Cell companies push to fill coverage gaps on Hilton Head

tbarton@islandpacket.comJune 20, 2012 

What is perhaps the newest cellular tower on Hilton Head Island is photographed on Wednesday rising behind the fire station on Marshland Road near the Cross Island Parkway toll booths.

JAY KARR THE ISLAND PACKET

  • Verizon began offering in-home broadband Internet service nationwide, including in Beaufort and Jasper counties, in May. The new service uses Verizon's 4G LTE network, providing households in areas with limited broadband options an alternative for Internet access. Read more at reporter Tom Barton's blog at blogs.islandpacket.com/EyeOnHiltonHead.

After years of complaints about dropped calls and poor service, wireless carriers and cell-tower companies are wasting no time installing equipment to enhance coverage on Hilton Head Island.

AT&T announced Wednesday the activation of two new cell sites to fill coverage gaps, a day after Town Council endorsed changes to ease restrictions on cell-tower placement.

The company installed new equipment on two existing towers.

One, owned by Palmetto Electric Cooperative, is north of Folly Field Road off Mathews Drive at the northeast corner of the island. The other is at mid-island, off William Hilton Parkway north of Queens Way, and owned by Global Tower Partners.

Customers in those areas should receive better service, including faster mobile-data speeds and stronger voice coverage, AT&T spokeswoman Ann Elsas said.

The Town Council last year made improving wireless service a priority. Subsequently, industry experts told the council that carriers were not improving service because approval for new towers took too long, and rules about where and how they can be built were too restrictive.

Changes made by the council are expected to be approved at its next meeting. The changes would allow cell towers on properties that don't have homes and would cut approval time from nine to two or three months.Jack Mitchell, regional director of external affairs for AT&T South Carolina, said the changes will make it much easier for carriers to address the growing need for bandwidth.Many have argued that bad cell coverage makes the town unattractive to companies considering relocating to the island or expansion.

State Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, said more investment is needed in Hilton Head's mobile broadband network to support existing businesses and attract startups.

"This new cell site on the (northeast) side of the island is an excellent example of what is needed," Davis said.

AT&T also hopes to have equipment installed this summer on a new tower recently built on town-owned land off Marshland Road, beside Fire Station 7.

The tower would improve reception for AT&T Mobility customers in the area and could accommodate other carriers, such as Verizon, T-Mobile and Sprint. The Hilton Head Fire & Rescue Division also would have space for equipment that would increase its communications coverage, Elsas said.

In addition, officials are also close to signing a lease that would allow American Tower to build a 148-foot tower on town-owned land on Jenkins Island, which would also serve AT&T customers.

Verizon Wireless announced in April it would work with cell-tower provider Crown Castle International to expand its antenna system inside Hilton Head Plantation to fill coverage gaps. Work is expected to begin in August. T-Mobile has said it plans to bring its 4G service to the area.

"The carriers want to improve service and want to be partners with the town," said Jim Collett, chairman of an island task force that came up with recommendations for improving wireless service. "For a long time, we weren't. And now we are. That's a huge step forward. It's great the town has embraced the need to put these sites up, and the carriers are responding."

Related content

  1. Hilton Head council endorses changes to ease cell tower placement: June 19, 2012
  2. Verizon to expand cellphone coverage on Hilton Head Island: April 18, 2012
  3. Town wants to ease placement of cell towers in island communities: April 8, 2012
  4. VIDEO: Second Hilton Head cell tower proposed for town land: Feb. 14, 2012

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