VAIL, Colorado - Verizon Wireless has won the race to 4G in the valley - the cell service provider recently became the first carrier to offer 4G coverage in the area.
Bob Kelley, a spokesman for Verizon Wireless, said the company launched its new 4G LTE service in the area, as well as along Interstate 70 from the top of Vail Pass to the Minturn exit.
"This is part of our overall upgrade in many of Colorado ski destinations," Kelley said. "We intend to have our entire 3G nationwide network fully upgraded to 4G LTE by the end of this year."
While Verizon may be a step ahead of other carriers, service is still fairly limited due to the local geography, said Ron Braden, the town of Vail's information technology director. It's an important step, however, as Braden expects other carriers to follow suit.
"It's a race - (Verizon) wanted to be the first to the market," Braden said.
The town of Vail is anticipating better 4G coverage throughout town by the fall, the time when Crown Castle North America is expected to complete its infrastructure installation that will open up 4G service to all carriers.
The town put out a request for proposals in 2011 to bring in an independent operator of shared wireless communications and got responses from Crown Castle and American Tower. The town went with Crown Castle, but American Tower, which already operates infrastructure throughout Eagle County, entered a deal with Vail Resorts for 4G on Vail Mountain, Braden said.
"We've obviously had a lot of complaints about coverage areas and capacity," Braden said. "We want 4G here for the guest experience. Another big factor is there's just simply not enough real estate to put in cellular infrastructure. So, if we can use public assets to put cellular facilities, then it's a win-win."
Braden said the various cell carriers had all been searching for Vail real estate for towers, but it's just not there. Many approached condominium associations and hotels, but couldn't reach any agreements to install towers on those properties, either.
The new Crown Castle system, which will include one big tower at the town's public works facility and about 30 small radio receivers throughout town, will not only provide 4G data services, but should also solve the capacity issue the town experiences during peak usage times.
The system will also replace the town's CenturyLink wireless network with a higher capacity system.
While it might seem a little behind the curve to be talking about 4G upgrades now, the ability to make such upgrades was only made possible after the Colorado Department of Transportation installed fiber optic strands along Interstate 70 in recent years.
Now that the capabilities are there, town leaders are thrilled to see the upgrades taking place. Vail Councilwoman Kerry Donovan said the town's initiative to seek out Crown Castle for the larger infrastructure upgrade is another example of the town "being committed to being the best."
"Vail's guests have come to expect exceptional service and infrastructure from each touch point they encounter," Donovan said via email to the Vail Daily. "... And, I'll be able to see updated Notre Dame scores just that much faster and send panoramic powder shots to my friends in Europe - what's not to like?"
Mayor Andy Daly said Vail's guests - which include international visitors and people from major American cities like Los Angeles, New York, Chicago and Boston - are accustomed to rapid data access already.
"4G is really the standard in many parts of the country," Daly said, adding that CDOT's completion of the fiber optics cables over Vail Pass was a "big deal." "This is really a matter of meeting our guests' expectations."
Assistant Managing Editor Lauren Glendenning can be reached at 970-748-2983 or firstname.lastname@example.org.