As part of an effort to expand coverage of its voice and data wireless network, communications company Verizon Wireless opened a new cell tower on campus last month. Other companies, including AT&T; and Cingular Wireless, have also focused on improving service on campus recently.
The cellular coverage areas now extend east from 40th Street to the Schuylkill Expressway, and north from the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia up to Spring Garden Street.
Though the exact location of the tower remains a business secret, Verizon did work closely with officials at Penn's Facilities and Real Estate Services to design and build the cell phone tower. The designs and proposed site were approved and licensed by city officials and the Zoning Board of Adjustment.
The University "really wanted the tower to be very concealed, so it would not stand out at all," Verizon spokeswoman Natalie Giuliante said, relaying information from Verizon. "Unlike installations elsewhere, we had to proceed differently at Penn. We had to go through their Real Estate department, who had their own team of architects. They came up with a design that was a stealth plan."
From past experience, Verizon officials now look first to areas around college campuses and in cities for priority in expansion.
"We always want to have the best coverage. Students are always using their phones, and campuses are a high usage area that we have to cover. It's what we look at a couple years in advance," said Sheldon Jones, spokesman for Verizon.
To assist in its planning efforts, Verizon utilizes a group of drive testers -- known from television ads as the "can you hear me now?" guys -- to roam around the country and test out the networks of Verizon and its competitors. The data is used to identify future expansion sites.
Other telecommunications companies have also been active in revamping their wireless and cellular services in the area.
As a result of University savings plans negotiated with Nextel and AT&T; by Networking and Telecommunications -- a branch of Penn's Information Systems and Computing -- both companies have installed towers within the last year to improve campus coverage.
"We save Penn students and staff using these vendors about $200,000 annually," said Michael Palladino, associate vice president of N&T.; "The companies are getting a lot of business from us -- 2 million dollars annually -- so they've been willing to invest more into infrastructure."
Penn students using AT&T; should already be receiving an automatic 10 percent discount, marked on their bill as a credit. However, students who leave out their Penn affiliation when they first register will not get the discount. Palladino advises any Penn student who has not received the discount to contact the AT&T; Penn account managers, listed on the Penn Web site.