MIT Faculty Newsletter  
Vol. XXII No. 4
March / April / May 2010
New Opportunities Toward Nuclear Disarmament: Reviving Faculty Roles?
Is President Obama Reducing the Probability of Nuclear War?
MIT in Action in Haiti
MIT Medical Director Discusses Changes: Community Care Center Proposed
The MIT Medical Department 1901-2004:
A Very Brief History
Academic Integrity
The Chancellor and Student Deans Ask Students to Share "What's On Your Mind?"
Arthur C. Smith
Richard K. Yamamoto
New AT&T and Sprint Nextel Transmitters Promise Better Cell Phone Coverage
Graduate Fellows Build Community
The Foremost Resource Students Need
is Your Time
MIT Center for International Studies:
Student Training and Faculty Funding
MIT Finance Initiating Digital Tools and Services: ePaystubs Available in June
MIT Professional Education: Summer 2011 Short Course Proposals
U.S. News & World Report:
Graduate School Rankings 2001-2010
MIT Publications Online
Printable Version

New AT&T and Sprint Nextel Transmitters
Promise Better Cell Phone Reception

Robyn Fizz, Joan Cyr

Information Services and Technology (IS&T) has been working with AT&T and Sprint Nextel to improve cell phone coverage at MIT by installing cellular transmitters on campus. These outdoor transmitters will enable more successful penetration of building infrastructure, as well as improved overall coverage.

Earlier this year, in collaboration with the MIT Department of Facilities and the Office of the General Counsel, IS&T completed negotiations with AT&T for the installation of a transmitter on Building 16 and with Sprint Nextel for the installation of transmitters on Buildings E17, E19, and W34.  

MIT has obtained building permits from the City of Cambridge for all of these transmitter locations. AT&T expects its Building 16 transmitter to be up and running on or before Commencement. Sprint Nextel is on the same timetable for its Building E17 and E19 transmitters, with its site on W34 not far behind.

For updates on these projects, check IS&T’s Cellular Telephones page.

Many Challenges, Matching Initiatives

The installation of cellular transmitters is the most effective means for improving outdoor cell phone coverage on campus, but IS&T is taking a multi-pronged approach to address coverage challenges throughout MIT’s diverse environment. No one solution can fix all of the gaps, because each zone with spotty coverage usually has a specific, and often different, source.

As an example, each time a new building goes up on campus, coverage in surrounding buildings can be affected. Recently, construction of Building 76, the new home of the Koch Institute, has blocked AT&T signals in Building E19. The new AT&T transmitter on Building 16, which will include an array of transmitters facing east, should address this gap. 

In-building service can also be weak, depending on building materials, surrounding structures, and location (e.g., cell signals do not penetrate well into basements). IS&T has partnered with Cisco and MobileAccess to develop a new technology that delivers cellular signals over traditional network cabling, thus leveraging existing infrastructure at MIT in a cost-effective way. This technology is being piloted in Buildings 1, 3, and W92. Initial results have been very positive, and IS&T plans to leverage this technology in other campus buildings and, with Cisco and MobileAccess, to explore its integration into future wireless access points.

Meanwhile, wireless technology and innovation continues to move forward, and fourth-generation (4G) broadband wireless is on its way. There are currently two standards for 4G broadband wireless: WiMAX, which Sprint Nextel will be offering, and Long Term Evolution (LTE), which will be offered by AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon. Verizon’s LTE service is being piloted in Boston, one of two test markets in the U.S., and Sprint’s WiMAX service is being tested in Boston as well, with T-Mobile looking to begin testing in 2011. Once 4G wireless broadband services are fully launched in the Boston area over the next year, existing cell phone transmitters on and around campus will be upgraded to support the new 4G wireless broadband standards.  

A Moving Target

Providing strong cellular coverage throughout campus is a unique challenge, especially given the ongoing transmitter installations and changing technologies. Members of the MIT community, alumni, conference attendees, and other visitors to campus use a variety of mobile devices from multiple carriers each and every day, and IS&T continues to work with the carriers and employ a range of technologies to ensure the best possible mobile experience for the MIT community.

This is no easy proposition, but given the explosive growth in mobile computing and devices, IS&T has made it a key goal in support of MIT’s digital future.

If you have questions or feedback about cellular service on campus, contact the Cell Feedback Team.

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