Cell phone reception issues can be solved in Paradise Valley

As all of us already know, cell phone service coverage and quality in the town is very poor and negatively impacting our quality of life. That is why earlier this year the town manager and I began gathering information to identify the scope and scale of the problem as well as the reasons for the poor coverage.

Michael Collins

Michael Collins

This started with mapping locations of residents who emailed either me or the town’s quality of life website with reports of poor service quality in their area of town. We then met separately with Verizon and AT&T regional executives, local industry consultants who live in the town, and a third-party tower provider that offered both technical information and a willingness to gather specific data regarding coverage and analyze it at no cost to the town. That firm was Ghost Networks.

At yesterday’s town council study session, Ghost Networks presented the results of their investigation to the council, which included coverage strengths throughout town by carrier and by frequency.

By way of background, there are four carriers — AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon — who broadcast essentially on four bandwidths (700, 850, 1900 and 2100 MHz). Cellular antennas come in four different varieties today — macro, micro, distributed antenna systems (DAS) and Wi-Fi). The industry is moving to a layered environment where a phone call is handed off among any and all of these antennas as a person travels through an area.

The town has very few macro sites with the majority located along our borders in neighboring municipalities. Several years ago the town licensed a DAS network with faux cacti antennas located near several street intersections across town. DAS is primarily useful in high density areas, where phone users are not inside buildings, and are within approximately 100 meters of the antenna.

AT&T was the prime driver of our DAS network installation because of their urgent need to penetrate the Paradise Valley market and catch up with their competition. As a result, the DAS system is useful for cell coverage in automobiles travelling through parts of the town, but far less so for residents in our low density neighborhoods, and thus only part of the solution.

Currently, the industry is focused on providing customers with better data transmission. Streaming videos and cloud-based computing are creating a rapidly growing need for more bandwidth to support individual data transmission needs. Current industry investment is focused on improving data-driven transmissions rather than voice services.

Data technologies tend to run on 4G networks at 1900 and 2100 MHz while most phones are sold programmed to work with 3G antennas and at 700 and 800 MHz. Most new phones have the capability to switch to 4G but it takes an action by the phone owner in conjunction with their carrier. Many new phones are offering the ability to call using in-home Wi-Fi. This again takes knowledge and action on the part of users.

As a result, industry trends have somewhat passed by Paradise Valley’s need for basic cell phone voice service coverage on 3G at lower frequencies.

It is now clear that the solution is to improve our layered infrastructure. We can do this by 1) getting industry to co-locate and invest in needed macro infrastructure, and 2) creating a more conducive regulatory environment that will allow for the sensible improvement of our technological infrastructure without impacting residential neighborhoods.

Ghost Network’s comprehensive data collection and analysis efforts suggested that the addition of three strategically located macro sites would significantly improve cell phone service coverage and quality across our entire town. These three areas are generally located near the Camelback Golf Club, the Franciscan Renewal Center, and a third area near the Cherokee School.

While specific locations and antenna designs were not discussed, it was an important first step in solving the problem.

The next step is for the Planning Commission to review proposed changes to our cell tower regulations and provide potential solutions to location options, and public safety and aesthetic considerations.

At the same time, the town manager and I will continue to work with our four cellular carriers to encourage their investment and co-location in these three general areas. Together, and with considerable public involvement and outreach, we can hopefully have working solutions to present back to the town council later this year.

Please join us throughout this upcoming public discussion either by attending meetings in person, streaming them live on-line, or by watching recorded meetings at your convenience by visiting the town’s website at www.paradisevalleyaz.gov.

Now we know what we need to do. The next and hardest step is to find community-accepted solutions to this quality of life issue. I remain encouraged and optimistic that these solutions are on the horizon.

Editor’s note: Mr. Collins is the mayor of Paradise Valley

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