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.