PAINTSVILLE — During a Paintsville/Johnson County Chamber of Commerce membership meeting on March 9, representatives from Appalachian Wireless spoke to chamber members about recent service issues as well as a new, state-of-the-art data center operated by the company

Kristin Crace-Mulcahy, a marketing assistant with the company, spoke about the general focus of their visit with the chamber after introducing the Appalachian Wireless staff in attendance.

“We came today, with my staff, to kind of show you guys, because I know on Facebook you hear a lot of things and see a lot of people bashing us for multiple things,” Crace-Mulcahy said. “To see it from the inside and see why we do what we do and love what we do. To kind of see why you’re seeing those comments and such, you might have a little sympathy for us.”

Crace-Mulcahy addressed recent service issues happening throughout Eastern Kentucky communities as the company took 3G and CDMA out of commission during the past week.

“We kind of need our customers to see that, although it is kind of a rough time right now, cellphones are a little hairy, it is going to get better,” Crace-Mulcahy said. “Once the signal is clear and we’ve decommissioned 3G and CDMA, there is brighter coming, it just takes a little time to finesse those little things about what’s going on.”

Crace-Mulcahy said Appalachian Wireless has spent $25.5 million on and is committed to installing 100 new 5G cell towers per year for the foreseeable future.

“It’s going to be very isolated and for the smaller cities at first, but Appalachian Wireless has a goal that, every year, we’re going to put 100 towers in place to fill these service gaps,” she said. “I know that’s not a lot at first but, when you already have 309 towers and you’re promising your community that you’re going to build 100 a year to fill the gaps and then have WiFi calling to fill the gaps left over, that ought to show people our dedication to this area and the region and what we really want to do.”

Appalachian Wireless Marketing Manager Ashley Litteral spoke about recent device issues.

“So, a real hot topic right now is 3G shutdown and why it’s happening. So, simply put, it’s the very nature of the world. 3G was designed for voice and text, basically, and it did it very well, but we’re in a data-driven world,” Litteral said. “3G does not carry data very well, but that’s also why when you saw 3G or 1X on your phone, likely the internet didn’t work, because it’s not made to support that kind of network traffic.

“As time evolves, the data demands and the TikTokers of the world, it’s all data,” Litteral continued. “So, now, we have to change over to something called Voice-over-LTE. So now, you have to have LTE and VoLTE enabled on your phone to talk over LTE. It also offers advantages, and it’s a request I would have never imagined back in the 3G days, people want to talk on the phone and browse the internet at the same time. VoLTE allows you to do that.”

Litteral said reforming the signals being sent and received by existing towers means decommissioning the 3G bandwidth at the company’s towers to make room for these new technologies, although the choice won’t be voluntary for long as many newer devices don’t have support for 3G or CDMA signals.

“The idea is that we want to repurpose the 3G signal and put it towards 4G, 5G, new technology so we can get more data transmissions and faster data speeds and support the demand that is out there for data,” he said. “It’s not slowing down, every year it’s just increasing, with no signs of slowing down.

Litteral said that he’s aware of the issues this presents for some who once relied on very low amounts of 3G signal as a lifeline of sorts in lieu of a home phone as he lives in Sitka and did once depend on that signal for his service.

“My phone at my house, a very rural area, I live out on Ky. 201 … Out there I’ve always had one bar of 3G signal at my house. With the advent of 3G going away, I lost that one bar of signal at my house that was kind of my lifeline,” Litteral said.

Litteral said, however, that the addition of WiFi calling features on iPhones as old as the iPhone 8 meant that users should make sure their phones are updated and enable the feature, added with iOS 16.3, to help fill that gap.

“That’s the majority of what we’re seeing, people just have not connected and updated the software on their phones to bring them up to use the newer technologies,” Litteral said. “I saw someone a while back that was on an iPhone 10S Max and it was on iOS 10, which means it hasn’t been updated in six years. Connect to WiFi, make sure you’re regularly updating your phone for both features and security purposes.”

If your Appalachian Wireless phone is experiencing issues, Litteral said, the staff at the company is more than willing to help correct any issues and Litteral urges you to reach out and “give (them) a chance.”

“ I tell people all the time, it’s all local people,” Litteral said. “When you get mad at AT&T or some other national carrier, you’re not talking to anybody that’s ever around here. Yell at me and I can reach out to someone that live and work in these areas. If you’re seeing something weird or kind of unexpected, let us know. But, if you’re at home and you’re in a place that doesn’t have good signal, go into your settings and turn on WiFi calling and it’ll use your high speed internet and work just as well as if you had a tower in your backyard.”

Crace-Mulcahy said the entire company is made up of Appalachians, meaning that the company understands the needs of the region better than external carriers and this knowledge of the issues facing Appalachians with connectivity and infrastructure was what drives the company’s policy.

“All of the employees at Appalachian Wireless are not from other states, they’re from Appalachia … We all represent Appalachia as a whole, so we know what Appalachia needs and when your service is down, our service is down. It’s not like we have special phones and ours work when yours don’t,” Crace-Mulcahy said. “Those guys that you see on the screen, the tech team, there’s 13 techs, that’s fiber, that’s towers, all of it, that service 28 counties.”

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