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Cell phone reception to improve

By Dave Jones on November 9, 2006 in University

"Can you hear me now?" Can you "raise the bar?" Can you please give me better cell phone transmission and reception at UC Davis?

Wireless companies and the university are working on it, drafting agreements for about a half-dozen cellular antenna sites on the main campus.

Sprint Nextel, T-Mobile and Verizon plan to install antennae at a total of five sites by next summer. Cingular had expressed interest in a site, but negotiations with that company have stalled, a university representative said last week.

Today there are no cell antennae on the main campus. The only cell site on the university's Davis property is on the west campus, across Highway 113. That explains the dead spots around the main campus, and frustration among students, staff and faculty trying to talk via cell phones.

"None of them (wireless companies) has perfect coverage on campus," said Zack O'Donnell, client services manager for the university's Communications Resources unit. "And some people have to go outside for good cell phone transmission. It all depends on where you are."

University officials hope to see the antennae up and working by the end of June, said Mary Hawakaya, director of real estate services for the Office of Resource Management and Planning. She said the cell phone companies will pay UC Davis more than $1 million in the next 10 years to lease university property for the cell sites — money that will go to the university's central account for discretionary use as determined by the chancellor and vice provost. With the new antennae, O'Donnell said, the campus community can expect "dramatic improvement" in signal strength.

Will everyone be able to use their cell phones inside buildings? Again, it will depend on your location. One of the antenna sites is a light pole at the north entry garage, so if you are in Hunt Hall across the way, "you'll probably have great reception," O'Donnell said."

The other antenna sites, as of last week: a light pole at Hutchison Field, and rooftops at Hutchison Hall, Kerr Hall, Kemper Hall and Chemistry Annex.

"We're doing out very best to hide them," Hayakawa said. She said each installation must go to the university's Exterior Projects Committee for approval.

O'Donnell said "outdoor signals will improve for a large chunk of campus."

He said the project also will help with wireless capacity — which could mean no more busy signals at, say, 5 p.m., when a lot of people are using their cell phones.

The wireless improvement project began two years ago when Vice Chancellor John Meyer of the Office of Resource Management and Planning, and John Bruno, then-vice chancellor of Information and Educational Technology, appointed a working group to establish a policy for bringing cell phone antennae to campus.

"The objective of the project is to improve cell coverage for the benefit of all members of the campus community," Meyer said. "Companies that install cell facilities will pay a fair market rent for using our property. That revenue, in turn, will be used to support campus priorities."

Hayakawa said the university has settled on a lease fee of $2,000 per month per site. With five sites — T-Mobile wants three, and Sprint Nextel and Verizon want one each — the revenue works out to $1.2 million for the 10-year life of the agreements, not counting rent increases that have yet to be determined.

To figure out where to put new antennae, Cingular, Sprint Nextel, T-Mobile and Verizon engineers came to campus with radio frequency detectors to hunt for dead spots, O'Donnell said.

The antennae are only one half of the project. They receive signals from your phones, and the companies must then take those signals and retransmit them to the companies' networks. This is normally done via microwave dishes, but, because of aesthetic concerns, UC Davis is not allowing the dishes.

Instead, the wireless companies would send signals off campus via T-1 data lines — and the companies would pay to install those lines, plus fees to use the lines.

The companies also would pay for electricity needed to run each site. For backup power, some of the companies want generators, but the university at this point is insisting on batteries.

See adjacent sidebar for more information on employee discounts and how to get better cell reception on campus.

Media contact(s)

Dave Jones, Dateline, 530-752-6556,