Will Dyson was looking at a $200,000, 18-month effort to solve the problem Kansas City employees were having with their Sprint cellphones at City Hall. They didn’t work well at all.
Instead, he took care of it by plugging in a Sprint Magic Box in late March.
“This wall is three feet thick,” the city’s mobile device manager said standing near a window in the building that political boss Tom Pendergast famously built with his concrete company. “It absorbs all the cell signals.”
And that caused problems for employees who used their phones or tablets under the city’s Sprint contract to collect data during inspections, field visits and other work around the city.
Back at City Hall, there was only one place they could get a wireless connection to upload the data to city systems, or retrieve email, receive city text alerts or do other job-related data-consuming routines. They had to stand near a window that gave them essentially a line-of-sight connection with a Sprint tower.
Dyson had solved similar problems in other buildings by installing a micro cell and antennas, which requires federal permits, takes far too much time and costs enough to pinch budgets.
“The beauty of the Magic Box is you take all that away,” said Günther Ottendorfer, Sprint’s chief operating officer for technology who visited City Hall Monday to talk about the company’s network upgrade effort.
Sprint’s Magic Box is a small cell that plugs into a wall socket and sits in a window sill. It creates a high-speed data connection with the nearest tower and spreads it throughout the building and strengthens the signal outside the structure as well.
The Overland Park-based wireless company is making the boxes free to customers who qualify.
City Hall got 10 of them, and Dyson set them in window sills strategically throughout the top 20 floors of the 30-floor building.
“We’ve gotten thank yous from all over the building,” he said.
The higher floors particularly needed help because they’re higher up than the nearby cellular “tower” equipment atop a seven-story building a few blocks south at 1301 Main Street.
Other city buildings similarly have gotten Magic Boxes to plug in, and Dyson said similar data service improvements have followed.
Data speed tests he made at one location showed download speeds on the Sprint network jumped from a half a megabyte per second to 30 or 40 megabytes per second.
“It puts the tower on the floor,” said Mary Miller, the city’s chief information officer. “It allows them (employees) to use their mobile devices for what they were intended for.”
City employees use about 1,200 Sprint phones and tablets in City Hall. Now, their data signals strengthen as they walk toward the elevators in the center of building, instead of disappearing.