Verizon has joined U.S. Cellular in leasing access to an antenna that boosts service in Chesapeake Energy Arena during Thunder games and other events, and AT&T may not be far behind.
The Oklahoma City Council is expected to formally approve a contract Tuesday between the city and Verizon that allows the wireless company to use the antenna for at least five years. U.S. Cellular, one of the Thunder's main corporate sponsors, has been using the antenna since before the team's first home game this year.
The $105,000 antenna is part of the $93.1 million in ongoing renovations at the arena paid for by a voter-approved penny sales tax. The companies that opt to use it pay the city $24,000 per year and a $6,000 startup fee, and the city's public property authority keeps money that's not needed for maintenance on the antenna.
The city council's approval of the contract will be retroactive to the beginning of the year, when Verizon started using the antenna after it hooked up the necessary equipment.
The antenna, called a multicarrier distributed access system, helps strengthen service for participating carriers during events at the arena. It also helps wireless customers near the arena who will no longer have to compete for the same signal as the thousands of people inside.
“When customers are in the arena, they like to text people who aren't at the game or check other (scores of) games, so they need data service for a number of reasons,” said Ginger Daril, a Verizon regional spokeswoman. “Our system upgrade is in place and working extremely well.”
A spokesman for U.S. Cellular also said the antenna has helped improve service for its customers at the arena.
“I would characterize it as exceeding their expectations,” said Tom Anderson, Oklahoma City's special projects manager.
AT&T coming soon?
A spokesman for AT&T, whose customers get poor service inside the arena during crowded events like Thunder games, said the company is working to install and set up equipment that will allow AT&T to use the antenna as well.
AT&T has had a contract to use the antenna in place since the fall, but has yet to pay for access to it. The company spokesman said he couldn't provide a timetable for when AT&T will finish the process.
Anderson said a fourth wireless company is exploring the possible use of the antenna, but he said he couldn't divulge which one. He praised Verizon for working quickly to secure access to the antenna, saying it was only about two weeks from the company's first site visit to when its signal went live.
A spokesman for Sprint, an official NBA sponsor, said the company has no immediate plans to lease access to the antenna and that it hasn't received complaints about poor service at the arena.
A spokesman for T-Mobile said the company also has no immediate plans to use the antenna because of what it considers to be strong coverage in and around the arena.