Cell-Tower Climber Makes 5G Infrastructure Ready for Prime Time

The job interview that got Kelsey Olson’s foot in the door to the cellular-tower industry began with a straightforward question.

“Are you afraid of heights?”

Fear of high places is pretty much a deal breaker for the workers who scale cellular towers, broadcast masts and rooftops to build the next generation of wireless infrastructure. Ms. Olson, a civil engineer by training and amateur rock climber at the time, had a ready answer: She loved heights.

Thirteen years later, Ms. Olson, 36, is a Denver-based division manager for Tower Engineering Professionals Inc., a North Carolina company that helps telecom companies upgrade the country’s wireless network to support 5G standards. She manages roughly a dozen engineers who design network infrastructure across the country. She also works outdoors with teams that inspect and retrofit structures to hold new equipment.

Telecom companies have spent the past few years placing thousands of new small-cell transmitters on streetlamps and telephone poles, leading to a popular misconception that 5G signals only use those short-range structures. But the next-generation wireless service will rely just as much on traditional cell towers, the kind that rise 30 feet or more above highways and hilltops.

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