Can you hear me now? For Purcellville residents, cell phone coverage should be improving soon.
After 20 months of construction on the town’s elevated water tank, crews are working on the final steps needed to return the antenna arrays of four carriers to their 205-foot-high perch.
Structural repairs to accommodate added weight to the town’s Maple Avenue water tower should be completed by late August and cost $203,800, according to an estimate fromPittsburgh Tank & Tower. Of thatamount, the town will pay $27,180, with the rest divided between AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon, all of which affix their cellular antennas on the tower. Since tower repair began in the spring of 2018, those antennas have been posted on a shorter, temporary tower, causing coverage losses for hundreds of residents.
Each carrier will need to agree to issue a purchase order to Pittsburgh Tank & Tower to perform the work. That should take two to three weeks. AT&T and Sprint will also need to finalize their lease agreements with the town.
After that, it should take six to eight weeks for the contractor to complete foundation work and four to six weeks to complete work on the railing and catwalk.
At that point, the cellular carriers will begin installing their antennas on the tower—AT&T and Sprint on the top of the tower and T-Mobile and Verizon on the catwalk. That should take eight to 12 weeks.
Capital Projects & Engineering Manager DaleLehnig said that residents should expect temporary cellular coverage outages as the carriers relocate their antennas. She noted that AT&T customers probably won’t experience those outages because the company plans to install new equipment, meaning the old antennas will remain in operation as the new equipment goes up.
If the town reaches an agreement with all cell carriers by next week and the process starts then, the cell antennas should be back on the water tower by the first week in August at the latest.
“We’re making good progress,” said Town Manager David Mekarski.
Mayor Kwasi Fraser asked whether the town should contact Dish Network to ask if the company is interested in installing its equipment on the water tower, since the Federal Communications Commission last year approved a merger between Sprint and T-Mobile that requiredT-Mobile to sell its interest in Dish Network so that Dish and other companies have a chance to form a new wireless network to compete with the nation’s top-three networks.
Lehnig said there might not be room on the tower for a fifth provider, but that the town staff would look into it.
In May 2018,Suez Water Technologies began painting and renovating the water tower. Interior painting of the water tank wrapped up in December 2018 while the weather delayed exterior painting to 2019.The exterior coating was completed in August last year.
During the project, a structural analysis found that the tower could not support the antennas the cellular carriers proposed to reinstall. At that point, the town staff began working with the cellular companies to finalize tower modification designs, obtain quotes from contractors for the structural repairs and finalize the carrier contracts.
T-Mobile and Verizon have current leases. The AT&T and Sprint leases are close to agreement. According to a staff report, those two carriers would not sign new leases until cost estimates for the structural modifications were finalized.
The town staff was set to discuss the project with the carriers last Thursday.
As for continued cell coverage gaps for Purcellville residents living in the southwestern portion of town, those issues will continue for the foreseeable future, since the town in November received no responses to a request for proposals seeking firms interested inbuilding a 125- or 175-foot-tall cell tower on the Basham Simms Wastewater Facility.
The Town Council Dec. 10 voted to direct the town staff to reissue the solicitation with modifications. Mekarski said that should go out in a few weeks.