LAX’s Horrible Cell Phone Coverage Will Soon Improve

Filed Under: Travel Technology

Airports pretty consistently have lousy cell phone coverage. Often there aren’t towers nearby, you have a ton of people trying to connect, and there are all kinds of structures that may block a signal (at least I’d assume those are the problems, as someone who knows little about telecom).

When it comes to cell phone coverage, some airports are worse than others. I fly into and out of LAX quite often, and at times I find it almost impossible to even check my email or send a text without connecting to the Wi-Fi (and as far as airport Wi-Fi goes, LAX’s isn’t great). I figured maybe I was just especially unlucky (or spending too much time on 787s), though it appears that LAX’s coverage is actually that bad. A September 2016 independent study put LAX dead last in a ranking of cellular network performance of the 50 busiest airports in the US.

The good news is that this will finally be improving. Per a meeting of the board of airport commissioners that took place on March 1, 2018, LAX has entered into an agreement with the major cell providers to upgrade the dismal coverage at the airport.

Under this agreement, AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon will operate cellular communications systems throughout the airport.

As you’d expect, the primary motivation here is to improve the guest experience:

This action advances this strategic goal and objective: Deliver Facilities & Guest Experiences that are Exceptional: Upgrade every element of the quest experience. The public visiting LAX, airport tenants, and LAWA employees should experience much improved cellular voice and data performance as the result of the cellular communication improvement upon the deployment of new cellular systems. In addition, LAX should move up in future cellular service rankings for airports.

Not only that, but they believe that improved cell phone coverage will allow LAWA employees and airport tenants to conduct business more efficiently.

These new towers will generate an estimated $1,932,000 in annual licensing fees for the airport, plus an additional $200,000 in revenue from rent, with an annual increase of 3%. The cellular communication companies will be picking up the cost of the design, construction, operation, and maintenance of these systems.

These improvements will be slowly phased in, area-by-area, so it’s possible that we’ll start to see some improvements within a few months. We can expect that hopefully the entire airport is upgraded within 18 months, though like everything that involves bureaucracy, delays are likely.

(Tip of the hat to Scott)

  1. Just another day in 3rd world America. T mobile service there is almost non existent.

    It is a joke compared to so many other places in the world.

  2. “Just another day in 3rd world America. T mobile service there is almost non existent.

    “It is a joke compared to so many other places in the world.”

    Same with Verizon. It’s ridiculous. Whether on the tarmac or in some of the terminals it is the pits. Even the terminal staff find it outrageous.

  3. Corporate BS in action:

    “strategic goal and objective: Deliver Facilities & Guest Experiences that are Exceptional”

    Surely if they were true to that, their cell phone service would be THE best anywhere in the world, no exceptions. Because anything less is not “Exceptional”-with-a–capital-E, merely mediocre.

    But they go on to say only that they will deliver much improved service that will “move them up the … rankings”.

    Either they are compulsive liars who have no intention of being exceptional, or they are incompetent.

    Actually there is a third possibility: that they mean “exceptionally bad”. But that can’t be right, because they are already THE worst and they are now seeking to improve – thus destroying their only claim to exceptionalism.

    I’ve exhausted myself.

  4. Now if they could just figure out a better traffic plan… maybe keeping buses and cars on separate levels around the loop. That would make traffic much, much better than what they have done over the last year by moving ride share buses to departures.

  5. @anon Project Fi uses Sprint and T-Mobile towers (also US Cellular in areas they provide service) so it would be the same for them.

  6. I was in the Philippines recently and no problem connecting at the 3 airports I visited
    On my last visit to LAX it was unreliable
    In Europe and much of Asia it’s far more reliable than the US

  7. Jfk terminal 4 also terrible…I’m on Verizon went to pick up someone, couldn’t call!!!
    Had to go all the way outside to get 1 bar…

  8. Did I understand that correctly? The networks are paying LAX $2.1m per year to install this infrastructure?

    I’m confused as to why they’d agree to that…

  9. San Diego installed a Distributed Antenna System a few years ago to improve signal strength within the terminals and now it works great. Philadelphia is the worst Airport reception I’ve experienced anywhere.

  10. I was just in LAX 2 weeks ago with TMobile. I guess they have an agreement with boingo and when I got to the airport, it automatically connected me to the PassPoint wifi. I was so confused why it connected me to the wifi since I’ve never been to LAX airport before.

    Since TMobile has wifi calling, it didn’t matter that there was no TMobile signal.

  11. Lucky your headline is a bit off.

    Maybe you don’t understand the technology but cell coverage which refers to voice traffic at LAX is excellent. Data which is on most carriers carried by a separate signal is the handicap with latency issues.

    Even after years of continual build out by likes of ATT and T-Mobile by placing antennas on parking structures they simply can’t keep up with the data demand. Due various technical and legal issues installation of shared DAS has not been the answer.

    Let’s see how things look in a few years, though the consumer hunger for data unfortunately seems insatiable so even these further upgrades might still be lacking.

  12. “What about those underground hamster connector tunnels?”

    They are truly epic! Totally a throwback to the days of pneumatic tube mail 😀

  13. Thank goodness! I fly out of lax at least once or twice every two weeks and hate that Verizon signal it pathetic there whenbw everywhere else in the city it’s great! Would’ve have an issue but the Tom Bradley lounges also have fairly lousy wifi speed.

  14. LAX for and international transfer is the new DFW/PHX – they evolved, LAX built – but didn’t add anything but more bodies in the chute.

    I’ll pick DFW for my trans Atlantic and pacific any day.

  15. LAX had a RFP out for a DAS system years ago, or at least they were in the preRFP stage. So this should have been done years ago but sounds like the airport council screwed something up. I wouldn’t count on this happening quickly if it’s going to have to go through airport approval for construction… just typical airport PR.

  16. I work in the in-building wireless industry for a firm that could benefit either way this went. What you have here folks is the carriers having their way with the airport authority. What the carriers want to do is called DRAN or small cells. They hate to have a third party make them share a DAS or pay for the management/maintenance/carrier cat herding service a third party DAS owner offers to the venue. It’s just added hassle and markup to them. Shot clock for carrier improvements? Performance metrics? Noper, you’ll be receiving 3 or 4 single purpose, single agenda systems that the carriers do on their dime but *when/where/how it suits them* instead of a unified MANAGED approach. That new thing? It’s more/less the status quo which has them in last place. At least they grabbed some more cash per passenger. I had thought the MWAA was the richest deal. This, among other dysfunction is why I fly BUR or SNA. Thanks for publishing this…interesting stuff!

    PS your phone call is now almost always on LTE. Voice coverage was table stakes in 2001. Now it’s a capacity arms race. Voice is easy to solve for. 6 MIMO streams of LTE data is a bit more rigorous to build out.

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