What’s That Wireless Telecommunications Infrastructure?

In today’s increasingly-connected world, the creation, distribution, and consumption of information has become a major part of our lives, and telecommunications infrastructure serves as the backbone of our information society. From the telegraph and telephone wire to the cable and fiber optic lines, we’re always working to find new ways to communicate over long distances, but not every signal travels through a wire. Today we’re talking about wireless telecommunications.
Here we divulge and discover the constructed world around us. You can’t talk about telecommunications without mentioning radio. Jerry took lots of pictures of the infrastructure in Ethiopia when he travelled there to adopt his son, including this cool photo of radio transmitter towers and a wild mess of guy wires used to hold them all up. One of my long time fans, Luto, sent in these photos of the remnants of radio transmitting antennas in Vienna. These transmitters were built by the U.S. after World War 2 to strengthen their radio program in Austria known as red-white-red, and you can still see the mast anchors if you visit the parks in Wilhelminenberg. Here’s another piece of history sent in by Sidarth in Indiana.
These are horn-reflector antennas used in the AT&T long lines network. These microwave relays cut the costs of long-distance communications dramatically compared wired systems and were used extensively starting in the 50s. Even though many of the towers were built to withstand a nuclear blast, fewer and fewer remain as our demand for higher capacity communications infrastructure increases. Luckily, there is a ton of information online dedicated to remembering the awesome feat of engineering that was the long lines microwave radio network.
Shravan sent in these photos of helical antennas from the radio telescope on the small island nation of Mauritius. These antennas collect radio waves from astronomical sources like planets, stars, and galaxies. Since these waves are fairly weak, radio telescopes usually require very large antennas, and the one in Mauritius is no different. The main arm is over 2 kilometers long

with more than a thousand of these helical antennas. On the other end of the size spectrum, Ben sent in this photo of a small microwave antenna on a traffic signal. These antennas carry line of sight communications to other signals or to a centralized traffic management system.

These systems are a major step up from simple timers, allowing traffic signals to respond to changing conditions in real time. Jacob from Mississippi did an internship with a telecommunications company and shared some great photos from his experience. Cellular networks are named as such because each transceiver serves a certain area known as a cell. Nearly everyone uses a cell phone these days, not only to make calls but also to browse the web.
To manage the ever-increasing demand for wireless data, telcom companies continue to expand their cellular infrastructure. It seems like just about anywhere you look, cell phone antennas are popping up. Eric from Pennsylvania sent in this photo of a small-cell antenna on top of a utility pole. And Dave from Maryland sent in a photo of a similar, but much larger antenna on residential apartment building.
WISPs allow coverage of rural areas where wired connections wouldn’t be feasible by creating individual access points which can serve many customers. In fact, infrastructure just like this is helping to reduce the digital gap in developing countries by providing broader low-cost access to the internet. Finally, following tradition, a photo that’s got me stumped. This one comes from Guillaume in Quebec. It may just be an architectural feature, but I have a suspicion these yellow things are serving a purpose. I’m just not sure what it is.

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