Cingular under fire

Kathleen Dooley

Sophomore Nancy Olewnik thought she had a good deal on her new Cingular wireless cell phone, purchased through the University.

Then she made her first call.

Like many other students with Cingular phones, Olewnik found she did not receive service in her dorm room or in many other areas across campus.

“I don’t have service in a lot of areas around campus,” she said. “I saw the promotion in the bookstore and I thought that since Villanova endorses Cingular, I would have service all over campus.”

Formerly a T-Mobile customer, Olewnik switched to Cingular this year due to the company’s new affiliation with the University. Students who sign up with Cingular receive a 17 percent discount off of the company’s monthly plans, as well as 100 free text messages each month.

“With Cingular, a lot of my calls won’t go through,” Olewnik said. “I’ll go outside expecting service and I’ll have to wait two or three minutes for service.”

“It’s not really worth the discounted price,” she said.

The Office of Telecommunications recognizes the existing problems. “We know there are gaps in coverage, but it will be better,” Bob Mays, director of network communications, said.

Currently, Mays is working with Cingular to obtain permits to build six to eight permanent Cingular towers across campus, the locations of which are still not finalized.

In order to address the service problems as soon as possible, however, Cingular will set up three temporary service towers within the next month. The three sites will be located on West, Main and South campuses.

According to Cingular senior marketing manager Jane Slivko-Ament, these temporary towers are “mobile vehicles that have towers on them,” primarily used in areas that have a high concentration of users. Cingular representatives have brought temporary towers to campus for every home football game, concerts and other occasions guaranteeing large crowds.

In addition to improving service, telecommunications hopes to increase its marketing of the phones. Because the contract with Cingular was signed over the summer, telecommunications had a limited amount of time to market the phones before students returned to campus.

“It wasn’t marketed very well this year because of the timing,” Mays said. “We are looking forward to having a full year to market.”

Mays compared the Cingular initiative to the University-endorsed laptop and banking programs. “Our goal is to make it as successful as the banking program,” Mays said.

“Our goal is to get 50 percent of the freshman class,” Mays said. “We want parents to know that the service is here and supported by the University.”

Cingular plans to open a small store on the lower level of the Connelly Center next semester.

The store will sell various Cingular phones and other electronic products and also provide representatives for on-campus customer support.

Telecommunications has proposed a new phone switch for two to three years from now that would take landlines out of dorm rooms, leaving students dependent on cell phones and e-mail for on-campus communication. According to Mays, 92 percent of on campus residents have cell phones. Telecommunications is investing the possibility of setting up a voicemail system large enough to include commuter students in order to broadcast campus-wide messages.

While many universities have wireless initiatives, no other has plans to completely pull all landlines from dorm rooms. “As far as pulling dial-tone out of the rooms goes, we are the first. Undoubtedly, other schools will follow,” Mays said.

According to Mays, the real financial benefits of the Cingular affiliation come from the money saved on wiring. “It’s really more cost avoidance than upfront financial benefit,” he said. “We’re really going to save on maintenance costs.”

The Cingular promotion to University students cannot be obtained through Cingular stores. “I would say this is one of the best deals going,” Slivko-Ament said.

In choosing to affiliate the University with a wireless carrier, telecommunications looked closely at the services and rates offered by several companies before deciding on Cingular. “We picked someone we thought would be around in 10 or 20 years,” Mays said.

The Cingular plan is also open to faculty, staff and alumni.