Cellular carriers have spent a lot to upgrade their facilities on campus in the past 12 months.
T-mobile gets the nod for most improved. They added several new antenna sites and upgraded to LTE. LTE is telephone jargon that describes the most current cellular systems. The T-mobile upgrade is behind its original target to finish before the start of the Fall quarter. The last two sites (lower quarry, TAPS) will complete by the end of November, 2015.
T-mobile's Fall 2015 marketing campaign is Signal goes 2x farther and works 4x better in buildings. Behind this claim is T-mobile's expansion into the 700 MHz frequency band. That has not yet happened in Santa Cruz County. T-mobile has the necessary license for the band, so it should happen eventually.
Verizon and AT&T completed LTE upgrades to their existing sites. Verizon is also adding two new antennas on the same November construction schedule as T-mobile.
Sprint has services at five locations in the campus as well as a position on the tower behind Crown/Merrill Apartments. While they have not constructed new facilities, they have converted some of the business services to general purpose cellular service.
Metro-PCS was purchased by T-mobile. The MetroPCS brand will continue, but the network has been converted to T-mobile. Changes from the conversion have made some handsets obsolete. But rapid obselesence driven by new technology happens in the cellular business even without the effects of mergers and acquisitions.
The University has been successful at getting the cellular carriers to pay the entire cost of providing cell service to the campus. In fact, the University receives rent from the carriers for use of campus fiber and space. This arrangement has been in effect for about 10 years. UCSC has a master agreement with Crown Castle Corp that makes them our agent to lease facilities to carriers on campus buildings. We have not been so successful getting coverage enhanced indoors. Carriers are very reluctant to pay.
The table below includes the sites that are not yet active, but will be soon. It would be an unwarranted assumption that more sites means better coverage. Because of the hills and trees, UCSC is a very challenging environment for cellular service. If you live on-campus at College 9 or in the Lower Quarry, Sprint would probably not be a good choice for your cellular carrier. On the other hand, Sprint is on the Macro tower behind Merrill which provides good coverage at Crown and Merrill Colleges.
Each carrier has service in several frequency bands with different channel mixes. The characteristics of the channels may require more antenna sites to get similar coverage.
|TAPS (lower campus)|
|Natural Sciences 2|
|College 8 Academic|
|Stevenson Event Center|
|Macro tower behind Merrill|
|Soc Sci I (College 9)|
|Humanities (Hagar & McLaughlin)|
WiFi calling is available from some carriers. Google Fi, Republic
Wireless, Sprint, AT&T, Verizon and T-mobile can complete calls and text messages
over eduroam. Check
with your carrier to see if your handset has WiFi calling and to find out
how to turn it on. Verizon was the last to offer WiFi service starting on
December 4, 2015.
Many users will find that they can move around within
a building but if they go outside, calls will drop rather than switch
to a cellular network. WiFi calling today is best thought
of as a stationary
service rather than one where you can expect full mobility.
Of course, good WiFi is required. The McHenry Library and Physical Sciences Building have good WiFi and poor cellular coverage. Cell service in the new section of the library is almost entirely unusable. Strategy for selecting between WiFi and cellular when both are available differs by carrier. Some users have found that turning WiFi off sometimes results in better call quality, especially for outdoor calling.
Updates -- Most users update their cell phones on a 3 year cycle. Similarly, the carriers update their radio systems on about the same cycle. Sometimes they change their antennas, too. It often seems that the cellular networks are being upgraded continuously. AT&T, Verizon and Sprint have indicated they would like to improve some of their equipment and are ready to enter a planning phase. And T-mobile just finished an upgrade cycle. Eventually users that hang onto their cell phones for as long as ten years will find that their coverage becomes spotty. In some cases, phones could stop working all together. The campus has heard from some users that they would like us to block upgrades that would break their old phones.
The campus favors encouraging the cellular carriers to continue to upgrade their services to the extent that their economics can justify the investment. We believe that provides greater benefit to the campus community than protecting obsolete hand sets.
24 October 2015, update April 2016