BAR HARBOR — Cellular phone and data service on the AT&T network is set to improve here this summer. The company is installing temporary “Cell on Wheels” equipment downtown, with a more permanent solution planned for 2021.
Mount Desert Island is a difficult place to set up cellular communications coverage, with mountains close together and, in peak tourist season, a high concentration of visitors in hotel rooms and on cruise ships in the harbor.
In January, the Bar Harbor Chamber of Commerce wrote to AT&T to ask for improvements.
“Unfortunately, Bar Harbor is developing a reputation among our visitors as a village with poor cell coverage, especially for AT&T customers,” chamber Executive Director Alf Anderson wrote. “We have heard from residents and businesses in the region that AT&T’s service has presented challenges through dropped calls, slow/no data transfer, and weak signals. Business customers … expect to be able to use cellular communications and data for point-of-sale and reservation systems.”
During peak visitation on the Fourth of July weekend, the Bar Harbor Police and Fire Departments also reported dropped calls, slowdowns in data transfers or the inability to get phone calls or text messages through. The agencies purchased priority service on the AT&T network through a company called FirstNet, but some police cruiser computers were still unusable at time.
For the Fourth of July weekend last year, the Bar Harbor Fire Department ordered a mobile cell site to link to FirstNet via satellite.
“In early March, I received a response from Owen Smith, Maine state president at AT&T services,” Anderson told the Islander, saying the company would install the Cell on Wheels, and that it would be available May 15 through Sept. 15. The equipment is expected to offer more capacity than the FirstNet satellite device.
“AT&T intends to install a permanent solution for 2021 and beyond,” Anderson said.