Equipment trouble hampers AT&T cell service in Vail, other valley areas | VailDaily.com

Equipment trouble hampers AT&T cell service in Vail, other valley areas

A cell phone tower masked as a tree on Beaver Creek.

EAGLE COUNTY — If you're an AT&T customer, then you may have noticed some gaps in your service in Vail and Beaver Creek. A fix is on the way.

According to AT&T representative Suzanne Trantow, the problem in Vail is "due to a hardware issue with our vendor's equipment."

That vendor, Crown Castle, provides space on cellphone sites to the major cell service providers: AT&T, Verizon and Sprint. The company, which has a contract with the town, has 29 "nodes" — large and small cell sites — around town. Town of Vail Information Services Director Ron Braden said AT&T has equipment on 25 of those sites.

Braden said service problems depend on what users are doing, at what time of day, and how many users are using the system at a given moment.

While AT&T puts the blame with its vendor, Braden said Verizon hasn't had any trouble with its service in Vail.

Jim Popec, "the Pope" at the Mountain Pedaler bicycle shop in Minturn, is a longtime AT&T customer. Popec said his service in Minturn has been fine this winter. But, he added, he often loses reception driving U.S. Highway 6 through Eagle-Vail.

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Those dead spots are consistent enough that Popec and his wife, who works in Avon, sometimes joke about it.

'Oh, you're there'

"She'll say, 'I can't hear you — you must be by so-and-so's house,'" Popec said.

Commuting along Highway 6, Popec said there's another iffy spot between the entrance to Arrowhead and the Riverwalk neighborhood in Edwards.

Those spots between Vail and Avon may improve as AT&T repairs and upgrades its hardware in Vail.

Braden said one of the problems with cell reception is that one area can create a kind of domino effect down the valley.

"Everything we do impacts other sites," Braden said. "That's why we're also seeing issues in other places."

While Popec jokes about AT&T's service, he said he's recently switched back to the company after briefly using another company. That firm, Verizon, didn't provide an adequate signal to his home in the Homestead area of Edwards, so he switched back.

Braden, who lives in Gypsum, said the service-provider situation is essentially reversed in the west end of the valley.

In Gypsum, AT&T has space on a tower that covers most of town. That site has been good news for customers in town, Braden said.

"They don't have a lot of subscribers and have plenty of bandwidth," Braden said.

As technology has evolved, the valley has struggled to keep up with the increasing use of cellphones and wireless data.

In 2013, Vail's cell service was bad enough that local restaurant owner Ron Riley launched a campaign for better connections, buying several full-page ads in this newspaper to urge action. That effort — and plenty of work from both town officials and providers — had the town's cell service humming for the 2015 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships.

That effort involved installing new towers, via the town's contract with Crown Castle. Those towers also carry equipment for the town's free Wi-Fi service.

Age takes a toll

At the time, local business owners said the new equipment was a big improvement.

But use, time and weather can take a toll on any equipment. Braden said Crown Castle is working on contracting for repair work at the tower sites that need attention, including one that overlooks Dowd Junction. That site, like others, is hard to get to with snow on the ground.

Braden said crews will be able to get to those remote sites as the snow clears this spring.

That should help.

So will work planned by Verizon for the western valley. In November 2017, the company received Eagle County approval to build an 85-foot tower on a hillside east of Eagle. That tower is expected to improve service in the Wolcott area.

Construction of that site is expected to begin this spring, after a wildlife closure expires April 15, although the company also needed to receive approvals from state and federal agencies before work can start.

And continuing upgrades are essential. For now, the carriers, the town of Vail and the site provider are all working to keep as many people as possible connected as much as possible.

Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930, smiller@vaildaily.com and @scottnmiller.