Experts: AM cell phone problem has solution

New technology may be able to solve problems Anna Maria residents have with their cell phones.

Dropped calls, lack of a signals and roaming charges are a few of the hurdles an Anna Maria cell-phone user faces daily. Many cell phones in the city can’t receive a signal when indoors or near the north end.

Wireless services communications industry expert Ted Kreines said a new device, femtocell, is about the size of a shoebox and enhances a provider’s wireless signal through a broadband Internet connection.

Kreines, who wrote Anna Maria’s master wireless services plan in 2003, said the standard femtocell signal can reach a cell phone 30 feet away.

“It’s designed primarily for rural areas where cell phone service is weak and there are few towers,” said Chuck Hamby, Verizon’s media representative for the Tampa Bay area.

Hamby said the femtocell is plugged into a high-speed Internet cable connection and should not be considered a replacement for a cell tower.

“It’s only going to help around the house within 30 feet of the box. You’ll still have the same cell-phone issues when you get outside,” he said.

Hamby said there are other options similar to a femtocell — at corresponding or higher prices.

Those include a picocell, which has a range of about 60 meters (200 feet) and a microcell, which, Hamby said, is recommended for businesses with multiple cell phones and can re-send a cell phone signal up to about 2 kilometers (1.25 miles).

The two devices also are larger than a shoebox, Hamby said, similar to a box for a laptop computer.

Samsung introduced the femtocell in 2007, and major cellular carriers sell a version of the product. A Verizon femtocell costs about $199 or less, and there is no lease, usage plan or monthly access fees, he said.

“The customer has 14 days to approve the service. Otherwise, bring it back and we’ll refund their money,” Hamby said.

Another problem arises, however, when a customer decides to change wireless providers.

“You’d then need a new femtocell,” Hamby said.

For Anna Maria, at the end of an island with the only cell tower out of range, Hamby thinks the femtocell is the ideal solution for indoor cell-phone usage. But it’s not going to pick up the signal if the cell phone goes outside the maximum distance, usually about 10 meters, he said.

“It’s a good solution for the home, but it’s not the ultimate answer. You need a cell tower. You have to consider the many visitors to the city who bring cell phones,” he noted.

Hamby said Verizon also has picocell and microcell systems for sale that cost a bit more than $199, but expand the coverage area from several feet to a little more than a mile. These systems can handle more than one phone at the same time, and are used in offices and in public facilities, such as an airport terminal.

“If it’s just one person, a femtocell might be the answer. If a city is thinking of an overall solution, it needs professional advice and a cell tower,” Hamby concluded.

At the city commission’s Jan. 13 meeting, Commissioner Gene Aubry lamented of his cell phone problems. He suggested the mayor contact Verizon to see why the company hasn’t brought a cell tower to the city nearly eight years after the wireless services ordinance and master communications plan were adopted.

Kreines said wireless services communications facilities —cell towers — are not built or owned by providers such as Verizon and Sprint. Wireless services towers are constructed by companies such as NextG, and space on the tower is leased to a provider to send and receive a wireless signal to its customers, he said.

With advances in cell tower technology, many towers can appear as part of the scenery, or be built to look like a flagpole, Kreines added.

Selby said he would present the results of his inquiries at the commission’s Jan. 27 meeting.

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3 thoughts on “Experts: AM cell phone problem has solution

  1. Cathy Cartier

    I am in agreement over the issue of poor cell phone coverage. I watch my neighbors with “Verizon” have to go outside and walk down the road to get service.. I have T Mobile and have service. Many times I walk with friends and neighbors on the beach and get no coverage.. What DO WE DO IF AN EMERGENCY ARRISES! No service, no one else on the beach can = TRAGEDY! What is more important the esthetics of a cell phone tower or communication!!

  2. Ted Rowe

    I visit the island for a month each spring, staying near the north end near Bean Point. My experience with cell coverage is that it’s extremely spotty and unreliable if available at all. I’m not about to experiment with different carriers, plans and contracts to try to get usable coverage for the month I spend at the north end Likewise, I’m not about to spend $200 on a box so I can use my cell phone in the confines of my house.
    As to depressed property values, property values are depressed everywhere, not just on the island or in Florida. I don’t think building a cell tower somewhere in Anna Maria is going to effect the property values. In fact, it may enhance property values by giving residents and visitors a valued service for normal as well as emergency use. A cell tower, if constructed with thought to aesthetics will “disappear” in time. How many of us notice the cell tower in Holmes Beach when we drive by? For most of us it is a feature we no longer consider yet are happy for the convenience and coverage it affords. Some consideration should also be given to distributed pole-top cellular repeaters.
    It’s time to move forward and give Anna Maria residents and visitors the cell service they need and put any self-serving arguments aside.

  3. Ken Kavanaugh Jr.

    Wow!!!!! Look-out. My wife and I own a home at Beanpoint and although we plan to live on the island within the next two years, we reside and work in Roswell,Ga(North Atlanta suburb).

    Our neighborhood has opposed and the Roswell City Council has agreed and denied the permits for two proposed T-Mobile 150 ft. cell towers on our street(forget about disguising them). Despite numerous denials by various City Councils in the suburbs of north Atlanta, the District Court is now reviewing the pros and cons. This has occurred over the past two years.
    Many deleterious effects are tied to the Cell Towers. I’ve got the book on it, so to speak. My wife and I have Verizon and get 4 bars at Beanpoint. Stop a Cell Tower from depressing already depressed values. Thanks for reading this. I like Gene but there are methods other than cell towers to improve AM cell service.(for starters try Verizon, they have the best technology. T-Mobile,Sprint,ATT have shorter frequencies which are inferior). Regards,
    Ken Kavanaugh Jr.


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