Improvements to mobile networks continue on Hilton Head; new cell phone tower planned

bheffernan@islandpacket.comMarch 31, 2013 

Hilton Head Island residents and visitors can expect fewer dropped calls and faster wireless access on mobile devices serviced by some carriers.

A deal was stuck last week with Crown Castle International to build a cell tower in Hilton Head Plantation, according to community manager Peter Kristian.

The 149-foot tower is expected to rise within six months and will serve Verizon Wireless customers initially. Other carriers, such as T-Mobile, Sprint and AT&T, could be added later, Kristian said.

Disguised as a exceedingly tall pine tree, the tower will be erected between White Tail Deer Lane and Dolphin Head Drive on land provided to Crown Castle in an easement agreement. Hilton Head Plantation will receive a percentage of the revenue Crown Castle is paid by wireless providers. Kristian declined to say how much.

Verizon already has a cell site on a water tower in the community and may expand to an existing tower near Baygall Road, he said.

That triangulation, he said, could provide almost 100 percent signal penetration to the community.

Verizon spokesperson Karen Schulz would not confirm any of the company's plans or the locations of its sites because it is against company policy to do so. Attempts to reach a Crown Castle representative on Friday were unsuccessful.

Plantation residents would welcome the added coverage, said Jim Collett, chairman of the Greater Island Council Telecommunications Task Force.

"Right now, if you have Verizon, when you're driving down Whooping Crane Way, you're almost guaranteed to drop a call at least once or twice," Collett said.

Better wireless service may also improve property values and make homes more attractive to buyers, according to Kristian.

"When people pull up to a house, they pull out their cell phones and look at the number of bars that they have in front of the house -- and if they don't get cell phone service, they go, "Next house, please,'" Kristian said.

Dropped or slow service, however, is a problem that can never be completely solved, Collett said.

"You're always just kind of chasing it," he said. "It's hard to move fast enough. It can get frustrating."

But strengthening and maintaining good wireless coverage is increasingly important for the island's economy, according to Collett.

Tourists and business people come here expecting flawless coverage, and like any service, if it's bad enough, they might not come back, he said.

OTHER RECENT UPGRADES

AT&T wireless customers may have noticed faster data transfer speeds and better streaming last week when the company's 4G LTE service went live on the island and in Bluffton, according to AT&T spokesperson Ann L. Elsas.

LTE is faster than the 4G High Speed Packet Access-plus service AT&T had been offering in the area.

"We're always looking to improve coverage and customer experience," Elsas said. "With that in mind, we made (the upgrades) a priority for the Hilton Head and Bluffton area."

The service improvements are part of a nationwide deployment of the LTE network the company hopes to complete by the end of the year, Elsas said. She declined to comment on the number of cell sites AT&T operates on Hilton Head or if it plans to add more.

EARLIER UPGRADES

The following improvements have been added over the course of the last two years:

  • A cell tower was built on Jenkins Island last year by Crown Castle. American Tower built another near the Cross Island Parkway toll booths.

  • Several low elevation antennas were installed on the north end of the island.

  • Cell sites were added to the top of tall buildings such as the Hilton Head Marriott Resort & Spa and the Sea Crest Villas.

  • Hilton Head Island Town Council also eased rules governing the placement of the towers and established four WiFi hotspots.

  • Related content

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

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