October 31, 2006

Shoddy cell phone reception irks students

[img id="80091" align="alignleft"] Third-year Jonah Phillips leaves his suite in Max Palevsky Central on a recent evening for Hutchinson Commons to meet a friend—and to take a phone call.

“He probably wouldn’t be able to get through if he called me here,” said Phillips, a Verizon Wireless customer, whose dorm room is on the second floor.

Phillips is just one of many students who say that cell phone reception is weak—even non-existent—in some campus buildings, forcing cell phone users to huddle against a window or stand outside their dormitories just to make a phone call.

“It is frustrating because it’s something that I shouldn’t have to work around,” Phillips said. “Generally when people call me while I’m in my room, I have just enough time to say, ‘Let me go to the lobby and I’ll call you back,’ before the call drops. Usually the call won’t go through at all.”

First-year Garrett Brinker, a resident of Max Palevsky West, says he has also had trouble getting reception inside the building.

“I have to spend 10 minutes bundling up to go out into the frozen tundra just to talk on the phone,” Brinker said. “The phone call usually drops in the stairwell as I’m going upstairs, but I’ve had one or two calls drop on the first floor.”

Like Phillips, Brinker says that the poor reception in his dorm room has been a source of unnecessary inconvenience.

“It’s actually caused a couple of fights between me and my girlfriend,” Brinker said. “A fight breaks out over me ignoring her call or me not calling her back, when in fact I never got the phone call. I basically tell her the cell phone reception in my room sucks, which is usually followed by a not-so-kind ‘whatever’ or ‘OK, sure.’”

According to Brinker, who is also a Verizon Wireless subscriber, cell phone reception in his hometown of South Bend, Indiana, was excellent.

“I’ve never really had a problem with my cell phone until coming here,” Brinker said. “In places where there was notoriously bad service, like [the University of] Notre Dame, I always got great reception.”

According to Kelly Sinkler, a Chicago-based real estate and zoning manager for T-Mobile, wireless signals travel by line of sight, and larger buildings, hills, and even tall trees can sometimes limit signal strength.

Sinkler said that a new antenna facility for T-Mobile customers was turned on air just last week in Hyde Park. T-Mobile is the fourth-largest wireless provider in the country.

“The site is located on a rooftop close to campus and was designed to improve coverage at the University of Chicago,” Sinkler said.

She added that T-Mobile plans to test the coverage improvement over the next few months.

“We are constantly working to improve our network for our customers in the Chicagoland area,” Sinkler said.

Sprint Nextel, the nation’s third-largest wireless provider, has similar plans to improve cell phone reception in the University of Chicago area. According to Miles McMillin, a spokesman for Sprint Nextel, the city of Chicago is expected to receive network upgrades scheduled for completion in spring 2007, as part of a $7 billion campaign by Sprint Nextel to improve its nationwide wireless network.

“This will add to Sprint Nextel’s existing great coverage presence” in the Chicago area, McMillin said.

Verizon Wireless, the second-largest wireless provider in the country, could not be reached for comment.

Cingular Wireless, the largest wireless provider in the country, currently has no immediate plans to improve wireless coverage in the University of Chicago area.

“We are currently evaluating our network expansion plans for the University of Chicago campus. We are not in a position to announce a definite commitment at this time,” said Meg Frainey, a spokeswoman for Cingular Wireless.

“We understand how important wireless communication has become in our daily lives, especially among college students,” Frainey added.

Students say that adequate wireless coverage should be a priority on college campuses.

“It’s basically the way people communicate nowadays,” Brinker said. “I think a lot of people would be completely lost if they couldn’t have cell phone service.”