The Cambrian

Cell-phone bar hopping

Cell-phone coverage in Cambria and on the North Coast has been notoriously porous, drawing numerous complaints over a long period of time from residents, visitors and emergency responders.

A new cell antenna is expected to come online in early August. To answer

the seemingly eternal question— which cellular provider provides

the best coverage here — The Cambrian conducted a spot check of cell-phone reception at 31 sites in the Cambria and San Simeon area.

The results should give readers a record of how coverage was before the new antenna came on line. We plan to do another Verizon check afterwards to find out how coverage from that provider has changed.

For now, AT&T and Cellular One came out clearly superior, with at least one “bar” of signal strength at nearly all the sites. It figures the two came out with very close results, as AT&T reached an agreement in May with Cellular One to use its towers for “roaming.” T-Mobile has a similar agreement.

Assisting The Cambrian with the survey were Rick Auricchio of Cambria and his friend, Creed Erickson of Livermore. Their iPhones in hand, the two computer experts accompanied Staff Writer Kathe Tanner on the three-hour, 68-mile search for good cell reception.

No Sprint/Nextel phone was available for the survey; The Cambrian welcomes data from that and other providers. E-mail information to

Cell tower sites

Current cellular tower sites, according to county and State Park records and other sources, include:

• Hearst Castle, two 95-foot-tall monopines on China Hill (a differ-

ent peak on the same hillside as the State Historical Landmark), with antennas for ATT (formerly Cingular), Verizon, Cellular One and Sprint (Nextel);

• Santa Rosa Catholic Church (inside the steeple), serving Cellular One and AT&T (roaming);

• Medical building, 2150 Main St., serving Cellular One, AT&T (roaming);

• Cambria Pines Lodge has a micro-cell repeater;

•Ragged Point Inn, serving Cellular One;

• Former Cambria Air Force Station, serving Cellular One; and

• Townsend ranch, next to former air force station, serving Verizon, Sprint, TMobile;

In the works

Additional cell towers are in various stages:

• A second site at Santa Rosa Catholic Church (in the recently heightened bell-tower) on Main Street will serve Verizon customers. Installation is underway, with completion expected by September, county planner Airlin Singewald said July 27.

• Old Cambria Air Force Station. An application for an AT&T antenna. The North Coast Advisory Council recommended approval and plans are “under review” at the county, Singewald said. “We should be able to get this project to hearing within a few months after we accept the application as complete,” which will depend on how long it takes AT&T to get additional information to the county.

• Plans have also been floated, but not filed, to add a cell site on the southeast end of Pine Knolls in the Pinewood Drive/Grove Street area overlooking Main Street.

Road testing cell phones

Some results of The Cambrian’s survey were surprising.

Two identical phones can get slightly different readings at the same time in the same place, according to where in the car the handler was sitting, how close the phone was to a window and to which tower the service was trying to connect.

And, as recently noted after introduction of a newer iPhone, how a phone is held can make a difference.

Readings varied because at each site, phones rarely locked on to one set of bars and stayed there.

Auricchio explained that, “because of AT&T's roaming agreement with Cellular One, an AT&T phone generally connects first with an AT&T tower, even if the signal is somewhat weak. After a few minutes, it may then roam to the stronger Cell- One tower.”