Aside from opting for a few temporary fixes, Purcellville residents will have to wait until spring for cellphone coverage problems to be fully reconciled.
The Town Council last week held an hour-long meeting with representatives from Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint to discuss the coverage concerns that residents—especially those in the Hirst Farm and Locust Grove neighborhoods—have faced since June when the cell antennas atop the town’s water tower were relocated during a renovation project.
In 2012, Suez Water Technologies recommended that the 200,000-gallon water tank, which sits across Maple Avenue from Loudoun Valley High School, be renovated before 2015. It wasn’t until 2016 that the town contracted with Suez to complete that work for $507,081 and not until June of this year, following an unscheduled repair to fix a leak, that any work actually began. At that point, cell antennas were moved from their perches 175 feet above ground atop the water tank to a temporary tower supplied by AT&T.
In the temporary configuration, AT&T antennas are 150 feet high, the Verizon antennas are 130-140 feet high and the T-Mobile and Sprint antennas are 110-120 feet high—and residents’ cell coverage has diminished.
When Town Manager David Mekarski asked the carrier representatives if there were any temporary solutions for residents and business, Justin Barlow, a Smartlink project manager contracted by AT&T, suggested that residents use WiFi calling whenever possible. He said that installing a Cell on Wheels—a mobile cell site that would boost wireless coverage—could take up to three months to set up.
“There’s just no quick solution,” he said. “The ultimate solution is getting back on the tank.”
Kevin Johnson, Verizon’s regional systems engineer, said that another temporary fix could be to install a network extender in individual households, which would enhance their 4G LTE coverage.
After hearing that the carriers would continue measuring cell signals in town, Councilman Tip Stinnette told the representatives that he’s tired of dealing with the issue and that the solution should not be measuring where service gaps are, but actually doing something to fix the problem.
“I’ve got entire communities out there that can tell you [where the gaps are],” he said. “You have that data available, it is time to deploy a solution.”
Suez Water Systems Consultant Brad Brown said that since the new antennas to be installed on the water tower would be larger than before, and since there will be more of them, modifications have to be made to accommodate the added weight. He said that work could be done by the end of the year and that the new antennas, which will provide residents with better cell coverage than before, could be back atop the water tower by March.
Throughout the next five years, the town will also pay Suez $48,629 to provide preventative maintenance on the water tower.