Lewis Millholland, news reporter | Posted: Thursday, November 6, 2014 6:53 pm
For those sick and tired of spotty cellular reception in their dorm rooms, a solution is on its way — if your network provider is Verizon Wireless, that is.
Over the next two months, a Distributed Antenna System is being implemented in six residence halls identified for their particularly poor cell service. The first wave of construction will focus on New Hall West, Ambler Johnston and Pritchard. The second phase will consist of Miles, Cochrane and Harper. “The six buildings we picked were not an accident,” said Richard Hach, director of Tech’s Client Services, Special Projects and Initiatives for Network Infrastructure and Services. “The six buildings we picked were not an accident,” said Richard Hach, director of Tech’s Client Services, Special Projects and Initiatives for Network Infrastructure and Services. Hokie Stone, a hallmark of the university’s architecture, is also notorious for obstructing cell signal. It became clear that a solution would need to be integrated within the structure of the residence halls to be effective.
“There’s a point at which you just can’t solve that problem outside, which is why we did the indoor Distributed Antenna System,” Hach said. Construction started Tuesday in Pritchard and New Hall West. Completion of the project for all six designated residence halls is anticipated by December, at which point they will be turned over to Verizon for a systems performance test. The antenna systems will launch by the spring semester. “The schedule is kind of aggressive,” Hach said. “We’re trying to take something that’s about a 90- day project and do that essentially in about 60 days.” Verizon is footing the bill for these developments, and only Verizon customers will experience the improved cellular reception. However, the plans are open to incorporating other carriers.
“This is what they refer to as a ‘neutral host’ system,” Hach said. “The system that we’ve built here is for multiple carriers. We did not build an antenna system for Verizon Wireless.” While Hach could not comment on the status of negotiations with other carriers, he said, “all of the carriers have expressed interest.” The groundwork laid by Verizon opens the door for future companies to join in. The system currently being put in place includes technology specifically required for AT&T’s network, smoothing their future introduction into the system.
“There’s a point at which you just can’t solve that problem outside, which is why we did the indoor Distributed Antenna System,” Hach said. “I’m fine with (the construction), as long as the construction doesn’t make a lot of noise,” said sophomore business information technology major Arelly Roman. Construction is scheduled to occur between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday each week until completion. The construction team has been instructed to keep the noise to a minimum, especially during exams. “The project manager is aware of the noise issues and the fact that we really are in your home,” Hach said. The appearance of the antennas will vary between residence halls. Those more recently renovated, such as Ambler Johnston, are furnished with drop ceilings that can hide the antenna surface mounts. In older buildings, the mounts will drop four to five inches into the hallway. The mounts will be placed every 40 feet along hallway ceilings. “It’s like a large smoke alarm,” Hach explained. “It’s not going to be as aesthetically pleasing as I would prefer to have it, but it’s the way they have to do it to retro-fit the existing buildings. It’s the best way to do it,” said associate director of Facilities Management Tim Gift. “We tried to keep it as clean and as simple-looking as we could.” With the antennas hanging from the ceiling, the administration expressed concerns regarding damage potentially caused by residents.
“This is an enhancement to our buildings, so obviously we would like our occupants to respect the antennas that are being added and not to try to do a basketball slam on them,” Gift said. Protective rings will be wrapped around surface mounts that are not flush with the ceiling. “They’re being smart. Virginia Tech is growing and it’s great that they’re taking on that growth now, rather than catching up with it later,” said senior construction engineering student Richard Walters. However, some students on other networks — such as AT&T or Sprint — are frustrated that the upgrades will not yet apply to them. “I don’t get it — Verizon already has fine signal,” said Scott Savino, a sophomore studying aerospace engineering.
Savino’s network provider is AT&T, and he frequently cannot make or receive calls from inside New Hall West. “I have to go outside to call my parents. I don’t want to have to do that, especially in the winter,” Savino said.
The installation of the DAS is phase two of the same project that brought extended cell signal to Lane Stadium. The next step in the plan is increasing network strength in more buildings across campus, including Squires Student Center and Newman Library. Increased signal means increased ability to call out in times of emergency. “Safety and security are most important to us,” Hach said.