Network switch causes spotty coverage for some cellphone usersComplications in switching service networks are the cause for spotty cellphone coverage around and in parts of Jamestown. Some AT&T customers here have noticed a lack of service and limited reception after the merger between AT&T and Alltel. AT&T devices run on a different network than Verizon and customers are complaining because they were primarily roaming on the other carrier’s network, which AT&T devices do not work with, said Alex Carey, AT&T Corporate Communications for Minnesota and Northern Plains states, in an email.
By: Ben Rodgers, The Jamestown Sun
Complications in switching service networks are the cause for spotty cellphone coverage around and in parts of Jamestown.
Some AT&T customers here have noticed a lack of service and limited reception after the merger between AT&T and Alltel.
AT&T devices run on a different network than Verizon and customers are complaining because they were primarily roaming on the other carrier’s network, which AT&T devices do not work with, said Alex Carey, AT&T Corporate Communications for Minnesota and Northern Plains states, in an email.
Cellphone companies will make agreements with other cellphone companies to allow customers to roam on another provider’s tower. For example, when some Alltel customers were on roaming, they used Verizon’s tower for coverage, even though they were contracted through Alltel.
“Rather than deal with this roaming issue, which affects a very miniscule sample of customers in the short term, AT&T has invested in an extremely aggressive build plan to continue adding cell sites...,” Carey’s email said.
CDMA, or code division multiple access, transmits data between cellphones and cellphone towers using a radio frequency. Each phone is assigned a code and information is transmitted to the phone based on the code. This is what Alltel had and what Verizon operates on.
UMTS, or universal mobile telecommunications system, is like CDMA but is designed to be more efficient using the Internet on a mobile device. It also uses less of a radio frequency than CDMA. This is what AT&T switched to and now operates on.
To handle the new network, when customers switched from Alltel to AT&T they went though an equipment upgrade.
“It’s a mess, it is a mess,” said Dean Anderson, an AT&T, customer who has problems getting service at his cabin on the Jamestown Reservoir. The cabin is located only five miles north of Jamestown.
The new network works fine for Anderson’s Internet service —if he can find it.
“I got a BlackBerry and if you move enough times it’ll get through,” he said.
He said it’s a problem because he gave up his landline, which is something more and more North Dakotans are doing.
“I’d like to know if they’re going to correct the problem,” Anderson said. “If they don’t I’ll go to Verizon.”
Before when he had Alltel and 20 business lines with the company, he said he never had any problems.
“I think that if you would stand in front of the Verizon store you’d find other people with the same problem,” Anderson said.
Levi Serfoss, manager at Cellular Communications, a Verizon dealer in Jamestown, has seen it firsthand.
“It’s been a lot busier here,” Serfoss said of the store’s traffic after the merger.
People have concerns understanding the coverage area and the technology, he said.
During May, Serfoss said between 15 and 20 people a day switched providers. That has slowed to about five or six people a day currently.
“I think it’s a lot of frustration,” he said.
The North Dakota Public Service Commission has no jurisdiction over telecommunications companies. It does have contact and works with them, said Scott Sheldon, NDPSC public outreach specialist.
Sheldon also works with other customers like Anderson and finds the answers they request.
“We’ve probably received more than 50 calls over the past couple of months,” he said of people not happy with AT&T service. “It’s not staggering but I get one or two a day.”
He said complaints are about service in one area and nonexistent in another.
“The strangest one is when they say ‘A week ago I was with Alltel and I had service, now I’m with AT&T and I don’t have any service, and I haven’t moved, I’m in the same spot,’” Sheldon said. “That’s the one where I go this doesn’t make a lot of sense, there must be something wrong with the tower.”
The towers are the same ones Alltel was using and AT&T says only a small number of customers are experiencing problems, Carey said. He would not release the number of customers AT&T has in this area.
“Everything is one to one in terms of substitutes from Alltel. We have used exactly the same towers as Alltel,” Carey said. “... The technology was switched from CDMA to UMTS which is a faster, better type of network.”
Sun reporter Ben Rodgers can be reached at 701-952-8455 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org