Pigeon Gorge dead spot could be solved soon for AT&T cell customers

A new cell phone tower in the Pigeon River Gorge could mean fewer dropped calls as motorists cruise down Interstate 40.


The steep walls and remote nature of I-40 near the Tennessee state line is notoriously bad for cell service. Only in the past several years have cell companies invested in towers to reach this isolated area, despite being on a leg of a heavily traveled, coast-to-coast interstate.

The St. Petersburg, Fla.-based company PT Access Networks wants to build a new 155-foot telecommunications tower near the North Carolina welcome center along I-40. Cell service provider AT&T plans to use the tower to expand its service along the interstate.

There is another cell tower several miles up the road near Exit 15 for White Oak, but it is already hosts equipment of three cell service providers. The county has a cell tower ordinance that requires cell phone companies to locate their equipment on existing towers when possible, with up to three companies on a tower.

Plus, the signal would not reach all the way up to the welcome center area.

While the old analog signals covered a few miles, digital signals have a shorter reach.

“Digital does not travel nearly as far as our old analog phones,” said Kris Boyd, director of Haywood County’s Planning Department. “(Digital cell towers) have to be closer together.”

Digital signals also have a harder time penetrating tree coverage and other barriers to cell service.

The cell tower must be approved by Haywood County commissioners. The county will hold a public hearing to gather input on the possible new cell tower at 5:30 p.m. Monday, May 20, on the second floor of the historic courthouse in Waynesville.

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