Miami University has partnered with NextG to provide better cell phone coverage and capacity to Miami students at no price to them.
NextG is a vendor that installs Distributed Antenna Systems (DAS) at selected locations at large venues such as university campuses. DAS boost cell phone coverage at these venues. NextG then sells that additional coverage to cell phone services such as AT&T Inc., Verizon Wireless and Cincinnati Bell Wireless.
According to Chris Bernard, director of Network Engineering and Telecommunications for IT services, NextG finished installing all 17 DAS units earlier this November at no cost to the university.
“The full cost of the DAS is funded by the cell phone service providers and is based on anticipated increase in revenues due to improved service, scalability and customer satisfaction,” Bernard said via email at a later date.
Currently, AT&T is the only company that is taking advantage of this opportunity at Miami but Bernard is hopeful that other companies such as Verizon and Cincinnati Bell will also buy additional coverage from NextG
“It’s a pretty big expenditure on their part to join in the system,” Bernard said. “That’s why I think they are somewhat reluctant and want to wait and see how AT&T fares, but NextG has done this lots of times around the country.”
Senior Director of Strategic Communication and Planning for IT services Cathy McVey is also confident that more cell phone service providers will sign on.
“I am really hoping that we can expand,” McVey said. “I think once the system is up and running and it’s active it will be a little easier sell for them to the other carriers.”
Bernard said Miami heard about NextG because it also partners with the University of Notre Dame, one of Miami’s sister schools.
Bernard said NextG provides Miami with an “intriguing opportunity.”
“I think it provides us with an opportunity to fulfill a need,” McVey said. “Given the size of Oxford, the major carriers are only going to be putting so many cell towers in this area and so it’s a way to boost the signal, give better service to the students at no cost to us, so I think it’s a win-win situation.”
McVey said Miami has been looking for a way to improve cell phone coverage since it pulled the land line phones out of residence halls.
“It was pretty clear that the students no longer really used the phones in the residence halls much if at all,” McVey said. “Given the age of the buildings and the construction of the buildings, there are locations in residence halls where cell reception is pretty darn bad.”
Senior Cassie Callan said she has had bad cell phone reception in the residence halls.
“My freshman year I lived in Tappan and both myself and the girl I lived with had AT&T and it was nearly impossible to get a signal in the room we were in,” Callan said. “If I got [a signal] it was one maybe two bars but if I moved my phone even like a foot to the left or right I could risk losing it.”
Callan said she believes that DAS will be useful to Miami students living in the residence halls.
“I definitely think it will be beneficial especially to students living in the dorms because they are going to need to be able to communicate with their cell phones,” Callan said. “They are going to rely heavily on them so I think in that aspect it’s definitely a good thing.”
Callan said she has never had any signal in the basement of Farmer School of Business.
However, Callan said apart from these two issues she has not had any signal problems specifically related to Miami.
Both Callan and McVey believe that improved cell phone coverage will help make Miami’s campus a safer place.
“Some parents are concerned and worried if their son or daughter doesn’t get cell reception in their room and couldn’t call if something happened,” McVey said. “We are hoping with this Distributed Antenna Systems that we get some more carriers to sign on that that will reduce that need.”
Callan said having service is important, especially in emergency situations.
“If we need to be informed of something that’s happening on campus that relates to our safety or class cancelations or school cancelations or something like that [DAS] will definitely be beneficial,” Callan said. “In fact, I think it’s a little bit necessary considering the scares that other colleges have had in the past few years. I think it’s really good that Miami has the emergency texting service and if it’s not going to work then there is no point in having it and installing the antennas will hopefully help that situation.”
McVey said NextG was advised by the university architect’s office on where to place the seventeen DAS units without detracting from the beauty of Miami’s campus.
“One of the things that NextG does is they have worked really closely with the university architects office to design places where the antennas could go that’s not like a giant cell tower that’s really ugly,” McVey said.
The antennas vary in size according to how and where they are mounted and the area of a coverage they need to provide.
This is part of a series The Miami Student is running about the University Archives. All information in the following article was obtained from the University Archives with the help of University Archivist Bob Schmidt.