April 17, 2009

AT&T Builds Two Cell Phone Facilities on Campus

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“Sick! Thank God!” Deanna Surma ’12 exclaimed.
Had Surma just learned that Slope Day was sooner than she thought? No, she was actually reacting to the announcement that AT&T will build two new cell phone facilities on campus. After two-and-a-half to three years of contract negotiations, the facilities, which will be on Bradfield and Donlon Hall, will be completed by late summer.
These have been greeted with enthusiasm by students with AT&T who despair at the lack of good reception on North Campus.
“It’s awesome to hear,” said Philip Alley ’12. “North Campus is plagued with AT&T holes [of service] near Ujamaa and Balch as well as some areas in Donlon. Countless times I’ve been walking through North and my call has been dropped.”
Alley and other iPhone owners are especially ecstatic, since they report that the iPhone has poorer service than other AT&T phones. Surma said his iPhone often fails to receive calls while he is on campus.
Because of this setback, many students currently opt for Verizon’s BlackBerry over the iPhone. But the prospect of improved AT&T service makes many more likely to buy iPhones.
“It opens up the opportunity to get an iPhone,” Tim Lin ’12 said. “I would never have the use for a BlackBerry, [but] I want the iPhone because it’s so damn cool.”
However, Lin, a Verizon customer, added that he will probably stick with Verizon because it has “the best service in and around New York City.”
Although Verizon has had the only cell phone service provider contract with the University since 2000, “the growth of cell phone use by faculty and students” created a need for improved service from all carriers, Tom Ball voice engineering manager at Cornell Information Technologies said.
The offer to build new facilities was also extended to Sprint and T-Mobile, but they turned it down, according to Ball.
“Sprint and T-Mobile are facing financial difficulties,” he said. “They don’t have the money to invest in this type of gear.”[img_assist|nid=36981|title=No signal|desc=New Verizon antennae such as the one on the left will sit on top of Donlon Hall on North Campus.|link=node|align=right|width=|height=0]
After AT&T accepted the contract in 2005 to install these facilities, there has been a convoluted approval process that involves several departments in the University and outside, “from New York real estate to the building stakeholders, Campus Life, and University Planning and Architecture Office,” Ball explained. Some license agreements are still being negotiated, he said.
Locations for the facilities were chosen based on the carrier’s equipment needs as well as efficiency, according to Ball.
“We tried to look for buildings that currently had some type of communications system on their rooftop,” Ball said.
He emphasized that while there may be additional cell facilities added to campus.
“It’s important to know that we’re not moving away from Verizon,” he said.
AT&T is optimistic about the new plan, which not only gives them the potential to add new subscribers but also provides them with a way to undo their competitor Verizon’s advantage at Cornell.
“The coverage will improve coverage on campus and in the natural area,” said Kate McKinnon, Corporate Communications director for New England and upstate New York.
Verizon countered that their network still provides them with an advantage over other providers.
“We invest more in our network than any other wireless provider,” John O’Malley, Verizon Public Relations manager for the region that includes Cornell stated in e-mail. “This year in Upstate New York we’ll invest nearly $125 million in our network.”
He added, “We don’t really concern ourselves with what our competitors are doing … We currently have three sites that serve the Cornell campus, two of them on campus (Barton Hall and Mary Donlon Hall) … We’re constantly adding capacity to our Cornell-area sites to maintain those service levels and keep up with increasing demand.”
Because of the two-way nature of communication, improved service benefits everyone regardless of his or her provider. Lin pointed out, “It will be good for the entire Cornell community to have almost universal cell phone reception.”