group was responsible for choosing the precise location.
Since the area is in the process of being developed, Bruno said it is easier to gain approval for a monopole tower, which will have a signal that will reach those in a 3- to 5-mile radius (not counting obstructions).
“There are so many variables with your field of obstruction — trees, buildings, etc. — that it’s hard to put a specific number on it, but that’s a good ballpark for a site of this size and that location,” he said.
A 3-mile radius would include areas such as those along Upper Manatee River Road, near the intersection of State Road 64 and Bournside Boulevard, and adjacent to White Eagle Boulevard.
“Given the distances involved, this won’t be this silver bullet, be-all, end-all, kind of thing, but this definitely will help in an area where you have current and future residential builds,” Bruno said.
He said the priority of the cell tower is to allow users to connect to voice calls. However, he said it would also impact other forms of cellphone data usage. He said that when cell users are unable to use their mobile data to view pages online, stream video, or download content, this can be due to voice calls being prioritized as a result of an insufficient signal.
Bruno said residents need not be concerned about the monopole’s aesthetic appearance in the same way they would a traditional cell tower.
“It's like an oversized flagpole, just smooth all the way up,” he said. He said it would be unlike the lattice-structured, cell towers which used to be standard.
“A lot of people find it aesthetically easier to deal with,” he said.
Bruno said on top, the pole will simply “be capped like a big tube,” with no visible antennae. “The closer you get to communities, the more sensitive you are to aesthetics, and the monopole becomes your go-to,” he said.
The triangular mounts seen on many cell towers will be absent from the monopole. Bruno said such features, on those poles where they are present, serve as antennae paid for by different cell carriers. However, antennae are already built into this tower.
Once construction begins, said Bruno, impacts to residents will be minimal. There will be construction vehicles entering the area, and nearby residents will not experience any noise impacts. He said that for a project such as this, road closures would not be needed.
Bruno said that once the tower is established, and as the site continues to grow, the engineering department will continue to examine the area in order to determine whether further installations are needed.