By Thomas J. Cady | October 2008
My job is to find the sites that wireless companies (Verizon, Sprint, ATT, Alltel, T-Mobile, etc) need to expand their networks. You’ve seen the towers and fake palm trees out there, but many sites are also on the rooftops of the tallest buildings in an area.
My search begins with a Site Acquisition Request Form (SARF) from the carrier. This form contains a search ring map with a circle (or square or rhomboid) drawn on it and the specifications that the Radio Frequency Engineer (RFE) needs to fill in a gap in the carrier’s coverage (IE, height, number of antennas, size of antennas, etc). I will drive the area within the search ring to locate any potential landlords that might lease the carrier space for a tower, tree pole, or some rooftop space.
The requirements of the carriers differ significantly. For example, carriers who use the PCS system have small equipment cabinets; therefore, need smaller lease areas. Carriers who use CDMA systems will need space for a 12′ X 20′ shelter that is air conditioned to keep their radios cool, plus the space for the tower.
After identifying a few potential landlords, I will research the ownership of the properties in question through county tax records. I then contact the owners to identify RAW (ready, able and willing) landlords, who have an interest in the additional income from a wireless lease. Typically, these wireless leases take space that is not readily rentable to others, so the landlord will be gaining rental income that he had not anticipated. This is good for me as it allows me to negotiate the best (read: lowest) rent for the wireless carrier. When I have determined a likely landlord, I will submit up to three Site Candidate Information Packages per SARF to the carrier for their review and their ranking of their preferred candidates.
The lease is usually 15 to 20 pages long and has numerous clauses that pertain to wireless usage of the lease area. It typically is for a five-year initial period, with multiple options (usually four or five additional five-year periods) at the discretion of the carrier. It allows the carrier to conduct "due diligence" on the property, such as environmental studies, surveys, and drawings necessary to submit the plan to the local zoning authority (either a city or county planning department).The entire process – from SARF through zoning approval (ZOK) to building permit (BP) takes around 12 months – so I need a steady flow of SARF’s to maintain my work flow. Usually, the carrier will grant 12 to15 SARF’s per site acquisition specialist, and more as the individual sites near ZOK.
Today, carriers are paying for site acquisition by milestones, which is a specific event that has been completed, such as SCIP package submitted, candidate selected (through a process called feasibility walks), lease complete, zoning applied (ZAP), and zoning approved (ZOK). This can be a demanding but rewarding profession, with annual income of $60,000 to 80,000 – depending upon your experience and professional qualifications.