OAKLAND -- City and AT&T officials said Monday they have identified and are working to fix a problem with the city's unreliable public safety radio system that failed during a protest when President Obama was in Oakland last month.

A city-commissioned report released in mid-July found that the $18 million radio system launched last year has been plagued by poor reception, unclear audio and speaker problems and that "numerous improvements are required" to bring it up to par.

City officials on Monday said the problem stems from interference from AT&T cell phone towers, and antennas on 16 towers have been temporarily disabled while the problem is addressed.

"AT&T is working closely with the city of Oakland to understand if the issues they've raised are connected in any way to AT&T's network," said AT&T spokesman John Britton.

AT&T has temporarily suspended the 2G (850MHz) network on the affected sites, but is still operating the more powerful 2G (1900 MHz) network on another frequency. No changes have been made to the 3G or 4G networks, Britton said.

"We haven't seen a customer impact," he said. "(The network that is shut down) is the oldest technology out there. The majority of our customers have switched 3G or 4G."


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The move to fix the problem comes less than a week after the Federal Communications Commission began a probe into the problems. After testing, city and AT&T engineering teams determined that one cell site in particular, at East Ninth Street, has been "causing significant interference" to the city's radio system.

On July 23, following President Obama's fundraiser at the Fox Theater in downtown, officers lost communication with dispatchers for about 30 minutes while about 100 protesters marched downtown. The troubles, caused by a broken cooling system in an antenna installation, didn't impact the department's ability to police Obama's visit or the protests, police said. Last year, an officer struggling with a suspect wasn't able to radio for help.

Police say the new system proved troublesome from the start and is unreliable.

City Administrator Deanna Santana has acknowledged persistent radio problems but said the city isn't ready yet to scrap the system in favor of a regional system expected to come online in September. That system will use the same technology and includes 40 agencies in Alameda and Contra Costa counties.

Staff writer Matthew Artz contributed to this report. Reach Kristin J. Bender at kbender@bayareanewsgroup.com. Follow her at Twitter.com/kjbender.