New hardware problem is affecting Vail Valley cellphone service in areas | VailDaily.com

New hardware problem is affecting Vail Valley cellphone service in areas

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VAIL — The world of personal technology moves quickly. It can be hard to keep up, and it seems there's always another problem to solve.

In Vail and some downvalley areas, cellphone service was hampered over the winter, particularly for AT&T customers. That problem was caused by a hardware problem in Vail.

The problem in Vail caused a kind of domino effect headed west down the Interstate 70 corridor. The most obvious effect is a handful of dead spots headed west, including Dowd Junction, parts of Eagle-Vail and near Wolcott.

In April and May, AT&T repaired the equipment in Vail, but some problems persist, thanks to another problem.

Town of Vail Information Technology Department Director Ron Braden said a tower atop a building currently under construction is also causing problems at cell towers down the valley as far west as Wolcott.

That means the familiar dead spots are still there, with another few added.

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Vail Chamber & Business Association Director Alison Wadey and her family live in Avon's Wildridge neighborhood. Wadey, an AT&T customer, said there are now "at least three" dead spots on her way up into that area north of I-70.

Fixes working, in places

The company's equipment fixes in Vail have drawn mixed reviews.

Wadey said her service is mostly fine, particularly compared to the company's service in other areas.

"New York City is terrible," she said.

Longtime resident Packy Walker said his service is OK, too. But he and Wadey both added the caveat that service — on both cellphones and on the town's free Wi-Fi system — can get spotty when the town is full.

Wadey's office in Vail is atop the Vail Village parking structure.

"That's not perfect, either," Wadey said. "There are little glitches once in a while."

But longtime local Realtor Led Gardner tells a different story.

Gardner works from the Slifer Smith & Frampton Real Estate office on Bridge Street in Vail Village, just south of the Covered Bridge.

Reached on his cellphone for this story, Gardner, who was sitting at his desk, said he was surprised to be able to hold a conversation.

"If I move 6 inches one way or the other," the call might drop, he said. More aggravating is the fact he'll sometimes have a delay of 24 hours or more in receiving voicemail messages.

In Gardner's business, missing a message "can cost me some substantial money," he said.

But, Braden said, service has "definitely improved" in Vail after the winter's hardware problem was repaired.

Public wi-fi upgrades

The town of Vail has spent a lot of time and money upgrading both its cell tower technology and its free Wi-Fi system.

Today, the town has 29 separate "nodes" — subordinate cell towers to the primary system. That system is run by Crown Castle, an equipment provider. Cell service providers lease space on that equipment.

The town also uses those nodes for its Wi-Fi system.

That service is available throughout town, but a Wi-Fi signal doesn't travel as far as a cell signal. That means town Wi-Fi is best in the resort cores of Vail and Lionshead villages. That service is free to users and paid for by the town.

The Vail Town Council a few years ago decided the town should have the best possible cell and Wi-Fi service.

In an effort to keep improving that service, Braden said, the town is upgrading its Wi-Fi technology. That system is heavily used by guests, Braden said. When the town is full of people, the system can be affected.

"We're upgrading to the latest and greatest gear, and it's much, much improved," Braden said. "It's a quantum leap between the old and new."

Braden said the town tries to constantly upgrade its public Wi-Fi system in chunks so the town budget doesn't take too big a hit all at once.

Wadey said it's important for the town to have public Wi-Fi, especially as it moves from paper to more electronic communications via apps and web-based information.

"If we're not going to be providing hard copies, we need to make sure our digital service works well," Wadey said.

Sweet Basil restaurant owner Matt Morgan said public Wi-Fi is important these days, although he discourages cell and device use in that dining room.

"We ask people to take an hour and enjoy their meal," Morgan said. Still, he said, it annoys some customers when they're asked to disconnect. While Morgan uses the restaurant's in-house system, he said he usually sees people using their devices outside the restaurant.

While having up-to-date service is important, Wadey acknowledged that living in a popular resort will sometimes come with glitches in technology that many take for granted.

"When you live in the mountains, you learn to take the good with the bad," she said.

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

Are there backups?

The Spring Fire in Southern Colorado knocked out electrical power to a big part of that area. Officials are worried that the Lake Christine fire near Basalt could affect electrical service into that town as far upvalley as Aspen.

Town of Vail Information Technology Department Director Ron Braden said the town has generators to back up cell sites used by public safety agencies.

Other sites have battery backup that can last up to an hour.

It’s “kind of a mixed bag” Braden wrote in an email.

Other areas seem more vulnerable. A spring power outage in the western part of the valley knocked out cell service and Wi-Fi for about 90 minutes.