Medford may kill cell phone dead spots

Cellular dead spots are an annoyance for some residents in Medford, so the city may allow the installation of so-called microcells on light posts to improve coverage.

The microcells, which are becoming more popular in cities to handle greater demands for data, typically provide service to fewer than 200 users, said Kelly Madding, deputy city manager.

"This is where the technology is going to," she told the City Council today.

The microcells would also benefit the police and fire departments, which have to contend with spotty service in some areas of town, according to police Chief Randy Sparacino.

"There are areas in Medford that don't perform well," he said. Cell companies typically set aside a certain amount of bandwidth for access by emergency service providers.

Councilor Kevin Stine wondered whether the added cellular horsepower would be put to the best use.

"Is this to help dead spots or for over coffee shops?," he asked.

Madding said it would be used both for dead spots and for areas where large amounts of data are being consumed.

A low-power microcell, which would typically be installed on a city light post or other pole, could cover a limited areas such as a mall, a hotel or a transportation hub.

The council agreed to study the idea, but councilors raised potential issues, including the rather large boxes that house the microcells, loud diesel generators that provide back-up power and noise from fans to cool the devices.

"They can be really loud," said Councilor Kay Brooks. The noise can be particularly disruptive in residential neighborhoods, she said.

Brooks said some cities have sued over the devices being installed without following city regulations. Other cities have seen ugly installations.

To deal with these issues, some cities require that equipment be stored underground, and still others such as San Francisco find ways to conceal the equipment, including by placing street signs in front of it.

Portland, Eugene, Bend and Hillsboro are among the Oregon cities that allow microcells.

Madding said she expects the city will receive inquiries from some of the many cellphone companies that have received complaints about spotty coverage.

Mobilitie, a Newport Beach, California, company, had previously asked the city to consider creating an ordinance to allow the microcells, asking for six installations at an April 20 council meeting. Mobilitie, according to its website, does the installations for some of the major carriers in the U.S.

— Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or Follow him on

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