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09:06 AM

Super Bowl: Wireless Carriers Say Networks Ready

All four wireless networks have bulked up their networks around MetLife Stadium, in advance of all those Super Bowl calls and posts.

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When the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks take the field at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, NJ, for Super Bowl XLVIII, the 82,000 fans attending the game should have no trouble making calls, sending text and picture messages, or uploading photos and videos to their favorite social networks, carriers say. AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon Wireless have all spent the last year strengthening their networks in and around the stadium to handle the super load expected on February 2.

Wireless network operators often temporarily increase capacity at sport and concert venues using Cells On Wheels (COWs) and Cells On Light Trucks (COLTs). These transportable cell sites can be trucked in, set up, and taken down quickly and easily, making them ideal stopgaps when capacity needs to be boosted for only a few hours or days. The Super Bowl, the most-watched football game of the year with 165 million Americans expected to tune in, is a different story. Ticketholders, many of whom paid more than $1,500 per seat, expect everything about the game to be great -- including their wireless service.

AT&T started making improvements to its presence in East Rutherford in early 2013, according to Michael Maus, assistant vice president of network services at AT&T. The company built a brand new Distributed Antenna System (DAS) in the stadium, tripling the capacity of the old system. It offers the equivalent coverage of 21 traditional cell sites, which AT&T says is enough to provide coverage for a city the size of Trenton, NJ. The DAS includes more than 500 antennas hidden throughout the stadium, in addition to 6.4 miles of cabling. AT&T also built two standalone cell sites in the area, and set up two COWs in the parking lot to handle tailgating fans, the roads in and around the stadium, and other nearby venues.

[IT's most important challenge at Sunday's big game: security. Read Super Bowl Tech: A Super-Sized Role For Security.]

Sprint has been working on its Super Bowl XLVIII preparations since 2012. Sprint spokesperson Crystal Davis said the company increased wireless voice capacity by 53% and wireless data capacity by 52% by enhancing 52 existing cell sites in the region and adding a number of temporary sites and five COWs positioned around the stadium. Sprint was careful to improve coverage not only at the stadium but also along all the major routes into the area, including Interstate 95 (NJ Turnpike), and NJ Routes 3 and 120. Beyond the stadium, Sprint is offering temporary coverage at the various venues used by the NFL for pre-game events as well as at the mid-town hotels housing the Broncos and Seahawks. Sprint didn't mention whether it installed a DAS.

T-Mobile began its Super Bowl prep as recently as November, but the company is confident it can handle the surge in voice and data traffic, according to spokesperson Alexandra Schwerin. T-Mobile says it has permanently increased its voice and 4G data capacity -- both LTE and HSPA+ -- by a factor of 15 times at MetLife Stadium and the surrounding environs. T-Mobile installed its own DAS within the stadium, and delivered COWs to the training facilities used by the Broncos and Seahawks.

Verizon has been working on improvements to MetLife Stadium for more than 18 months, and has quadrupled its LTE 4G capacity in and around the stadium thanks to its own DAS and COWs. The company measured demand on its network at every NY Giants and NY Jets home game at MetLife Stadium in 2013 and used this data to optimize its capacity ahead of the big game. Verizon spokesperson David Samberg explained that the company is also targeting much more than just East Rutherford. With 30 events taking place in New York City and New Jersey ahead of the game, Verizon made sure to improve its capacity at each venue, including Bryant Park, the Prudential Center, Super Bowl Boulevard (which runs through New York City’s already-busy Times Square) and the American Museum of Natural History, among others. In all, Verizon spent more than $400 million on improvements to its network in the area.

The capital investment these four national network operators made in New Jersey and New York is an aggressive strategy. With each network boosting its capacity, all 82,000 attendees should expect all their selfies, Vines, Instagrams, Facebook posts, and Tweets to go through without a single interference.

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Eric is a freelance writer for InformationWeek specializing in mobile technologies. View Full Bio

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Li Tan
Li Tan,
User Rank: Ninja
2/3/2014 | 1:09:20 AM
Non-stop wireless coverage
Nowadays the wireless connection is a must for our daily life, especially during the big event such as Super Bowl. Without wireless connection, there is no much value to carry mobile device. Here the wireless connection does not just mean traditional voice connection but it's mainly about data connection. People is seeking for fast speed wireless connection, no matter 3G, 4G-LTE or WiFi. Without it the people feel uncomfortable or even nervous. Hopefully we will have less and less wireless connection outage and can roam smoothly between different kinds of networks.
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