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University takes steps toward improving cell service on campus

Boasting the best tailgating scene in the Southeastern Conference, the Grove attracts tens of thousands of people to Oxford on game weekends, which in turn creates a problem every tailgater and game-goer alike has experienced: a lack of cell phone service.
“It’s terrible,” Chase Hall, a music education sophomore, said. “I have to walk around for at least 30 minutes before I’ll even halfway get a signal. I never make calls on game day because I know they won’t go through.”
Trying to locate family and friends in the chaotic shuffle that takes over the University of Mississippi campus on game weekends is nearly impossible, especially when cell phones become completely useless. A common frustration in the Grove tends to arise while fans aimlessly search for their friends, holding their cell phones in the air and hoping for a glimpse of service.
“(The cellular service) is designed for some population — for the people driving through and the people who live here — to generate a certain load on the system,” John Daigle, an electrical engineering professor, said. “It is well-designed for that specific load.”
Cell service is a physical entity, Daigle said, one that can be compared to something as simple and common as a grocery store check-out line. On a Tuesday afternoon, Kroger is usually slow, and getting through a line does not take too much time; however, on a football weekend, when thousands of people are all shopping for finger foods at the same time, that line is going to be quite a bit longer.
“Just like (check-out lines), physical circuits ­— the circuits you use to make phone calls — have to have the channel to be able to make a phone call, and it is the same exact idea,” Daigle said. “This thing is designed so that the normal population using it gets very good service.”
David Drewrey, director of the Telecommunications Center at Ole Miss, said the cell service problem is already waning with the installation of power poles, disguised as aesthetically-pleasing light poles, popping up throughout campus.
“Well, we got lucky,” Drewrey said.
The university physical plant has had a lighting project in the works for several months, and Drewrey said he and his team jumped at the opportunity to combine efforts. This past spring, the university telecommunications department signed a contract with Nex-G, a “broadband wireless Internet access” company. The company focuses on “building the digital divide” between a single entity and the several cellular vendors it is indirectly associated with due to a certain community, according to Nex-G.com.
Drewrey said Nex-G found and provided the funds necessary to purchase and install the roughly 30 lighting and antenna poles throughout campus, each of which costs about $7,000-$8,000.
“This thing we signed with Nex-G was of no expense to the university,” Drewrey said. “They were going to get the cell vendors to put (the poles) in at no cost to us.”
The university has had some sideline costs, but the small expenses here and there do not compare to the amount of money that was saved through the partnership, Drewrey said.
The main purpose of Nex-G is to act as the “middle man” between the university and various cell phone providers, including AT&T, Verizon and C-Spire, according to Drewrey. Currently, AT&T is the only vendor that has signed with Nex-G to be part of the university’s DAS, or distributed antenna system.
Drewrey said that over the holidays, Nex-G and the telecommunications team are hoping to discuss and/or sign with Verizon, C-Spire and any of the other interested companies. However, Drewrey added that because C-Spire is a leader in Mississippi cellular coverage, they may be less likely to jump on the bandwagon.
Despite the great lengths the telecommunications department has already made, Drewrey said this will be an ongoing project, subject to constant changes as the cellular service industry evolves. As of now, though, service in the Grove has already shown vast improvements.