Our Town: Stealth Antennae
Fake pine trees aren't just for Christmas. An 80-foot pine recently sprouted in Kalihi Valley, the island's first specimen of communication "stealth" technology. It's not just wind whistling through those nylon needles, but wireless signals for local cell phone and computer users.
"Really cool," is how Bill Woods describes the antenna-disguised-as-a-tree. As chairman of Kalihi's neighborhood board, Woods is on a mission to de-pole and de-wire the valley.
"There is a reason we call Kalihi the pole capital of the Pacific," he says. "If you stand at the corner of School and Likelike, you can count at least 200 poles. It is unbelievable."
When T-Mobile proposed a new transmission/reception pole in the valley, the board's response was: Uh-uh, not in our back yard.
T-Mobile came back with the idea of stealthily slipping in the hardware in plain sight-as a fake tree.
Made of steel and clad in an epoxy bark, with nylon needles, the tree took root at Kalihi Elementary. It looks just like an artificial Christmas tree that you'd buy at the store, says T-Mobile's engineering chief Roy Irei. It blends in with the environment, apparently even fooling the birds, who are welcome to settle in, says Irei with a laugh.
With the extra cost, wireless companies aren't exactly racing to put up the fake trees-this one cost T-Mobile $50,000 more than a regular pole. But on the Mainland, stealth technology is becoming an attractive alternative to a landscape bristling with techie antennae.
The disguise technology doesn't stop at pine trees. Image-conscious neighborhoods can go with palms, or giant saguaro cacti, water towers, bell towers or functional clock towers, complete with ringing bells.
As far as Kalihi residents are concerned, their pine tree beats yet another industrial pole. But perhaps the best testament to its success is that most people don't even know it's there.