If you’ve experienced dropped calls, frozen apps and otherwise unreliable cell phone service in South End, you’re not alone.
The area along the Camden Road corridor that extends roughly from East Park to East Tremont and across South Boulevard into Dilworth is, anecdotally at least, a known problem plaguing users across multiple cell phone carriers.
Basically it’s the Bermuda Triangle of Charlotte cell phone service. Everyone knows about it, but no one can explain it.
Whenever I raise the issue, I’m inundated with messages from people who run into problems in the area — everything from texting to hailing a car with a rideshare app. Still, enough people say they haven’t noticed any interruptions that it’s somehow dismissed as little more than a persistent coincidence.
I’m not buying it.
The connectivity problem is bad enough, in fact, that one apartment community is installing cell boosters in an attempt to improve service for residents.
“Camden is taking a hefty financial step to install cell boosters throughout our whole building,” says Jamie Reeves, community manager at Camden Gallery. “These boosters will amplify the weak signal up 32 times for ATT, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon.”
Camden hired Telnet, a Maryland-based IT solutions provider, to address the problem. The nearly four-month installation project is expected to wrap up this month. A rep from Telnet was not immediately available to spoon feed the complicated tech jargon to me.
Several small business owners along Camden Road have noticed the cell phone service problem and say it’s gotten worse over time.
Jimmy Kleto, owner of Central Coffee, wondered if he was losing his mind. “I thought I was going crazy! So it is a real thing,” he said via a Facebook message that I can’t imagine was sent from the shop. “I can’t get a signal at all in my office there. I used to have to go outside to take a call, and now even that doesn’t work as well.”
Kleto says he’s also having trouble with wifi in the shop and has upped the bandwidth to one of Spectrum’s higher business class options, but some customers still say they can’t get online.
Down the street at Girl Tribe, co-owner Sarah Baucom tells me wifi is their solution to the cell phone connectivity problem. They give customers the password when they aren’t able to get service in the store.
Scott Wooten, co-owner of 704 Shop, says his team relies on wifi connection over cell service in their store, too. “Our cell service is basically zero in the shop,” he said via email that was no doubt sent over wifi. “If you aren’t on our wifi, you’re pretty much dead in the water.”
Wooten believes nearby development projects could be to blame for the connectivity problems. “During the construction of the Dimensional building it was like someone turned off a light switch and it never worked again,” he says. “Could be completely coincidental, but that’s when I noticed it at first. It definitely wasn’t like that when we first moved into the store.”
Reeves says the problems at Camden Gallery aligned with the construction timeline on the Dimensional building, too.
“I don’t know too much tech-savvy language, but I do know that we really started losing service during the construction of the Dimensional building,” she says.
Construction on Dimensional Fund Advisors’ new nine-story, 285,000-square-foot headquarters wrapped up months ago and DFA celebrated the grand opening back in May.
If recent construction were the culprit, it wouldn’t explain the South End cell phone woes that preceded the project and still persist today. One South End resident told me she’s had cell phone problems for six years. I forged ahead.
Still without answers, I took my pseudo-investigation to Verizon customer service. Things got even weirder.
I chatted with a guy named Tony who had “good news and better news” for me about South End’s apparent dead zone, but not before I dumped my own conspiracy theory on him.
But Tony has another (slightly more reasonable) explanation. He said with 4G a thing of the past, nothing is being done to address existing dead zones on the network. But, he says, there’s still hope. “The Good News is 5G is coming, and the better news is it will reach way more areas and cover much more ground than 4G ever did,” he typed.
Verizon’s 5G network is currently rolling out across the country, and Charlotte will be among the first wave of cities to get it. So if you buy Tony’s theory that 5G will be the solution to South End’s dead zone troubles, we could see some relief soon.
[Related Agenda story: Why 5G might actually matter to Charlotte]
Still, he found it odd that an urban district as densely populated as South End would be home to such a dead zone in the first place and theorized without further explanation that: “Perhaps there could be something political at play.”
Which, not to brag or anything, brought us back full circle to my original theory…