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Hi, I’m Brad Feld, a managing director at the Foundry Group who lives in Boulder, Colorado. I invest in software and Internet companies around the US, run marathons and read a lot.

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The Boulder Louisville Digital Divide

Comments (17)

There is a magic spot on Highway 36 between Boulder and Louisville where 99.4% of all cell phone calls drop.  While on a call tonight, the person I was talking to went through this magic spot.  Our call dropped.

I called him back 30 seconds later.  We continued our call after having a chuckle about the inevitability of a dropped cell phone call at that particular spot on 36.

My friend suggested that it is further evidence of the unique cosmic forces around here.  We are found of saying that Boulder is 25 square miles surrounded by reality.  We concluded that there is a wormhole on 36 that one goes through during the transition from Louisville to Boulder.  This is the only explanation that we could come up for the reason that the mega-amazing-cell-phone companies can’t figure out how to do a handoff from one cell to the next at this particular spot in the universe.

  • Ross

    Easily the most insightful post you've written this year! As someone that drives up the hill every day I feel this pain all the time. One in ten times the magic does work in the wormhole and I don't drop a call, I figure those are the days they are testing the new, alien technology…

  • http://www.intuitive.com/blog/ Dave Taylor

    Ayup. When I was with Verizon I would call and complain about this and they'd say “really? we'll get an engineer to check it out”. Time and again. Now I'm with AT&T, I report it and they say “really? that's a new one to me. I'll get an engineer to check it out.” Five years later and we're stil all complaining about it!

  • http://www.venturedeal.com Don Jones

    Not being an engineer but from the cell business many years ago, it could be one of many things. If the distance is 70 miles per hour / 30 seconds, that comes out to about a half-mile. If there is a dip in the road and the signal happens to peter out from one antenna before it gets picked up by the other antenna, and they both are weak at that exact point or dip in the road, that could be the reason. Out in the middle of CO, I doubt there's a lot of coverage overlap

  • http://www.artifacting.com/blog hubs

    Planet Boulder indeed.

  • Dan

    You've been out here before – the exact same case when driving south on 280 passing Sand Hill. For some inexplicable reason, all GSM calls simply drop. Total void – full service, nothing, full service.

  • Dave

    That spot is a relatively steep hill surrounded by open space – the most likely explanation is that there is a gap because they're not allowed to build cell towers near enough to catch the spot where you're about to crest the hill. I don't know if you've heard, but people around here have a lot of opposition to building ugly towers … oh wait, you're one of them. ;-)

    • http://www.feld.com Brad Feld

      Nah – that's not it. There's a big difference between a cell tower disguised as a tree and a 720 foot broadcast HDTV tower. I'm not opposed to the cell phone trees (http://waynesword.palomar.edu/faketree.htm), but I'm not really keen on unnecessary 720 foot broadcast HDTV monstrosities.

      • Dave

        Dude… count the trees there. It's open prairie (ok, it's a former grassland turned into a moonscape by unchecked prairie dog breeding). And unnecessary/monstrosity depends on what's important to you – it seems to me that if people would hang up their phones and drive on 36 the traffic would flow a lot better – do they really need to be on the phone all the time? And… to make the parallel argument – how would you feel about a nice, small, non-intrusive, 50-foot high cell tower on the road below your house?

        All that said, it does seem like they could solve it with a low device next to the shoulder of the highway in that one spot. It's a very small hole, as the problem does not usually occur westbound.

        • http://www.feld.com Brad Feld

          Ah – the joy of a NIMBY argument. There's actually a rest stop with plenty of places to hide a tree at exactly the location where in my fantasy a tree tower would go.

          There are plenty of trees on the road near my house – I wouldn't even notice one out here. I assume that's what you mean by a non-intrusive tower.

        • hubs

          “…it seems to me that if people would hang up their phones and drive on 36 the traffic would flow a lot better…” I couldn't agree more Dave. Safety first.

      • Steve Bergstein

        I don't know what your cell tower “trees” look like out there, but the ones I've seen here on the East Coast look about as much like natural trees as the Eiffel Tower does. There's one on the Hutchinson River Parkway in NY that's about three times taller than the real trees surrounding it. It has about six ridiculous-looking “branches” sticking out of it towards the top. Like a taller version of Charlie Brown's Christmas tree.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/bfeld bfeld

    Nah – that's not it. There's a big difference between a cell tower disguised as a tree and a 720 foot broadcast HDTV tower. I'm not opposed to the cell phone trees (http://waynesword.palomar.edu/faketree.htm), but I'm not really keen on unnecessary 720 foot broadcast HDTV monstrosities.

  • Tom

    you can see the cell phone tower on the top of the hill just to the south of 36. If I recall, it's right next to the sole house. Anyway, the calls get dropped when you're in the shadow of that tower, coming up the hill. I don't know where the other tower is that you apparently also are temporarily shadowed from. (PS if you can read this, all's well.)

  • kip

    Its all Lockheed dude

  • Another Tom

    AT&T has another “hole” in Louisville, right at the top of the hill at McCaslin & South Boulder. I found out about it when I got an iPhone and realized I can't reliably make calls from my house :( Verizon might cripple their phone's software, but the coverage is good.

  • Aaron Swanson

    I work in Superior and live in Niwot, so am intimately familiar with this problem. Oddly enough since the upgrade to 3G on AT&T (Samsung Blackjack) I only drop calls there one out of ten times rather than the other way around on EDGE & GPRS. I'm not an RF guy and have no idea why this would work better but it does for me.

  • http://matt.ibloggin.com matt emmi

    brilliant, i love it. Perhaps those dropped phone calls still take place in some sort of alternate reality boulder-earth world.

  • http://www.b-eye-network.com/blogs/rogers Shawn Rogers

    I feel your pain Brad, I use Arapahoe just to avoid that darn spot.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/ross2308 ross2308

    Easily the most insightful post you've written this year! As someone that drives up the hill every day I feel this pain all the time. One in ten times the magic does work in the wormhole and I don't drop a call, I figure those are the days they are testing the new, alien technology…

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/dave_taylor5094 dave_taylor5094

    Ayup. When I was with Verizon I would call and complain about this and they'd say "really? we'll get an engineer to check it out". Time and again. Now I'm with AT&T, I report it and they say "really? that's a new one to me. I'll get an engineer to check it out." Five years later and we're stil all complaining about it!

  • Don Jones

    Not being an engineer but from the cell business many years ago, it could be one of many things. If the distance is 70 miles per hour / 30 seconds, that comes out to about a half-mile. If there is a dip in the road and the signal happens to peter out from one antenna before it gets picked up by the other antenna, and they both are weak at that exact point or dip in the road, that could be the reason. Out in the middle of CO, I doubt there's a lot of coverage overlap

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/hubs164 hubs164

    Planet Boulder indeed.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/kip5105 kip5105

    Its all Lockheed dude

  • Another Tom

    AT&T has another "hole" in Louisville, right at the top of the hill at McCaslin & South Boulder. I found out about it when I got an iPhone and realized I can't reliably make calls from my house :( Verizon might cripple their phone's software, but the coverage is good.

  • Dan

    You've been out here before – the exact same case when driving south on 280 passing Sand Hill. For some inexplicable reason, all GSM calls simply drop. Total void – full service, nothing, full service.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/tom tom

    you can see the cell phone tower on the top of the hill just to the south of 36. If I recall, it's right next to the sole house. Anyway, the calls get dropped when you're in the shadow of that tower, coming up the hill. I don't know where the other tower is that you apparently also are temporarily shadowed from. (PS if you can read this, all's well.)

  • Dave

    Dude… count the trees there. It's open prairie (ok, it's a former grassland turned into a moonscape by unchecked prairie dog breeding). And unnecessary/monstrosity depends on what's important to you – it seems to me that if people would hang up their phones and drive on 36 the traffic would flow a lot better – do they really need to be on the phone all the time? And… to make the parallel argument – how would you feel about a nice, small, non-intrusive, 50-foot high cell tower on the road below your house?

    All that said, it does seem like they could solve it with a low device next to the shoulder of the highway in that one spot. It's a very small hole, as the problem does not usually occur westbound.

  • Dave

    That spot is a relatively steep hill surrounded by open space – the most likely explanation is that there is a gap because they're not allowed to build cell towers near enough to catch the spot where you're about to crest the hill. I don't know if you've heard, but people around here have a lot of opposition to building ugly towers … oh wait, you're one of them. ;-)

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/bfeld bfeld

    Ah – the joy of a NIMBY argument. There's actually a rest stop with plenty of places to hide a tree at exactly the location where in my fantasy a tree tower would go.

    There are plenty of trees on the road near my house – I wouldn't even notice one out here. I assume that's what you mean by a non-intrusive tower.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/steve_bergs2127 steve_bergs2127

    I don't know what your cell tower "trees" look like out there, but the ones I've seen here on the East Coast look about as much like natural trees as the Eiffel Tower does. There's one on the Hutchinson River Parkway in NY that's about three times taller than the real trees surrounding it. It has about six ridiculous-looking "branches" sticking out of it towards the top. Like a taller version of Charlie Brown's Christmas tree.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/hubs94 hubs94

    "…it seems to me that if people would hang up their phones and drive on 36 the traffic would flow a lot better…" I couldn't agree more Dave. Safety first.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/aaron_swans5170 aaron_swans5170

    I work in Superior and live in Niwot, so am intimately familiar with this problem. Oddly enough since the upgrade to 3G on AT&T (Samsung Blackjack) I only drop calls there one out of ten times rather than the other way around on EDGE & GPRS. I'm not an RF guy and have no idea why this would work better but it does for me.

  • matt emmi

    brilliant, i love it. Perhaps those dropped phone calls still take place in some sort of alternate reality boulder-earth world.

  • Shawn Rogers

    I feel your pain Brad, I use Arapahoe just to avoid that darn spot.

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