BY DYLAN SKRILOFF
As of holiday season 2011 AT&T customers may have noticed a major upgrade on the service they receive on their cell phones while shopping at the Palisades Mall in West Nyack.
That’s because the giant telecommunications company invested in new technology and an updated network for the mall. They installed a new Distributed Antenna System (DAS) to provide service to customers situated virtually anywhere in the shopping center and installed an updated “brain” to the system.
Palisades Mall is one of the biggest in the country so the task of providing areas of coverage through all levels of the mall and in the parking garage was not a small one. AT&T spokeswoman Ellen Webner explained that the mall is broken down into three sectors; A, B & C, and AT&T’s goal was to cover as much territory as possible with their new DAS antenna system.
To do so AT&T engineers found dozens of locations throughout the mall and garage to install what amount to mini-cell phone towers.
“We want our customers to have a great network experience whatever they’re doing – whether that’s making a call, checking e-mail or surfing the Internet for bargains on their AT&T smartphone or tablet while shopping,” said Tom DeVito, vice president and general manager AT&T New York and New Jersey. “We’re committed to our investment in the local wireless network, and providing enhanced wireless coverage at Palisades Center is just one way we’re investing in Rockland County.”
When you walk around in the mall, if you look up you might see these antennas scattered around in various locations, as all of the cell phone companies have them. They either resemble small UFOs or very large pieces of Chicklets chewing gum. They emit radio waves which travel in a manner similar to light. Just as a wall can stop or reroute light, so can a wall stop or reroute these radio waves, Webner explained while taking the Rockland County Times on a tour of the new system at the mall.
AT&T explained in a press release that, “DAS has the ability to provide enhanced wireless coverage to customers in venues or outdoor spaces where physical limitations, like building construction or crowd density might otherwise prevent an optimal wireless experience. The additional capacity is expected to help improve call reliability and enable more consistent network access to help customers make the most of their AT&T devices.”
Before the data signals get to the DAS antennas, however, the process starts with the brains of the system, located in a secluded corner of the Palisades Center parking garage. Yes, you might not realize it when drive or walk by, but some of those fenced off areas in the basement house the inner-workings of the telecommunication systems for the mall.
AT&T’s system starts with the new “third generation” or 3G “Universal Mobile Telecommunications System” (UMTS) for cell phones, alongside the older “Global System for Mobile” (GSM), which still is in use to provide the network for older model cell phones. Both UMTS and GSM provide for calls, voice mail, and paging, as well as Internet access, video and text messaging.
Also, AT&T has prepared their mall system to transition to the “Long Term Evolution” (LTE) networks by the end of 2013. This “4G” LTE network will be faster than the current UMTS network.
Each fiber-optic wire in the recently-installed UMTS is the width of human hair. The information leaves the hub in the garage and is sent upstairs through cables. The cables hook up to another hub on the first floor, which then is connected via wire to the antennas around the mall.
Webner credited Ildemar Ortega, AT&T Senior Engineer, & Marc Banfield, AT&T Engineer for building the system.
Thanks to their efforts holiday shoppers enjoyed improved service this year. If you are an AT&T customer make sure you check out the improved service on your cell phone the next time you are in the mall.