NTSB Recommends Cell Phone Amplifiers For Passenger Vehicles in Rural Areas

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Wednesday, 04 November 2009

NTSB Recommends Cell Phone Amplifiers For Passenger Vehicles in Rural Areas

Wilson’s Amplifiers Adopted by Sheriff’s Department, Cited in Safety Report after Nine People Die

36 angst-ridden minutes ticked by after a passing driver who first saw the fresh wreckage of a roadside accident drove to a location where he could get cellular service and report the accident. Emergency help was needed that overcast afternoon in January 2008 when 50 occupants of a 53-passenger coach were ejected from their seats as a motorcoach careened off a 25-foot embankment, overturned, struck several rocks separating the roof from its body, and finally coming to rest in a ditch on its wheels. Nine people were killed and 43 others suffered minor to serious injury according to the National Transportation and Safety Board’s (NTSB) investigation of the incident. Could there have been lives saved if it hadn’t taken so long to get a call out?

While driver fatigue is established in the report as the cause of the accident, the time it took to actually call for help was the result of no cell service in the area. Poor cellular coverage is a common issue that Safety and Rescue professionals, and highway patrol teams, who work in rural areas across the country face on a regular basis. And they aren’t the only ones with the safety problem.

After the incident in Mexican Hat, Utah, the NTSB cited seven recommendations to help avoid a similar event in the future, one of which was the installation of cellular amplifiers into buses and motorcoaches that traverse across rural roadways, as a safety measure. The local sheriff’s office and the San Juan County search and rescue teams adopted that “safety measure.”

“We installed cellular amplifiers in our vehicles about a year and a half ago,” said San Juan County, Utah sheriff, Mike Lacy. “I’m a retired highway patrolman and only once, 25 years ago, have I seen a bus accident with as much carnage as that one,” he said in a recent interview.

The Sheriff’s department installed amplifiers that are made by manufacturer, Wilson Electronics, and Lacy said that the amps have made a significant difference in their cell range on roadways. Wilson was also footnoted as a supplier of amplifiers in the NTSB report.

As suppliers of amplifiers to municipalities and fleet vehicles, Wilson Electronics is the largest and oldest amplifier manufacturer in North America having made their start 40 years ago manufacturing antennas for CB radios. Cell phones make up the bulk of mobile communications today, but problems with cell phone coverage still haunt rural and mountainous areas. To the locals, the Mexican Hat incident is fresh in memory and is referred to as “the rollover.” Wilson Electronics is headquartered in St. George, Utah, which is nestled in the remote areas that are affected by poor cell service.

Walt Brooks, Wilson’s director of sales said that “remoteness” is just one factor in creating weak signals. Major cities can have problems with what he calls “urban canyons” where the obstructions from concrete and steel can create barriers to cell towers. Cellular amplifiers, also called repeaters, provide a boost to and from the cell tower, he said. This allows the cell tower and the phone to actually find and “talk” to one another. “The SoHo (part# 801245 ) would be a great fit for a bus,” Brooks recommended. The reason is that it is “dual-band, so it will work with all carriers, (except Nextel’s iDen),” he said.

“The SoHo is strong enough to provide good coverage and its ‘intelligent’ design prevents it from being too strong.” He explained that what makes it intelligent are the protections built into all of Wilson’s amplifiers, “they have the ability to cutback power and prevent oscillation.”

Oscillation is a phenomenon that occurs when an antenna and an amplifier are too close together. It is similar to the affect of a microphone that is too close to its amplifier; most have experienced that ear-splitting event. The feedback loop in oscillation however, is serious enough to be a threat to the integrity of a carrier’s network. Wilson Electronics is the only manufacturer of cellular amplifiers that has established FCC-approved standards for this technology. More information about the company’s products and customer service can be found on:

No one can know for sure if lives would have been saved that day in Mexican Hat, Utah, had an emergency call been possible, but there are reasons to believe that if the technology is made available, roadway communications now has a back-up plan.


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Last Updated ( Wednesday, 04 November 2009 )
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