Soldier Field ready for wireless frenzy on Sunday
Almost 10 years ago, the terrorist attacks on America also attacked something else. They crashed many wireless networks as numerous frantic calls attempted to cross the nation but failed during the crisis. That horrendous experience was pivotal in forcing wireless phone and network equipment manufacturers and service providers to upgrade for massive loads.
Improvements were made over the next few years, such as dragging out the Cell Site on Wheels, known as COWs, that boosted networks at the Super Bowl or other big events.
Now, with 3G and 4G high-speed networks, even the COWs may go home for good.
While last week's playoff game in Chicago didn't tax any networks, this Sunday may be different. After all, the heated faceoff between the Packers and Bears may generate even more texts and calls, regardless of the game's outcome.
AT&T, Verizon and others are sure their networks are so strong, they'll to withstand any pandemonium at Soldier Field on Sunday.
"Let's assume everyone has a cell phone and uses it at the same time," said Ray Wright, professor of computer science and information technology at Roosevelt University in Schaumburg and Chicago. "Current cell phone networks are designed to handle millions of calls at once so everyone should be able to get a line. If the carriers believe there would be a problem I am sure the engineers have already provided for any shortfall of transmission power with concentrators and whatever communication links are necessary to boost the capacity."
Last year when the Chicago Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup, the parade in downtown Chicago had millions of people, many using their wireless devices, said T-Mobile spokesman Mark Wilson.
"At that time, we had to add extra radios to the cell sites, but that was just temporary," Wilson said.
Since then, T-Mobile has completed its 4G network and is confident that its network around Soldier Field can handle a sellout crowd, extra tailgaters and others just out for the ambience, Wilson said. AT&T said it just finished expanding its mobile broadband coverage at Soldier Field by installing a new Distributed Antenna System, or DAS, to serve customers throughout the stadium. Those are permanent upgrades made in anticipation of all the crowds that gather at the stadium, said AT&T spokeswoman Brooke Vane.
A DAS installation means that antennas were strategically placed that distribute AT&T's wireless network coverage throughout Soldier Field, providing for more capacity in heavily trafficked areas.
DAS has the ability to provide enhanced wireless coverage to customers in indoor or outdoor spaces where geographical limitations -- terrain, building construction or crowd density -- might prevent a good signal. The additional capacity is expected to help improve call reliability and enable more consistent network access, Vane said.
Verizon Wireless, which rolled out its 4G network in December, said it doesn't need to do anything extra for Sunday's anticipated crowd.
"Our network performed as it should last Sunday and we expect Verizon Wireless customers will have the reliability they have come to expect this Sunday as well," said Verizon spokeswoman Carolyn Schamberger.
But your mobile experience at the game still depends on your device and your network. So the 3G/4G Internet access and texting response times may slow down if there is a lot of activity, said Greg Brewster, director of the Center for Advanced Network Studies at the School of Computing, DePaul University.
"To improve Internet access times, the wireless companies may be boosting the speed of their 'backhaul links,'" that connect Soldier Field back to the main Internet routers for each wireless company, he said.
•Follow Anna Marie Kukec on LinkedIn and Facebook and as AMKukec on Twitter.