Telecom Fleets’ Specialized Vehicles

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Fleet managers for telecommunications carriers are responsible for a lot more than the ubiquitous pickup trucks and vans that wear their companies’ logos.

From specially outfitted light-duty models spec’d to function as mobile cell sites to heavy-duty pickups built to carry equipment to remote tower sites, telecom fleets are some of the most diverse in the commercial truck space.

And when it comes to actually building cell towers, the diversity expands; companies that specialize in these structures need everything from flatbeds and 40-ton cranes to heavy-lift helicopters to build the infrastructure that supports devices commercial and retail users rely on every day.

“We have hundreds of special vehicles we can move around the country to temporarily replace or reinforce existing cell sites,” said Chuck Hamby, a spokesman for Verizon Wireless in Tampa. And there is an entertaining array of barnyard acronyms used to label these vehicles. A cow, or cell on wheels, is a truck equipped with an antenna powerful enough to fill in coverage when a cell site has been damaged or destroyed.

“We might send a cow to a cell tower whose antenna was destroyed in a hurricane. We’d park it right next to the tower, hook it up to the existing power source, and the cow would function as a tower,” he said.

The company also has colts, or cells on light trucks. “colts are cells on box trucks equipped with 60- to 80-foot towers,” Hamby said. “We might deploy these to Colorado to be used during a forest fire, or to storm sites where equipment has been damaged.”

Verizon began outfitting vehicles with connectivity equipment in the late 1990s, using SUVs, trucks and trailers equipped with signal-monitoring equipment to test network quality, Hamby said.

Beyond vehicles for connectivity, Verizon also maintains a fleet of goats, or generators on a trailer, to bring emergency power to cell sites where power has failed.

Rival AT&T, Dallas, also uses cows and colts “for both disaster recovery and a variety of special events, such as festivals, sporting events or concerts,” said company spokeswoman Susan Newsham. The company also deploys satcolts, which she described as colts that use satellite uplinks for connectivity in remote areas where cellular coverage is sparse or nonexistent, such as deep forests, or where the existing network has been damaged or destroyed. “The satellite colts also can be used to augment coverage capacity in areas with working wireless service,” Newsham said.

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