Creative tech lets guests at Snowshoe communicate with life on this planet without keeping scientists from searching for life elsewhere.
We West Virginians pride ourselves on the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO). The giant, iconic Robert C. Byrd Green Bank radio telescope dish in Pocahontas County gives us world-class status in research into the origins of the universe and extraterrestrial life.
But for people living in the National Radio Quiet Zone, the telescope is a source of pride that comes at a cost. Wireless service is heavily restricted by the federal government in the 13,000-square-mile zone: a square of 115 miles on each side that lies about half in West Virginia and half in Virginia. And inside the super-quiet 10-mile radius of the telescope, use of even wireless doorbells and garage door openers carries a state-mandated $50/day penalty.
It’s been a challenge for Snowshoe Mountain Resort and for cell service carriers. The resort lies just inside the super-quiet zone, creating a major inconvenience for thousands of guests who are used to the connectedness of modern electronic life. In 2013, National Public Radio aired a story in which Showshoe IT Director George Murphy had just rigged a system of short-range receivers that brought cell service to the resort’s retail village for the first time. “This was huge,” he enthused about the limited service.
Now, working with NRAO, engineers at AT&T have come up with a way to let you text your friends and use social media from the slopes at Snowshoe. A radio frequency code automatically switches cellular devices to low-power mode—from emitting 500 milliwatts down to 1 milliwatt. And a dense Distributed Antenna System of more than 200 antennas across the resort is able to work with those low-power signals.
“To be able to do something that hasn’t been done before and to actually create something that can work and bring service to our customers,” says AT&T Senior Radio Access Engineer Steven Little, “it’s been really a privilege.”