Andrew Holleran / Photo editor
On Buckeye game days, it’s nearly impossible to get cellphone service.
Ohio State, partnered with Verizon Wireless, is working on a three-phase, three-year project to alleviate problems with service outages.
Kelly Garrett, assistant professor of communication said the increased number of people on campus is the main source of problems with cellphone service on football game days.
Record attendance at Ohio Stadium is more than 106,000, which exceeds the normal 80,000 OSU students and employees on campus any given day.
“It is not uncommon for the cellphone companies to have too few channels to support all those people,” Garrett said.
Verizon and OSU are working to develop a “Neutral Host Wireless Distribution System (WDS) solution to ensure that campus cellular capacity and coverage will meet the ever-growing demand for mobile connectivity,” according to a release from the Office of the Chief Information Officer.
Verizon will pay all costs related to the project, said Kathy Starkoff, chief information officer at OSU.
After working with different specialists across campus, the university sought out numerous service providers and “Verizon was the winning bid,” Starkoff said.
Once completed, Verizon “will sublease capacity to other vendors,” Starkoff said, so users of all cellphone providers will benefit from the project.
Construction on the project is expected to be discrete.
There will not be a “giant tower,” Starkoff said. “It really is a number of devices that will be placed around campus depending on the expected capacity needs, and we will work closely with the facility organizations to make sure that the systems are discrete … If you’re lucky you’ll never see it, but we know they’re there.”
The OCIO saw service outages as a problem and understood the urgency in solving it, Starkoff said.
“We like to proactively manage all of our systems and networks, and we understand that at peak times the coverage was not what it should be,” Starkoff said.
The three-phase, three-year project is on time for completion in 2015, Starkoff said.
Phase one is scheduled to be included in June 2013. This phase will target service in and around the Wexner Medical Center, Police Command Center at Ohio Stadium, OSU Police Headquarters, William Oxley Thompson Memorial Library, Ohio Union and Blackwell Inn.
“In addition to supporting the cellular services, this system will also support the public safety radio frequencies,” said Charlie Clay, director of telecommunications and networking in the OCIO.
This includes “paging frequencies within the medical center complex,” Clay said.
The second phase of the project will target residence halls, “95 percent of outdoor campus space,” Ohio Stadium and the Schottenstein Center, according to an OCIO release. This phase is scheduled to be completed in June 2014.
The final phase of the project will go into 2015 and “would be the finishing up of anything that’s undone,” Starkoff said. This phase is evolving because the university is “always building new buildings and we’ll have new capacity reports” by the time the first two phases are complete.
In forecasting wireless demand against capacity, “We knew we were going to have a significant problem, so that’s why we went proactively to our vendors to build a solution,” Starkoff said.
The increasing number of wireless devices being used on campus will eventually lead to more frequent service problems, Starkoff said.
Cellphones can only communicate on a fixed number of channels and each cellphone operator is only allowed to use specific channels, Garrett said.
These channels are “more than enough most of the time,” Garrett said, but on football game days, the amount of people in and around the stadium “overwhelm(s) the system.”
If no solution is provided, service problems like this will become a daily occurrence within the next two years, Starkoff said. “We need to get ahead of it before this becomes a real issue.”
Many students are all too familiar with experiencing services outages.
Kaleb Eckles and Erika Frey, first-year students in biology said they have had problems using their cell phones on football Saturdays.
“You just can’t use your phone on game days, even if you’re not in the stadium just around campus,” Frey said.
“It’s basically impossible to meet up with friends unless you make plans before,” he said.
Eckles said he often wants to send cellphone pictures of the game to friends and family, but is unable to because of the service outages.
A temporary game-day solution to over-crowded channels is for phone companies to set up temporary towers.
“AT&T has deployed a mobile unit, referred to as a ‘cell on wheels’ unit, to the vicinity of Ohio Stadium to help handle the volume of wireless communication that occurs during home football games,” said Holly Hollingsworth, senior public relations consultant for AT&T Services, Inc., in an email.
Verizon and Sprint did not respond to requests for comment.
Access to wireless service on campus is important to students, faculty, staff and visitors, Clay said.
“From the standpoint of faculty and staff it’s become very important,” Clay said. “They’re using their cellphones as their primary communication device.”