careful on the tower

People who climb towers and telephone poles to service the communications infrastructure around the world face a number of challenges. Often weather is not only a cause of equipment failure but makes repairs treacherous. Ask anyone who is 30′ up a pole about high winds or sleet. Then you have the reality of gravity – what goes up, must come down, and a technician needs to make that coming down part controlled and safe. And of course those who service residential areas often find that dogs are not a communication tech’s best friend.

Add another danger for those in Mexico – drug lords. This Reuters piece talks about the apparently common practice of drug cartels piggybacking off commercial communications infrastructure to keep the illegal industry humming along. While cell phones and social media (particularly those with encrypted capabilities) see a lot of use within the cartels, often these modes are supplemented by good old fashioned RF – radios.

The cartels will sometimes set up either own antennas, either for point-to-point or to serve as repeaters. These can be relatively easy to spot by authorities, so the alternative is to hang an antenna on an existing cell or radio tower. To the untrained eye, it just looks like another antenna on the tower. For the technicians, it represents a new threat. Routine service calls for legitimate equipment can turn into confrontations with cartel members who don’t want their communications disrupted.

The concept of “hazard pay” takes on a new meaning…

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