Sprint says tower upgrades to ease dropped-call problems
By Cindy Wojdyla Cain firstname.lastname@example.org May 7, 2012 10:58PM
Updated: June 9, 2012 8:07AM
JOLIET — Tim Del Buono ran outside to call 911 when his mother’s home caught on fire, but his Sprint cell phone didn’t work.
The first call on the 27-year-old’s phone resulted in a fast busy signal. His second attempt ended in a dropped call. The third time, he called, he got a “signal faded” message on his phone.
At that point, Tim threw the cell phone in a neighbor’s back yard and asked some kids on the sidewalk to call 911, according to his mother, Terri Del Buono.
The Del Buonos and other Sprint customers in the Joliet area are experiencing cell phone service problems. Area police departments, too, are reporting service problems.
Sprint is in the middle of a cell phone tower consolidation, but the problems of delayed data or dropped and blocked calls should be over soon and service will be better than ever, said Candace Johnson, a spokeswoman for the Overland Park, Kan.-based company.
The company is consolidating many cell towers with 2G and 1X systems into one 3G network. Johnson likened the work to road repairs that cause problems during construction, but are worth it in the end.
The Chicago area is experiencing the upgrade now, she added.
“Joliet is pretty much good,” she said. “We’re moving north. If it’s not improved now, I’d say (it will be) a week or two at the most.”
‘Bang, they’re gone’
Joliet Police Chief Michael Trafton, whose department uses Sprint phones, said there is no sign the service is improving.
He said it’s embarrassing when he is talking with city residents and his phone drops the call multiple times. Police have their radios to fall back on for emergencies, he said. But the phones are iffy at best.
“It sucks,” he said Monday. “On my way to lunch today, I dropped calls. We are dropping all the time.”
Will County Sheriff’s Deputy Chief Ken Kaupas said his employees also are using Sprint phones and it’s been a terrible couple of months with dropped calls and random time zone phone changes on the phones.
“In the middle of critical discussions — bang, they’re gone,” he said of the calls.
The problem is so bad in Shorewood, the village next week will switch to a new carrier for its police department, Village Manager Jeff Fiegenschuh said.
“We have had some pretty significant issues with our Sprint service,” he said.
Every second counts
Dropped or blocked calls can be a nuisance, but for the Del Buonos, the inability to call 911 was a crisis.
Their home in the Mayfair subdivision was gutted by the April 26 fire. Tim was able to get his 3- and 6-year-old sons and his father, who was disabled by a stroke in January, out of the house. They now are living in a hotel.
Terri said her whole family has been having trouble with its Sprint service for the past several months. But the 911 call problem was the last straw.
“It was terrible,” said Terri, who was at work when the fire started. “Every second your cell phone isn’t working if you call 911, more of your house is burning.”
Sprint’s Johnson said the idea of failed 911 calls is “horrifying to hear,” but she couldn’t comment specifically on the Del Buonos’ plight without knowing more specific information.
Once the cell tower upgrades are completed, there will be 20 percent to 30 percent fewer dropped or blocked calls, Johnson said.
“It’s more efficient and it eventually will enhance call quality, network coverage and data speeds,” she said.