Last winter, New York Senator Chuck Schumer reached out to his constituents for their help locating and reporting dead zones throughout the state where inadequate cellular coverage was leading to dropped calls and poor Internet connectivity. After less than a year, the results have been gathered and the news is staggering.
How dire is the coverage crisis in New York? In just a few months, residents found over 5,000 dead zones throughout the state. Poor coverage was not found primarily in rural regions upstate, as experts might anticipate, either. All 62 counties were affected, including densely populated areas like New York City, Albany and Long Island.
Worse still, none of the major providers were above reproach—all of them made substantial additions to the list. These findings leave consumers struggling to reconcile the facts with providers’ claims of near-ubiquitous coverage that have been touted for years.
Senator Schumer, when questioned about the report, did cite the possibility that legal action may be taken on the grounds of false advertising, but unfortunately the consumers experiencing the crisis first hand don’t have the luxury of waiting for government intervention.
What factors could be contributing to widespread wireless dead zones?
There is no sole contributing factor leading to the epidemic of dead zones in New York, which makes resolving the crisis much more difficult. According to the FCC there are three primary conditions which may lead to dead zones.
Topography, the natural terrain in a given area, could be one issue. New York is home to both the Catskill and Adirondack Mountains, which could bear some of the responsibility for disruptions in service.
Capacity limitations may be at fault in congested areas like Manhattan, where millions of calls compete for transmission through a finite number of cell sites.
Proximity to network architecture also plays a role in the creation of dead zones. For individuals far from an antenna, dead zones may be common. For those traveling, dead zones may appear as they move away from a location covered by one tower into an area where a different tower picks up the signal.
Why are telecommunications companies struggling to resolve the dead zone crisis?
There is little that can be done to mitigate the impact of topography barring massive construction projects in areas that may be privately held or protected by the government. As a result, change must come in the form of increased capacity or a sizeable increase in the production and installation of network infrastructure.
In the case of increasing capacity, the FCC is responding in several ways. Earlier this year, the FCC provided public television stations to auction off their spectrum to make more room for wireless devices to communicate, but the opportunity is entirely optional, and in the case of New York City, WNYE-TV turned down a bid of $770.2 million.
Another method being explored is to increase the commercial availability of unlicensed spectrum, which has been reserved until recently to limit interference. But with cell towers inundated with traffic on licensed spectrum, it appears we have crossed the event horizon at which point unlicensed spectrum may prove effective. However, there are a number of potential consequences as unlicensed spectrum becomes flooded as well, including right-of-way conflicts between LTE and Wi-Fi transmissions.
Increasing network architecture is also an option, but service providers are reticent to take the lead on costly expansions that may prove beneficial for their competition and might not reflect their future growth estimates.
In the end, the available options for reducing dead zones mean consumers will be waiting some time for an answer if the problem is left solely to telecommunications companies.
Consumers are finding their own solutions for the dead zone crisis.
The dead zone crisis making headlines in New York is hardly a local dilemma. In fact, dead zones are causing headaches for individuals across the country and throughout North America. The adoption rate of wireless technology is occurring much more quickly than telecoms companies or federal governments can respond, which has in turn led many consumers to seek their own solutions.
For home or office use, many are turning to network extenders that can be connected to Ethernet cables for a steady connection or a second router to create a second Wi-Fi network that increases coverage and provides network redundancy. According to a 2015 Infonetics report, the sale of network extenders is poised to reach nearly 10 million units by 2019.
Signal boosters, which capture and amplify weak signals and retransmit with a stronger connection, are also viable for set locations like residential or commercial properties, but are conveniently portable to satisfy the needs of mobile users as well, particularly effective for personal vehicles or business fleets.
Devices like network extenders and signal boosters may prove to be the most effective means for consumers dealing with dead zones, as telecoms companies have shown themselves to act slowly to a situation that requires hasty decision making.
Neil Serrano is Chief Strategy Officer at SignalBooster.com.
Filed Under: Infrastructure