We've heard how 5G is the game-changing technology that will vastly upgrade internet access and speeds for your phones and other devices. But 5G can't happen without hundreds of thousands of new towers and antennas springing-up across the country. A Sioux Falls company is helping lead the way in building the infrastructure that will serve the next generation of wireless customers. We show you what it takes to make the climb to 5G.
Scaling a cell tower, in the teeth of a South Dakota prairie wind, is the ultimate adrenaline rush.
"It's straight up, so it's pretty intensive, especially with the wind, it's a little nerve-racking. Gotta remember to take your breaks, I guess," Ben Raynor of Orem, Utah said.
Once they reach the top, workers with Sioux Falls Tower & Communications will have a bird's eye view of how 5G will take wireless technology to new heights.
"It's definitely cutting edge, it will be a lot faster than 4G and it makes me feel special, I guess," Raynor said.
Sioux Falls Tower will be tasked to install, maintain, repair and inspect many of the towers and antennas that will connect customers with 5G. It's an international race to the top.
"Because we don't want China or Japan or someone else to lead out on this and then we have to do it the way they want to do it. We want to be the leaders in it, so the guys building this, the guys we're going to recruit to build this, is going to be critical," Sioux Falls Tower & Communications Safety & Training Director Todd Thorin said.
These new recruits have completed a week of climbing classes at Sioux Falls Tower's training center. It's the next rung up the ladder toward a career traveling the country installing 5G equipment.
"Some guys don't like it. I actually enjoy being on the road meeting new people, so it's cool," Raynor said.
The training includes learning how to hoist heavy equipment, like this 350 pound ball, up the tower.
"If we go over 350-pounds with a load, then we're going to employ a hydraulic hoist with wire rope and we can go up to a couple-thousand pounds, then," Thorin said.
It takes a highly-specialized skill set to become a tower climber. Sioux Falls Tower can weed-out trainees long before they make the climb by showing them pictures and video of the daring duties they'll have to perform.
"And if their reaction is well, yeah, I'm pretty sure I could do that, they probably can't. But if they look at those pictures and they get a big smile on their face and go, now that's awesome! We have a clue that's probably a good pick," Thorin said.
5G will have a built-in advantage when it comes to recruiting new climbers. The towers won't be as tall, so that means prospective employees who may be a little leery of heights won't have to climb hundreds of feet into the air to do their jobs.
"Whereas now, we have to climb up to 200-300 feet to install antennas. The 5G, a lot of that stuff you'll be able to do out of a bucket truck or a lift close to the ground, so some of those differences won't be a factor," Thorin said.
5G antennas could be mounted on structures as vertically-friendly as a light pole. But safety is a priority no matter the heights involved. Trainees learn how to treat injured co-workers and bring them safely to the ground. There aren't a lot of first-responders certified to climb tall towers.
"You're your brother's keeper up there. So, if your fellow worker gets hurt, he can count on you to get you off the tower," Thorin said.
The goal is to instill an awareness of safety that becomes second-nature. 5G's arrival is expected sometime in 2020. Until then, these workers will still be climbing dizzying heights, confident that with the potential of 5G, there's nowhere to go but up.
Sioux Falls Tower expects business to double within five years because of the need for new 5G towers and antennas.
If you think you have what it takes to make the climb, click here