Vail cellular, wireless service improved |

Vail cellular, wireless service improved

On the stick

With new cell phone and wireless internet technology in place, here’s a look at the major players:

• Crown Castle: A technology company that builds cell phone antenna towers then leases them to providers.

• AT&T: The wireless provider is Crown Castle’s current “anchor tenant” on its towers.

• Verizon: That wireless provider will be on the town’s system this year.

• Sprint: This wireless company is struggling financially, and isn’t yet a part of the new system.

VAIL — In the first weeks of 2013, restaurant owner Ron Riley was frustrated enough with cell phone service in town over the Christmas holidays that he launched a crusade to change it. Two years later, changes have been made, and the town seems ready to handle the technology load coming to the valley with the 2015 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships.

Riley was out of town through most of the holidays, but others in town say Vail’s cell phone service is much, much improved. That improvement is the result of a lot of time, effort and, yes, money.

Can You Hear Me Now?

“It’s looking good, though. And the best part is that we get to keep everything we’ve installed.”
Ron Braden
Vail information systems manager

In the past two years, the town of Vail has signed a contract with Crown Castle, a technology company that builds cell phone towers. Now, a total of 30 towers are in place around town. At the moment, those towers are exclusive to AT&T, but Verizon’s equipment will be in place soon. Those towers, at least in Vail Village and Lionshead, also carry equipment for the town’s free Wi-Fi service.

There are big towers, of course, but most of the new towers are much smaller, and scattered throughout town. Cell phones, like FM radios, work on line-of-sight technology. Vail’s topography doesn’t have a lot of long sightlines, so a lot of small towers are needed to push service around corners, behind buildings and over hills.

“We might have a couple of small areas in the cores, left, and East Vail is still a bit of a problem, but we plan to get there,” Ron Braden, the town’s information systems manager, said.

Wireless Workout

While cell service puts most of the data through the towers, the Wi-Fi system gets a vigorous workout, too.

Braden said on slow ski season days, as many as 1,500 people log on to the free system every 24 hours. On busy days, the user numbers can exceed 3,500.

Hearing Results

The multiple cell towers seem to be doing their jobs.

Led Gardner, a Realtor whose office is on Bridge Street, was reached there on his cell phone. A couple of years ago, that would have been tough, Gardner said.

Bridge Street used to be a notorious “hole” for cell service, Gardner said.

“As a rule, it’s notably improved,” he said.

Gardner recalled that Christmas of 2013 was much different in terms of cell service.

“I’d get a voice message two or three days (after the call),” he said. “In my business, that can cost you business.”

Not Out of the Woods Yet

Craig Denton, another Realtor who does a lot of business in Vail, agreed that cell service is better in town, but said his experience is that cell signals seem a little more erratic driving west down Interstate 70.

“The signal in Dowd Junction and Wolcott isn’t as good as it used to be,” Denton said. “But Vail proper is fine, and in Lionshead there are just a few spots behind buildings.”

Denton added that his experience with cell service in Beaver Creek has also been positive.

The Christmas holidays were a good workout for the improved technology, since the 2015 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships will create a lot of demand for both cell and wireless Internet service.

Braden said the cell phone and wireless systems have been beefed up in Beaver Creek, too, since that resort will host the press center for the Championships.

Nothing’s certain, of course, and the people running the technology systems will be able to really exhale after Feb. 15, the last day of the Championships.

“It’s looking good, though,” Braden said. “And the best part is that we get to keep everything we’ve installed.”

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

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