Paradise Valley begins to understand scope of cell phone reception woes

The pins represent residents contacting the Town of Paradise Valley in regard to a call for resident input into local cell phone reception issues. (Submitted graphic)

The pins represent residents contacting the Town of Paradise Valley in response to a call for resident input on local cell phone reception issues. (Submitted graphic)

The cause of poor cell phone reception within the Town of Paradise Valley is coming into focus.

Because of the community’s topography and land-use patterns, traditional macro cell sites are limited within town limits. Sloping hillsides and mountains create challenges to the quality of cell phone coverage and how that service can be improved, town officials say.

In 2011 the town attempted to rectify the issues through new technology known as a distributed antenna system, which consists of a fiber-optic backbone that includes a series of six-foot antenna nodes installed throughout a community improving coverage, voice quality and Internet access of cell phones, according to Independent records.

As a solution, 42 antenna nodes had been installed throughout Paradise Valley embedded within faux cacti.

“It is not just in our imaginations there is truly some problem with cell phone coverage here,” said Paradise Valley Town Manager Kevin Burke in an April 19 phone interview. “The tough news, quite frankly, is that partially we are to blame ourselves in that when the time came for cell phone-type infrastructure we were rightly very sensitive to tall towers in the town.”

Mr. Burke says the antenna nodes purchased and installed in 2011 have not solved much of the cell phone reception issues experienced by local residents.

“Unfortunately, those alternatives didn’t completely do the job — that is still a good system but it doesn’t get the breadth and depth of coverage that was hoped for,” he explained. “It really takes a variety of infrastructure because the market is so data intensive. There is not a single solution.”

In meeting with local cell phone executives, Mr. Burke says the private sector is much more concerned with meeting data desires rather than meeting cell phone reception needs.

“No one is spending a lot of money to improve cell phone coverage,” he said. “To that extent the new infrastructure investment is focused in that area.”

Mr. Burke says the town is awaiting for potential solutions to be proposed by the private sector.

“We have a clear problem and we are reaching out to the carriers and asking for ideas and solution for plans of improvement,” he said. “In this case, we are asking them to look around and offer us suggestions of how to improve their system.”

Paradise Valley Mayor Michael Collins says issues in cell phone coverage within town limits can be detrimental in times of emergency.

Michael Collins

Michael Collins

“Beyond convenience, quality cell phone coverage is an important public safety and commerce need for residents and resort guests,” he said in an April 19 statement.

“We’ve heard many stories from residents forced to keep their landlines for 9-1-1 calls because they can’t rely on a cell signal at their home. Our police vehicles need two carriers to stay connected all across town. Many residents either work from home or must be reachable while at home in order to be successful.”

Concerns with cell phone coverage is not unique to the Town of Paradise Valley, Mayor Collins contends.

“Probably the most interesting thing that I have learned over the last several weeks working on this topic, is that Paradise Valley is not alone in its struggle,” he said.

“Many affluent communities grapple with the same issue because of the reluctance to allow the installation of the sometimes unsightly infrastructure needed to make the coverage better. Fortunately for Paradise Valley, this reluctance or resistance has prevented cell towers from popping up on our mountain tops.”

Mayor Collins says solutions are out there, but cell towers may be the only true cure to cell phone coverage.

“The good news for Paradise Valley is that cell towers on mountain tops are no longer the preferred infrastructure,” he explained. “These days, with the expanding need for data transmission over cellular service, the antennas need to be in the lower areas, with heights of only 30 to 40 feet and 360 degree projection.”

The crux for a Paradise Valley solution is finding the right locations for smaller antennas, Mayor Collins speculates.

“Many communities are installing these sites on existing buildings, and atop telephone and light poles,” he pointed out. “The question for Paradise Valley is whether we can find three or four of those sites, where their location would benefit the majority of carriers, and where their installation would be acceptable to the community and not degrade our skyline.”

North Valley News Editor Terrance Thornton can be contacted at 623-445-2774 or at tthornton@newszap.com

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