Manhole Covers Hide Antennas

5G is gearing up to be the most extensive implementation of mesh networking ever, and that could mean antennas will not need to broadcast for miles, just far enough to reach some devices. That unsightly cell infrastructure stuck on water towers and church steeples could soon be hidden under low-profile hunks of metal we are already used to seeing; manhole covers. This makes sense because 5G’s millimeter radio waves are more or less line-of-sight, and cell users probably wouldn’t want to lose connectivity every time they walk behind a building.

At the moment, Vodafone in the UK is testing similar 4G antennas and reaching 195 megabits/sec download speeds. Each antenna covers a 200-meter radius and uses a fiber network because, courtesy of existing underground infrastructure. There is some signal loss from transmitting and receiving beneath a slab of metal, but that will be taken into account when designing the network. The inevitable shift to 5G will then be a relatively straightforward matter of lifting the old antennas out and laying the new hardware inside, requiring only a worker and a van instead of a construction crew.

We want to help you find all the hidden cell phone antennas and pick your own cell module.

Via IEEE Spectrum.

63 thoughts on “Manhole Covers Hide Antennas

  1. Line of sight is what matters… so you put them on the ground? Not the most optimal location but if you can’t put it on a utility pole I guess it works. Probably more of a getting around regulation for pole sharing and building roof rental than a technical desire.

    1. Depending where one is, there may not BE utility poles, even in the US. This has a lot of convenience factor, as well, as the fibre is likely already there, and power is probably there for other equipment, so no significant need to run new lines. No need to attach to a building. Basically, plug it in, drop it in the hole, and put a cover on. The availability of fibreglass utility vault/manhole covers for many applications will likely be taken advantage of where practical, as well.

      1. Well in the UK generally there isn’t anything running through sewerage / storm drains other than water/waste. The idea of sharing the pipes with the utilities is a nice one that doesn’t often come to fruitation. Hense why Musk seems to think he might be able to work his business model around providing exactly that.

        I’m sure lots of people will point me to various sources of news on how all the utilities are going to work together and use the same piping, but in reality it’s not yet happened.

    1. Its not about accessibility.

      story time: Company I briefly worked for did radio broadband, basically we’d come out to your house and point the antenna at the nearest broadcasting tower and you got relatively high speed internet. The range was a few miles but line of sight was almost always a problem, if there was too many obstructions the signal would be relatively weak and likely to fail very often so the solution to this is more broadcast towers right?

      As we installed more broadcast towers,up on top of buildings and towers we started to get complaints about radiowave radiation. Not like a few mind you, we went from usually dealing with 10-15 radio reception complaints a month to maybe having a few hundred complaints about the broadcast towers. We had complaints from people who used the same broadcast towers to get their internet and local politicians that didn’t give a shit that it was harmless only that his constituents were complaining. The solution was relatively simple, you hide the towers.

      So we had a Californian based company come over and fabricate less obvious towers, we even ended up buying transmitters that could be hidden in lamp posts. The volume of complaints went down. The handful of people that claimed the towers were making them sick stopped complaining and even said they got heather all while this was at the end of their street.

      (image sourced from

      1. Sometimes it is a psychological problem rather than an engineering or public health issue.

        It is great that you guys were able to identified the problem and address it.

        It is usually good for business to have satisfied customers.

        1. It is probably only a remote radio head. Depending on which one it can be used as an SDR (look up vita49). The performance is very good, but they generally cover only a very small piece of licensed spectrum so not much hobbyist usage is possible.

          Some small cell radios are a full base station that you can connect to a core network and it should work as, well, a base station…

  2. Something similar is happening in Australia but they are using pole mounted small antennas. They only need council approval without public consultation and don’t have to comply with federal emissions regulations.

    Some residents are protesting about these antennas radiating power directly at their house 24/7.

    It seems lie the UK solution is to hide them completely to avoid people making informed decisions.

    1. People make UNINFORMED decisions from groundless fear in this regard when they see the antennas. So it is a good thing to hide the antennas from sight, although this reduces their efficiency. It spares the people unnecessary headaches when they do not see them. Think of the cases of people complaining about headaches and even digestion problems after the erection of a new cell tower. The answer of the technicians:” That’s not good, how bad will this get, when we even install the transmitters in the tower.” :-) So just by fear and nocebo effect people feel sick only because they SEE antennas which are not even operational.

        1. Maybe.

          But around here, I find it “interesting” that cell towers cannot be places at less than X meters of schools, but nobody forbids the children at those schools to spend every free minute glued to their cell phones.

          1. Yes, and I have to cite one of my teachers from university (HF and communications engineering) about people which are afraid of the base stations: “If you compare the amount of power, you get from your phone to a postage parcel, the power you get from the cell tower is comparable to the stamp on it” (due to the 1/r² law).

          2. Don’t forget that the phones will throttle their transmitters to use the minimum power required to reach the cell site. Having a nearby cell site usually reduces the net radiation a cell phone user is exposed to. He may be exposed to more radiation from the tower, but he’s exposed to less from the transmitter he’s holding next to his head.

    2. There are logical fallacies including tunnel vision and post hoc, ergo pocter hoc (after, therefore because of). “I felt anxious about the antenna, I feel sick, therefore I am sick because of the antenna”. Ignoring the six beers and hot wings they had yesterday, the flu going around the office, their staying up late (sleep deprivation impacts health), living on Mountain Dew and chips, etc.
      I would trust an epidemiologist far more than the average person.

  3. I don’t see that… A block of 1cm of metal over the antenna, and surrounded by concrete… and in 800-2100MHz range of frequencies… I don’t see how that can work.

    1. Another method to get more cost effective hack able surveillance gear out in the market with more environmental camouflage diversionary tactics capabilities.

      Even if the source signals are from other gear that uses heterodyne or pulse train sources from higher, or other, magnetic, electronic, nuclear, rotational and/or vibrational systems most don’t, or can’t, cost effectively detect.

      The 5G approved frequency range disturbs me because if those signals get phased synchronized from combined sources, if not directly collimated, to pinpoint or even small focal points… that can result in really Active Denial System dangerous.

      U.S. Army Intelligence and Security Command FOIA Request proving knowledge of bio-effects of “selected” nonlethal weapons (note the verbiage notes the same weapons can be lethal if you read carefully)

      Then there is the ES/TS/ELINT capabilities for other EW operations to further paramilitarize civil jurisdiction:

      Then the Soviet electronic heroin to cause amnesic effects potential so we all feel good with dying:

      1. Marvin C. Ziskin, your “Soviet electronic heroin”, is a professor at Temple University in Philadelphia looking into medical benefits to treating tissue with millimeter waves of electromagnetic radiation.
        The energy radiated by 5G is no where near Active Denial systems (e.g., device can be used for targets over 250 metres (820 ft) away,and the beam has a power of 30 kilowatts.) Last I recall, base stations were limited to 1 to 5 watts of power, orders of magnitude less than an Active Denial system. The range of 5G is shorter than 4G so companies will need more base stations to maintain connectivity – another reason to use manhole covers that are likely separated by known distances.

    2. I don’t think they are putting metal over the antenna. It looks like plastic or fiberglass that are transparent. Not sure how well this will work with a metal car 6 to 8 inches above the manhole but given higher frequencies they may be able to radiate through those 6-8 inches and are just temporarily blocked by a car.

  4. You say they nick the covers in the UK, something I had not even heard of – meanwhile check the news for the many cases of stolen RAIL tracks in Bulgaria, I think it’s worse there, ha-ha

  5. That manhole cover in the photo looks nothing like what I’d identify as a manhole cover. It looks like the entry to a vault, placed in grass rather than in the middle of a road.

    I’m sure utilities are different everywhere, but how applicable will this trick be, in places where manholes have to stand up to truck traffic?

    1. Exactly! 5G is a technology looking for a market. It seems to me that 5G’s only potential market is the most densely occupied areas of Manhattan, Chicago and London where users are outdoors and primarily stationary. 5G is, in my opinion just a marketing ploy. AT&T has the best solution – just sticking 5G stickers on phones to lure the naive.

  6. Let’s just hope they don’t hire a greenhorn mechanical engineer for the load analysis. The current ones are so over designed it is not funny – throw some FEA into the mix and we can ‘fix’ that…..

  7. If there’s copper inside, those things will practically fly out of the ground as the junkies start stealing them. If they’re willing to cut railroad track, street signs and air conditioners up/off and cart them away, these are just one more chance to get another 5$ from a disreputable scrap dealer.

    1. The only way you’re going to stop junkies from stealing stuff is through de-prohibition and treating it as a legitimate medical condition I’m afraid. There’s always gonna be something to steal for people fueling an insanely addictive $500-a-day habit.

      1. I’m sure there’s other expensive habits one can substitute. It’s not like people who think it’s OK to steal are suddenly going to be church boys if they can get cheap fixes.

      1. Where I live we must have constant surveillance in the cemeteries/graveyards because the metal scrapping junkies regularly steal the bronze/brass letters off the grave stones. They also stole the holy water-basin in our church.
        Sadly thats no joke.
        Manhole covers filled with electronics and precious metals would be gone in less than a week.

Leave a Reply

Please be kind and respectful to help make the comments section excellent. (Comment Policy)

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.