New cell phone tower receives mixed signals

Commnet working to remedy situation


The cellular tower up Cement Creek is providing great phone coverage for most Crested Butte South residents, but a few programming glitches (namely dropped calls) are having an effect on some of the valley’s emergency response teams. 



One issue is that the tower was initially routed to Colorado Springs as the default area code. On Monday, July 28 Crested Butte Fire Protection District fire chief Ric Ems said if he tried to dial a regular cellular number based in the local (970) area code, somebody in Colorado Springs (719) would pick up.
The company that recently purchased and refurbished the tower, Commnet Wireless, fixed the problem on Tuesday morning, July 29. Vice president of engineering and operations Ken Borner says the tower was using the Colorado Springs area code as a default because many cellular providers now require the use of 10-digit phone numbers. On Tuesday, he said the default area code had been switched to the local 970 prefix.
Commnet recently upgraded the tower to be compatible with AT&T, Verizon Wireless and other cellular phone carriers. It charges the big carriers each time a customer uses its towers. Commnet Wireless also turned on new towers at the Elk Creek Marina on Blue Mesa, as well as in Lake City and Creede.
 Ems says the other problem is when the phone user is driving north on Hwy. 135, a call that is started in Crested Butte South gets dropped one mile south of the town of Crested Butte. “So if we’re running up there in an event, the call gets dropped at Riverland,” Ems says.
The Fire District uses AT&T cellular service, while the Mt. Crested Butte police department, which routinely patrols that stretch of the highway, uses Verizon. “We don’t have that problem… We have uninterrupted service from Gunnison to here,” says Mt. Crested Butte police chief Hank Smith.
 Borner says the dropped call issue seems to occur only for AT&T customers. Before the Cement Creek tower was refurbished, AT&T customers could start a call at the intersection of Cement Creek Road and Hwy. 135 and carry the call all the way into town. That’s because the AT&T phones were never connecting to the tower in Cement Creek in the first place.
Borner says the trouble is the “hand-off” that occurs when an AT&T customer’s phone switches its signal data from the refurbished Cement Creek tower to the AT&T-owned tower in Mt. Crested Butte. He says Commnet is working with AT&T to get the hand-off issue resolved, but could not provide a timeline or guarantee when the problem would be solved. “It doesn’t appear to be difficult—it will just take some time,” he says.
In the meantime, Borner says, some cell phones can be switched to a “home only” mode, where the phone will only pick up a signal from its home tower. That may eliminate the dropped calls at Riverland, but would lead to decreased service back in Crested Butte South. An authorized cellular dealer may be able to re-program a phone to that effect, he says.

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