AT&T makes upgrades so you can hear better now

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Bill Waldron Bill Waldron OCEAN CITY — Saying, “We know this has been frustrating and we hear you,” Brandy Bell, AT&T spokeswoman, stood with two company representatives at noon Wednesday at the intersection of 40th Street and Asbury Avenue, and introduced the carrier’s latest technology in upgrading service and coverage: DAS.

DAS, short for Distributed Antenna Systems, is a three-panel unit that attaches to the top of utility poles and boosts the range of coverage. Eight units have been installed across the island since spring, with the last one put in place in mid-June, said Bill Waldron, manager of network optimization for AT&T.

With one month’s test time behind them, the team said that reports of dropped calls had decreased by two-thirds, comparing June 2012 to June 2011, and that the carrier doubled its capacity on the island.

Signals face three challenges in transmission: terrain, building construction and crowd density, Waldron said. Ocean City’s virtually treeless terrain and relatively low buildings are not what pose problems for the carrier here as elsewhere, he said. Here, it’s crowd density, Bell said.

The AT&T team agreed that Ocean City, more than any other seashore resort, has been troubled by spotty service in the summer due to the dramatic increase in population it undergoes between Memorial Day and Labor Day. The town, home of Cape May County’s largest stock of rental properties, swells from 11,700 year-round residents to 150,000 or more visitors in summer.

To address that wild fluctuation and the increased demand for bandwidth posed by the proliferation of smart phones and tablets, AT&T installed DAS at Gardens Parkway and Atlantic Boulevard, Central Avenue and North Street, 16th and Asbury, 20th and West, 25th and Asbury, 29th and West, 34th and West, and 40th and Asbury.

“Our goal is for people to use their phones for what they want, when they want, whether they work here, live here or vacation here,” Bell said.

“Ocean City has been a top priority for years,” Waldron said. “We’ve been trying to do something in Ocean City for years and years. This is a happy summer.”

Bell said demand on AT&T’s network has increased 20,000 percent in the last five years. Mary Vuong, network processing quality manager, said smart phones use 24 times more bandwidth than a low-tech cell phone.

The phone carrier’s COW (cell on wheels) will remain at Shelter Road to boost coverage throughout the summer, Bell said. Its usefulness will be re-evaluated at that time, she said, adding, “We are not done yet.”

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