Cell towers may be coming to a store, home or office near you

Faced with providing service for ever more data-hungry cellphones, telecommunications carriers are in a nonstop race costing billions of dollars to boost the capacities of their networks.

To handle the heavy volume of video, music and Web pages that smartphone users are downloading, office buildings, strip malls, condominiums, schools, churches and just about every other type of structure — including water towers and freeway overpasses — are being pressed into service as cell signal relay stations, or cell towers.

The number of cell stations is growing rapidly but stealthily. Few new cell sites are the imposing triangle-topped metal poles that are widely regarded as eyesores.

"People think cell sites look like oil derricks," said Andy Shibley, AT&T Inc.'s general manager for the Greater Los Angeles region. "Some still exist, but by and large that is not the case anymore."

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Cellphone use while driving can kill, NTSB says, urging full ban

-- Roger Vincent, Los Angeles Times

Photo: Inside the Irvine Spectrum obelisk sits a cell tower. Such freeway-close locations are in high demand among carriers because people stuck in traffic are wont to do business — or kill time — on their phones. Credit: Christina House, For The Times / November 16, 2011

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