AT&T says it will invest more than $50 million in its Georgia wireless network this year to improve service. That includes adding nine new cell sites in the Columbus area.
Most of the new equipment will be installed in the fourth quarter of this year, said Dawn Benton, spokeswoman for AT&T's Georgia/Alabama region, which is headquartered in Atlanta. She had no specific date on when the upgrade would be completed.
"Part of the reason for this is to strengthen what we call the core of the city, areas around the city where our customers are using their service, increasing the density and the strength of the coverage," Benton said. "It's also preparing for the influx of the military growth, the people coming into the area over the next 12 to 18 months."
Fort Benning and Columbus are expected to pick up more than 30,000 residents by the year 2011 as the U.S. Army's infantry and armor schools combine. The post also looks to gain other Army duties and missions.
Areas of the community that will receive the new AT&T equipment include:
• Residential and commercial areas in central Columbus• North Columbus around the intersection of Schomburg and Hancock roads• Downtown Phenix City• South Columbus from Benning Hills to Fort Benning• U.S. Highway 27 in Cataula, Ga., in Harris County• Northeast Columbus along Warm Springs Road• U.S. Highway 27 and Marne Road on Fort Benning• U.S. Highway 27A from Ellerslie to Waverly Hall northeast of Columbus• North Lumpkin and Andrews roads in south Columbus
Columbus is only a portion of the new cell sites going up statewide, Benton said. Another 41 sites will be added from north Georgia to the coastal region of the state.
Over the last three years, the company invested more than $575 million in Georgia, adding 130 cell sites, she said. That included deploying wireless broadband service in Atlanta, which allows subscribers to use cellular signals on their laptops for high-speed Internet access.
Benton said she doesn't know when AT&T will offer broadband access in other areas of the state, including Columbus.
"It's something we do on a rolling market-by-market basis," she said.
Earlier this year, AT&T said it plans to pump $500 million into fiber network upgrades over several years. The aim is to boost broadband deployment and offer new Internet-based technologies.
"We're off to a great start already, and the future promises to be very exciting for Georgia," Cliff Minor, AT&T’s vice president and general manager for wireless operations in Georgia, said in a statement.
AT&T competitor Verizon Wireless is the only cellular company offering high-speed access in Columbus. The service debuted locally last fall.
The Columbus upgrades came from "customer feedback," Benton said, including local business clients. This looks to be the biggest investment in the city in a while, she said.
"This is definitely significant for the Columbus area," she said.
Founded in 1983 as Southwestern Bell Corp., AT&T's purchase of BellSouth was approved by the Federal Communications Commission in December 2006. The deal combined ownership of Cingular Wireless, initially a joint venture between AT&T and BellSouth.
MORE AREA UPGRADES
Aside from the Columbus market, here are cell site upgrades planned by AT&T's wireless operation in south Georgia: • Eastern side of Americus
• U.S. Highway 319 south from I-16 to Rentz
• Fort Valley to Perry along Highway 341 from Peach County to Houston County
• Northern side of Cordele and the Pine Hill Country Club and along U.S. Highway 41
• Between Interstate 75 and Interstate 475 and in multiple industrial parks in the area
• Western side of Albany, including the Doubletree Country Club
• Areas in LaGrange, West Point and around the Kia manufacturing plant being built in Troup County