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WSP delivers surveying and mapping solutions for the entire project lifecycle with speed and certainty. Our crews are first on the ground supporting some of the largest projects in Canada. Regardless of the project size or location, we are there, from field to finish.


Geomatics: Enhancing Wireless Communication

July 08, 2016

Behind every wireless cellular signal is a tower equipped with antennas and the Geomatics applications that got it there.


The term “Geomatics” is often misinterpreted as only applying to Land Surveying. While Land Surveying is a significant component of the broader term, Geomatics is, by definition, the data collection, data processing, compilation, analysis and display of geospatial data.

Geomatics plays a very important role in the context of wireless communications. Every cellular phone today comes equipped with a GPS; cellular towers themselves can position your phone and at any given time, applications such as Twitter, can be used to see what people in a specific location are micro-blogging about.

When designing a wireless network, a radio frequency engineer will select a proposed tower location based on proximity of other towers, terrain, known areas of interference, environment (i.e. harsh marine climate) and the target service area. The radio frequency engineer will request that a proposed tower location be found within a specified radius of the preferred location. The proposed height above the ground of the antenna array will also be specified.

Because the majority of property acquisitions are of a leasehold nature, a site acquisitions specialist is tasked with finding a suitable landlord. To accomplish this task, the site acquisition specialist will often overlay the property line fabric with the desired tower location radius. This geospatial data is then cross referenced with the land owner information available at the provincial Land Registry or Land Titles Office.

Once an agreement has been reached between the landlord and wireless provider, a professional Land Surveyor is tasked with defining the extent of the tower lease parcel and any access or power easements that may be required. The tower location is then confirmed based upon the ability and cost effectiveness of construction. Longer roads, longer power routing, more trees to clear and reinforced foundations are more costly to build. Often, data collected coordinates for features such as wetlands, are compiled from other disciplines or other data collectors. Before leaving the field, the surveyor sets out the confirmed coordinates of the tower and any applicable guy wires for construction. If any underground utilities are present, they are located and shown on the proposed plan.

Once the proposed tower location is confirmed in the field, the latitude and longitude coordinates and the proposed tower height are sent to government agencies such as NAV Canada and Transport Canada. These agencies update their geospatial datasets with the proposed navigation hazard and distribute to the appropriate stakeholders. If the proposed tower is within the vicinity of an airport, additional analysis and plan preparation is required to ensure the airport flight and approach paths are not infringed upon. In order to comply with most municipal government policies, a notification radius is shown on the final plan and the wireless provider must mail out a copy of the plan to all landowners within the specified radius (three times the tower height) of the proposed tower. In order to identify these landowners, the same property line dataset used earlier is overlaid with the confirmed tower coordinates and the notification radius.

After the tower is erected and the antenna array is installed, the orientation of the antenna array is observed and adjusted, to meet the goals set out by the radio frequency engineer at the start of the process.

Most national wireless providers cover a large amount of geography and maintain tens of thousands of wireless towers. A GIS database is a useful tool for the network operators. The complexity of the GIS can range from a simple Google Earth tower mapper including hyperlinks to data folders on a local hard drive to a vast database powered by software such as ArcGIS. The latter can be a geospatial database warehouse for items such as soil reports, post construction site inspection reports, maintenance reports, data usage, etc. that can be shared with many stakeholders and users.

WSP’s Geomatics team is involved in every process outlined above: from initial planning, to construction and data management. Most small and large scale wireless providers are (or aspire to be) national carriers. WSP’s National Geomatics team is the only Geomatics team that can service any national client from coast to coast. Wireless Geomatics is a prime example of our ability to share resources and clients across Canada to provide reliable and dependable Geomatics solutions.

“A map tells you where you’ve been, where you are, and where you’re going — in a sense its three tenses in one.”

- Peter Greenaway