There are some solutions to North Phoenix’s wireless woes short of switching carriers, though customers report mixed results with the methods. For starters, carriers will often suggest customers set their phones to use Wi-Fi while at home or in the office as a way to “offload” data from their networks (instructions for iPhone and Android phones). That’s fine when you’re in range of a Wi-Fi network you trust, but not helpful on the road.
Verizon suggested Anthem resident Debbie Bernard activate Wi-Fi Assist, which makes a phone automatically switch between cellular data and Wi-Fi based on signal strength. “No problems ever since,” Bernard said.
Ann Olson Schlensig installed the in-home Airwave, which Sprint bills as “your own mini-cell tower” to boost cell coverage. “Haven’t had a problem since and I’ve had no problem anywhere else in Anthem or surrounding areas,” she said.
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For those with poor in-home reception, Verizon suggests buying a 4G LTE Network Extender that “operates like a miniature cell tower,” the company says. Anthem resident Bob Bleecker offered this advice: “If you are having problems at your home, demand Verizon provide you with a 4G Network Extender for free.”
What’s really needed are widespread infrastructure changes, including more towers, especially smaller ones that work at higher speeds over small areas.
New laws and regulations allow wireless carriers to install smaller wireless antennas atop utility poles and even street lights in Arizona, filling in coverage gaps, and that’s already happening in Maricopa County.
There are trade-offs, of course.
“More cell towers could dramatically improve coverage, but at the expense of some pretty ugly additions to the neighborhoods,” said Anthem Country Club resident Roger Willis.
On the horizon, the fifth generation of wireless standards, 5G, promises far more capacity and faster speeds. “But don’t believe the hype,” say the editors of Wired magazine. “The shift to 5G won’t happen quickly.”