Without any public announcement, AT&Ts workers and contractors swooped through the neighborhood recently installing some of their pole-topping antennas along with the cabling and power system infrastructure. These antennas are part of AT&T’s ‘Distributed Antenna System” (DAS), which was approved by the City Council for our part of Palo Alto in January after a long, sometimes contentious debate. This is good news for AT&T cell phone customers who (the company says) will have good service in Barron Park – or will be good news once the antennas are operational.
The antennas look like inverted wastebaskets on the top of an 8 or 10 foot post mounted to the top of utility poles. I’ve seen two of them this week on Barron Ave- one on the 500 block and the other on the 700 block – and a third (pictured below) on the pole on Matadero just opposite the California Native Garden at the end of Bol Park. A fourth was about to be installed on Chimalus, but the AT&T installers broke a water line near the base of the pole and the work is currently on hold pending permanent repair by the Utilities Department.
While AT&T maintained that the antenna system was needed to improve currently poor cell reception by its customers, the debate on this specific DAS system focused on three issues:
- aesthetics of an antenna mounted on top of a pole, and the associated equipment mounted on the side of the pole;
- noise generated by the equipment on the pole to power the antennas and emergency back up batteries 24 hours/day;
- microwave radiation exposure to residents who live next to an antenna, particularly in second story residences in line of sight of an antenna.
The microwave radiation exposure issue, comparing the output and pattern of microwaves from this antenna to those from cell phone antennas on towers, is complicated and has been discussed elsewhere. Since the antennas were not yet powered, I could not evaluate the noise. In any event, noise would not be problem for this particular location except to some squirrels or birds nesting in nearby trees.
As to the aesthetics, it is in this writer’s opinion that the poles with the DAS antennas do not add significantly to the unsightly view of the poles themselves, with their multiple overhead strings of power, telephone and cable lines, jumble of insulators and transformer boxes. These antennas are not concealed or camouflaged to look like a tree, but AT&T did follow the ARB recommendations and other advice by making the equipment brown in color and so it blends in with the color of the poles themselves. When I was a kid, utility poles were called ‘telephone poles.’ With the cell phone antennas on the top, maybe that name will come back into use.