Wireless cards in the drumlins: Not ready for prime time

Posted on March 26, 2010


All of us have been keeping a hopeful eye on this tower.  It belongs to Verizon Wireless, and rumors have been rife that it might actually make it possible for more of us to have both adequate cellphone service and that holy grail of modern communication, high-speed internet.  OK, moderate-speed internet, but keep in mind that for many of us the standard is “better than dialup anyway.”

We suspected that we were fooling ourselves, but hope springs eternal.  It sprang in the heart of Russell, helped along by ads and “coverage maps” and the promise of a free trial period.  Unfortunately, he was nearing the end of his free trial period and had not yet been able to achieve nirvana.  In desperation, he asked me whether I knew anything about it.  Well, no, I said, but I’m seriously interested in the problem, and I never let lack of knowledge keep me from exploring a topic.  So there we were at Russell’s cabin in the woods out on the Flat Road.

I did not take pictures of the installation process.  I was busy, people.  Anyway, eventually there was a message that suggested the problem was Insufficient Signal Strength.  I could write the book on ISS.   Russell was determined.  He pulled out his wireless phone and called Verizon.  OK, first he had to go outside.  This, I thought, was not a good sign.

But wait, said Russell. This was a big improvement. He used to have to go all the way out there and sit on that stump to make a call.

OK, so Russell gets a nice technician named Mike on the line.  We tell him that we are two miles from the tower.  Mike chuckles benevolently and says, Ah, but whose tower is it?  Verizon’s!  Russell and I say, with authority.  We know these things up here!  Mike establishes that we are correct, and walks us through some steps to improve our chances. I am inside fooling with the computer while Russell is chilling on the porch, his phone on speaker.  We are talking through the open window, so it’s getting pretty nippy inside, too.

We complete the Activation Process, but we are not achieving the longed-for signal strength.  Mike says he thinks it’s the thick log cabin walls.  It’s the metal roof, it’s the trees, it’s the terrain, and the trees are probably beginning to leaf out . . . Mike!  I want to say, log cabins with metal roofs and trees and drumlins are a regular feature of life in the north country!  Your salespeople should inquire about these matters before selling people services they cannot obtain. 

But I do not say this.  It is Russell’s call.  Russell is clinging to hope.  His phone is working!  It has enough signal!  Well, um, says Mike, voice communication takes far less signal than data communication.  Russell persists.  I had to admire his persistence.  Maybe if he buys an antenna and sticks it on the roof.  Mike discouraged this option.  Their antennas, it seems, are not to be used outdoors.  OK, maybe if he buys a laptop and goes out and sits on the stump . . .  Russell!  OK, he will drive out to the highway and sit in the car.

The sad thing is, he could get a good signal sitting on the shoulder of US-31 in his car.  Or up on top of the drumlin around Antrim Dells, where there is a golf course instead of trees.  Pesky trees anyway.  Russell is thinking about his chainsaw, I know he is.  To distract him, I suggest an experiment.

We take the modem to the Writing Studio and Bait Shop, which is slightly closer to the tower and at a slightly higher elevation.  Shingle roof.  Thinner walls.  Still in the trees.  We get a modestly better signal, and I even manage to get online, but the results are dismal.  It is not better than dialup.  It is . . . worse.  And then the signal drops altogether.   

Russell gazes sadly at the box of manuals and equipment that he must FedEx back in order to cancel his nonexistent internet service.  He makes the fateful call, speaking to the nice Consumer Service Representative.  The cancellation is done.  However, there will be a charge for the time he has had the equipment . . . .  There is a steely gleam in Russell’s eye.  It will be interesting to see how all this plays out.