IOWA CITY — Following years of dropped calls, never-received text messages, and crawling internet service, Hawkeye fans should expect a marked improvement in their cellular communications inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena and Kinnick Stadium.
U.S. Cellular — working with project manager Connectivity Wireless Solutions — on Wednesday announced it’s the first wireless carrier to deploy a distributed antenna system network in Carver — a system that will be up and running in time for the men’s basketball game Saturday against Illinois and answer widespread consumer complaints of slow or no service during events.
“The new network system supports a large concentration of people in one area, so Hawkeye fans at the game can keep in touch with family and friends, as well as post updates and photos to their social networks,” Dan White, U.S. Cellular senior project manager, said in a statement.
The cellular company also plans to add a network — improving signal quality and capacity — at the UI Stead Family Children’s Hospital later this month and at Kinnick before the April 21 spring football game.
The upgrades come as the university is headed to trial against the technology firm it originally hired to build the wireless network for expanded coverage at Carver and Kinnick and eventually fired.
American Tower Corp. — or ATC — filed a lawsuit against UI and the Board of Regents last March asking a Polk County court to rule that the company’s original agreements still are in effect, order the university to honor the conditions of the contracts and force payment for damages.
The lawsuit was amended in October.
American Tower in December 2013 entered into agreements with UI to develop and operate the wireless networks at Carver and Kinnick. The agreements didn’t lay out construction milestones or hard deadlines, according to the lawsuit.
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Citing “factors beyond ATC’s control” — including tight carrier budgets and lack of university cooperation — the company was slow in getting carriers on board and designing and constructing the networks, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit states the company was trying to complete the work and had incurred $241,000 in direct costs.
On Aug. 12, 2015, UI notified American Tower it was “immediately terminating the agreements” due to the company’s failure to finish the project in a timely manner.
American Tower officials accused the university of violating its contracts — allegations UI officials deny.
After severing the deal, the university entered a new agreement with Connectivity Wireless — a firm ATC had been partnering with on the Carver and Kinnick projects.
In the amended complaint, ATC accuses Connectively of engaging in a “covert campaign to sour the university and board’s relationship with ATC, allocate all responsibility for any project issues to ATC, and convince the university and board to terminate the agreements with ATC and instead hire Connectivity.”
Included in court documents is a June 23, 2015, email from Connectivity’s vice president of sales and marketing disparaging ATC, criticizing its limited experience with stadiums and arenas and offering an alternate option of terminating that original contract and “extending our agreement.”
“If you decided to give ATC another couple of months, I can assume that they would get into construction but possibly with two men and a truck,” the email reads.
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The impact on ATC’s budget and reputation has been severe, the lawsuit states, adding the termination also harmed the company’s work with other universities.
The Connectivity contract with UI lists the cost for the project at Carver at more than $3 million and the project at Kinnick at more than $6 million.
Connectivity representatives didn’t answer questions about the service or its role in the lawsuit, which is scheduled to go to trial on Jan. 22. The Gazette was unable to reach ATC officials or the company’s attorney on Wednesday.
UI officials on Wednesday didn’t answer questions about its contract with Connectivity, the lawsuit, or whether it put the project out for public bid.
U.S. Cellular officials told The Gazette they have worked for years with Connectivity on the project, connecting its radio equipment to their infrastructure.
The collaboration, according to White, will allow Hawkeye fans to communicate more freely and affectively while at games — an issue that has plagued the venues for years.
“Customers should experience a noticeable difference while attending events,” he said.
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