Paradise Valley evaluates cell phone reception strain; looks into solutions

Town of Paradise Valley officials listen to Robert Lopez, President of Ghost Networks explain the data collected to find the cell phone reception issues in town limits. (photo by Melissa Fittro)

Town of Paradise Valley officials listen to Robert Lopez, President of Ghost Networks explain the data collected to find the cell phone reception issues in town limits. (photo by Melissa Fittro)

In what may seem like a never-ending saga, the Town of Paradise Valley has taken another step toward understanding the depth of its cell phone coverage issues at a Sept. 22 study session.

During the meeting held at Town Hall, 6401 E. Lincoln Drive, President and CEO of Ghost Networks Robert Lopez thoroughly walked town officials through problems town residents face when it comes to poor cell phone reception.

Mr. Lopez presented town officials with a viable solution: installing three macro sites within town limits that can equally support all four major cell carriers: Verizon, AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile.

California-based Ghost Networks is a part of technology company, Wes-Tec, who works quietly behind the scenes developing infrastructure cell phone carriers use to provide wireless communication.

The town’s cell phone reception issues span several years. They sprout from the community’s topography and land-use patterns, which effect how 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 the town embedded within faux cacti.

Years later, the problems still persist. The Paradise Valley Police Department even has contracts with two cell phone carriers because they can’t rely on the service provided by only one.

Cell phone reception runs on four frequencies: 700, 850, 1,900 and 2,100 megahertz. The lower frequencies are the best, said Mr. Lopez, because low frequencies are broader and penetrate better.

The bars on LTE phones showing signal strength on a cell phone don’t necessary show what users think they’re getting.

“Why do I have five bars but I can’t make a call?” explained Mr. Lopez. “Or, why did it drop a call? It is telling you how strong the signal is, but doesn’t tell you how good it is. It could have a strong signal but is getting a lot of interference.”

The issues with cell reception getting bogged down by interference can be equated to water trying to go through a pipe that has items blocking the flow.

“Every other signal out there interfering with us shrinks our pipe,” said Mr. Lopez. “So instead of getting that 10 megabits, we only get two-and-a-quarter.”

A possible solution

In Mr. Lopez’s professional opinion, the problems are on-going because of the reluctance to put up large towers within town limits.

“I think the city was as much at fault as the people who built that network,” said Mr. Lopez. “There was not an option to build macro cells. My understanding is at the time they built that system they were told you are not going to put towers up.”

As a result, the 30-foot faux cacti were installed instead. Mr. Lopez says the system probably did improve coverage, but wasn’t the right solution.

“I don’t think it happened by someone saying this will work and then it didn’t,” he said. “It happened by someone saying I can improve your cell coverage and this is how.”

Going the opposite route of having a large amount of short towers, Mr. Lopez is proposing having three 60-foot cell towers that each host all four major carriers.

The three locations being proposed are near Camelback Country Club, at the intersection of Mockingbird and Mockingbird, and near Lincoln Drive and 56th Street. There are a variety of aesthetic options to choose from ranging about $300,000 to $1 million.

“Those three sites would dramatically improve the city,” said Mr. Lopez. “They will need additional sites down the road, but these three could make a huge difference.”

Mr. Lopez said three sites is the minimum about they can put up and get the results they want. He is suggesting the town uses collocated macro sites, which offer the fewest sites with the highest coverage, for the lowest costs.

In the next few years, the town may want to add three more towers supplemental towers, which can be built at a shorter height.

The next step is to take the proposed sites to the planning commission before any decisions will be made.

News Services Editor Melissa Fittro can be reached by e-mail at mfittro@newszap.com or follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MelissaFittro

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