Cell expert faces hours of questions on UCC tower

Photo by Alyssa Lidman
Radio frequency expert Glenn Pierson, right, testified for more more than three hours at a recent Cranford Zoning Board meeting on the cell phone coverage in and around Union County College’s campus. Also pictured are attorneys Robert Simon, with microphone, and Greg Meese, who has his back to the camera.

CRANFORD, N.J. — A radiofrequency expert answered questions regarding a proposed 140-foot cell tower on the Union County College campus for approximately three-and-a-half hours at a zoning board meeting on Jan. 13, repeating the claim that there was insufficient wireless-telephone coverage in the area.

Glenn Pierson, who also testified at a December meeting, said gaps exist in cell phone coverage on Springfield Avenue, on Riverside Drive, at Brookside Elementary School, on Spruce Street next to Brookside and on East Broad Street in Westfield.

The tower would service Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile customers and would also be available for emergency services and other antennas.

Pierson was questioned on his use of 2010 census data, as opposed to tax records; other methods to expand coverage; and whether the proposed tower was the only one, or would there be others like it to come.

“Eventually, there’s probably going to be something in Westfield to the west, and there’s probably going to be something in Kenilworth to the east,” he said.

He said the three mobile carriers have managed so far by using receiver/transmitter cell stations on rooftops of homes and businesses.

“The goal is not to put a cell tower in everyone’s backyard,” Pierson said. “The sites that I’ve introduced and the recent ones from Verizon are small cells on rooftops just to try to patch in little pieces and to try to nick away at the problem. But we still have a problem.”

The issue of the tower has been ongoing for more than a year, with neighbors of the college complaining that the tower would stretch 14 stories, be within 1,000 feet of 75 homes, be as close as 236 feet to some homes on Princeton Road and be an eyesore.

At the December meeting, the attorney for UCC, Greg Meese, claimed all three of the “wireless carriers currently have inadequate cell phone coverage in and around the college campus and that part of Cranford into Westfield. To address some of the deficiencies, Verizon installed an indoor distributed antenna system within the college buildings, but that system is only for Verizon, and it goes down if the power is out.”

Attorney Robert Simon, who represented a neighborhood group called Union County Residents United, challenged the adequacy of the data available and questioned the necessity of the cell tower, asking if local residents could rely on cell enhancers… Wi-Fi, or cell boosters?”

Pierson said he used 2010 census data to determine how many residents will have improved coverage if the application is approved. Pierson stated that he does not know whether residents have alternatives — cell enhancers such as femtocells or Wi-Fi boosters.

“Those are not considered, from a network-coverage standpoint,” Pierson said. “Wi-Fi does not have the mobility section to it, so from the moving public, you actually have to lose the coverage. It’s very clunky and doesn’t provide hand-offs or anything like that.

“So, you can take that one out. The femtocells are very low power like the Wi-Fi in your house, it usually covers inside the house, but would do very little outside the house. … Those aren’t part of the hard network that’s monitored, etc. Those aren’t in the same category.”

When Simon asked whether Pierson had conducted any other investigations into alternatives to a cell tower. Pierson replied that he did not have this information.

UCC officials have testified that a reason for their desire for the cell tower is for emergency coverage on the west side of the campus, where the tower is to be located.

Simon queried Pierson on his knowledge of UCC students and staff are enrolled in an emergency notification system, but he said he did not have an in-depth knowledge of the emergency notification system.

Pierson did state that the emergency notification system is not frequency specific, and also that 911 calls are not frequency specific.

He added that there are coverage gaps on the UCC campus regardless of the frequency band.
When pressed as to whether faculty and students would be unable to receive emergency email and text notifications if the tower was denied, Pierson appeared vague.

“They are going to receive some,” he said. “It depends on where they are, depends on if they’re in coverage. They need to be in coverage to do that.”

He also said he was not aware of any issues with Cranford or Westfield police or emergency service departments having issues communicating through wireless telecommunications in the area.
Regarding possible other locations, Pierson said he was asked only to evaluate the UCC location.
“I’m sure there are, but I don’t have anything besides this,” he said.

Resident Lenore Argen asked whether, if the tower was to benefit those in neighboring Kenilworth and Westfield, Cranford residents would be compensated.

“Everybody is sharing the pain, here,” Pierson said.

Another resident, Ray Licata, asked, why, if the population in Cranford is not increasing, was there a need to fix coverage?

“We need to get the coverage to resolve issues going forward,” Pierson said. “So, we need to improve the coverage here because our frequency, the higher frequency bands have little or no coverage. And the lower frequency bands are spotty and unreliable.”