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Cellular South opens Technical Operations Center

Just last month, the State of Mississippi awarded its cellular contract to Cellular South, making the telecommunications company the designated cellular service provider for the state’s agencies and institutions. One of the contract’s critical requirements: reliability.

Cellular South answered that demand — for all of its customers — with the company’s new Technical Operations Center.

Cellular South officially opened the state-of-the-art center located on South State Street in downtown Jackson February 27. The event was attended by a number of business, government and community leaders, including Jackson Mayor Frank Melton, who praised Cellular South’s efforts to restore service in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Company president Hu Meena said Katrina reinforced how crucial communication is in the event of a natural disaster, especially for state agencies. He said the new Technical Operations Center was a “huge plank” in their pitch to land the contract with the state, but added that the center was constructed with all of the company’s subscribers in mind.

“We recognize the importance of a strong network, especially during a natural disaster like Hurricane Katrina,” Meena said. “Our customers depended on their cell phones and a reliable network to communicate with loved ones during and after the storm. We realize the trust customers have placed in us and are determined to continue to be the network they can count on in any situation.”v
Built to last

It is a toss-up as to what is more impressive about the 18,500-square-foot Technical Operations Center — the facility itself or what it houses. Obviously, the center must be able to weather the worst of conditions. According to Cellular South, the building can withstand the force of an earthquake as well as an F4 tornado. Tony Kent, who was recently promoted to senior vice president of engineering and network operations at Cellular South, said the special “dual roof,” creating in essence a building within a building, alone weighs approximately 1.5 million pounds, and the foundation is supported by massive underground columns.

The facility, which will house approximately 17 workers, cost approximately $8 million to build, but the equipment inside cost almost twice that — $15 million. And according to Meena, the building will house approximately $42 million worth of equipment by the end of the year, all backed up by two 800-kilo volt amp, 1,400-gallon diesel generators.

The company said the facility houses assets that are some of the most sophisticated and advanced wireless communication available today. The house switching equipment, from vendors such as Lucent and Nortel, includes: home location register, which tracks the location of wireless users and line features; signal transfer point, responsible for all messaging between switches; and, next-generation voice mail equipment with improved storage capacity. The transformer vault houses three units — two for operations and one for back up. The technology data center encompasses more than 100 servers, core networking and 20-plus terabytes of data in a storage area network. And the security system is camera and motion sensitive and offers view on-demand and remote monitoring.

Capabilities include three feeds of fiber optic connectivity and more than 3,500 T1 lines.

Investing in tomorrow

The Technical Operations Center is only a part of the more than $140 million Cellular South invested in its network last year. The company added and activated more than 200 new antenna sites, deployed a high-speed wireless broadband network (EV-DO) and created a permanent microwave ring for redundancy and wireless security across the Gulf Coast region that cost $2.5 million.

All of this was necessitated by significant growth in subscribers, both in rural as well as metropolitan areas.

According to Meena, the company has seen a 40% increase in customers in South Mississippi alone. Kent said an average day will see Cellular South handle approximately 17 million calls.

According to the company, during the third quarter of 2006, its customers used more than 1,446 minutes per month on their wireless phones, while the national average was 934 minutes. And at the end of 2005, Cellular South’s text messaging usage was six times the national average.

Since 1999, Cellular South, which is now the largest privately-held wireless company in the U.S. and employs more than 800 workers in the Southeast, has invested in excess of $500 million in its network to improve call quality and coverage, and further increase capacity for data usage, including text and picture messaging, Internet access, sending and receiving e-mail and music downloading. The company’s 2006 investment followed a $39-million initiative in 2005.

All of this has not gone unnoticed. Cellular South was honored with the 2005 Wireless Week Excellence Award, 2006 Newcomen Award, and a concurrent session of the Mississippi Legislature recently commended the company’s executives and employees for its efforts in the wake of Katrina.

Cellular South has gained notice for non-technology investments, too. In 2005, it won a Better Business Bureau’s Integrity Award. And last year, the company donated more than $1.5 million to area universities for scholarships and endowments and more than $1.4 million to high school and college academic and sports programs.

“Cellular South continues to invest a significant amount of dollars in our network system to be the best service provider within our region,” Meena said. “The Technical Operations Center will enhance our ability to provide customers with the latest in wireless voice and data technology and the highest quality service.”

Contact MBJ staff writer Wally Northway at northway@msbusiness.com.


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