Helicopter Helps TDS Deliver Better Internet Speeds

Mountain top pole will provide enhanced broadband for Western Colorado’s Delta and Gunnison counties.

  • TDS Telecom (TDS)

For the first time, TDS used a helicopter to install a microwave pole on a small mountain to provide better broadband connections to residents in Delta and Gunnison counties in western Colorado.

The microwave pole was recently installed on top of Youngs Peak in the West Elk Mountains. Eventually, this pole will have a microwave installed on top of it. This part of the project is key as it will connect about 20 additional microwaves installed throughout Delta and Gunnison counties.  

More companies are using helicopters to place utility lines and poles when constructing networks, said Greg Fitch, network specialist in microwave technologies.

“Renting a helicopter is more efficient than spending nine months building a road to get to the top of the mountain,” said Fitch. “Using a helicopter is quick and it’s done all in one morning. During our research for this project, we found the helicopter to become the most viable solution.”

Delta and Gunnison counties are part of a Federal Communication Commission’s Alternative Connect America Model (A-CAM) project and will eventually serve around 3,000 service locations. With an elevation of 7,424 feet, Youngs Peak overlooks Crawford, Colorado.

The pole was ordered and delivered last fall, but site prep and construction were limited from Dec. 1 to April 1 due to the weather conditions and the fact the area is a major corridor for the migration of elk and mule deer. The combination of all these factors meant installation would be done after the snow melted, said Fitch. On Monday, May 17 site work was completed and then on Wednesday, May 19 the helicopter placed the first pole.

“The helicopter flew the pole right up the mountain and directly into the hole,” said Fitch. “It then needed to be compacted and plumbed and then the project was done.”

Not only does utilizing a helicopter do the work of several construction workers, but helicopters are being used in environmentally sensitive areas because it eliminates the need to drive heavy equipment into these areas that will eventually require restoration. A helicopter can airlift workers and equipment right to the site.

The microwave pole will have an 80-year lifespan. “It’s extremely wind and weather resistant. it doesn’t rot because it’s fiberglass and located on very resilient platform,” Fitch added.

Several phases of the projects in Delta and Gunnison counties are still under construction and not all customers will see improved service at the same time. However, some TDS customers will see improved internet speeds of up to 25Mbps or higher starting later this year.

“At TDS, we are literally going the extra mile to deliver better internet service,” said Kit Beyer, director of external affairs and communications. “We know our customers rely on the internet for school, work and entertainment so we can’t let even a small mountain to stand in the way of providing faster internet speeds.”

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