Monday, March 11, 2013
Flower Mound installs stealthy new wireless receptors, confirms better coverage
But so far, AT&T is the only available provider.
FLOWER MOUND Many residents may have noticed better wireless reception in the southern end of Flower Mound.
What they likely didn't notice is what has caused it. And that's the point.
Flower Mound is about a month into a new system that aims to provide better coverage while being discrete about it at the same time.
In the summer of 2011, the Flower Mound Town Council approved a franchise agreement with American Tower, an independent owner and operator of wireless and broadcast communication sites. Part of American Tower's product line is distributed antenna systems (DAS) to support in-building and outdoor wireless coverage.
Flower Mound's system went up in January, making the town the first municipality in North Texas to use DAS.
For many residents, it's about time.
"You can talk to virtually anyone who drives down FM 2499, and they complain about the dead area once they get near the Home Depot," said resident Todd Schreiber. "All I've heard over the years is complaints about coverage. No matter who the provider is, there are a lot of dead areas in town."
The DAS system uses nodes, which are composed of antennas and two control boxes. The antennas come in three varieties. Omni antennas are 8 feet high and 2 inches wide. A panel antenna is 4 feet high and 1 foot wide. A thimble antenna is 2 feet high and 16 inches wide. They are placed on the top of poles throughout a city.
The two 4-foot-by-2-foot control boxes are installed 12 feet up the pole.
In Flower Mound's case, there are 33 nodes across town, and all of them are located south of FM 1171 and west of FM 2499. They are placed mostly on top of wooden electric poles, though one is on top of a light pole, one is on top of a street light pole and one is on top of an emergency siren.
The nodes are linked by a fiber optic cable and connects to the carrier's overall cell system, ending at a hub site. Flower Mound's hub site is located at Grace Community Assembly of God.
The result is improved reception in areas that typically experience bad service, such as the southern end of town near Grapevine Lake.
“DAS provides a better quality wireless user experience by evenly distributing the radio signal to several low power nodes in the coverage area,” said Daniel Wojciechowski, vice president of technology for American Tower. “The DAS allows for multiple wireless operators to use the same system, which also creates a better quality of service that is consistent among the service providers using the system and consistent for the residents. The end result is better call quality and higher and faster data rates for smart phones and tablets.”
Doug Powell, Flower Mound's executive director of development services, said another appeal is that the DAS system is much less noticeable.
"Unless you start to look for them, you really can't see them," Powell said. “It’s a different way to get coverage. It sure beats putting up another cell tower.”
Powell said visibility was a key factor in DAS when the system began in other cities, such as Barrington Hills, Ill.
"Barrington Hills is in the valley, and there are no tall buildings," Powell said. "So there was no place to hide the antennas. The city put together a task force because they were getting poor wireless service. At one point, the city was going to put up two towers, but the residents said no."
Powell said other cities that were the first to use this system, such as Martha's Vineyard, Mass. and Medina, Wash., also got resistance from residents when cell towers were proposed.
Powell said residents in Flower Mound can relate.
Flower Mound has several cell towers in the east side of town, which can reach up to about 150 feet. Powell said the town hasn't approved a cell tower in about 10 years because of resident opposition.
"With the topography in the western part of town, because of the hills, we would have to have a lot of towers," Powell said.
Other benefits to DAS include compensation. With the right-of-way agreement, the town receives 5 percent of gross revenue annually by American Tower for using the town's property.
Also, DAS provides an expandable telecommunications infrastructure for future use. In addition to its existing fiber optics cables, Powell said the town receives six more of them in the west side of town, including a segment that stretches to Twin Coves Park for when it becomes operational.
“The system installed in Flower Mound is also 4G LTE capable so the latest technology is available,” Wojciechowski said. “DAS systems are easily upgraded to the latest technologies, so customers benefit from new technologies earlier in the life cycle of the technology.”
Schreiber said the key to the success, however, is more providers. Currently, AT&T is the only provider using Flower Mound's system.
"The antennas are there, but if the service providers don't subscribe, it won't make much difference," Schreiber said, adding that residents should call their carriers to urge them to take part.
For information on DAS, go to americantower.com.
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