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Phone companies, wireless carriers boost capacity for NATO

Updated: June 29, 2012 9:20AM



Telephone and wireless companies say they’ve boosted capacity to handle unexpected surges in traffic on their networks, but that doesn’t mean smartphone, iPad and mobile device users won’t still experience delays.

Any wireless traffic jams will depend on the extent to which those nearest the summit’s main events in the Loop and South Loop may overload even beefed-up wireless and Internet networks.

To prepare for the onslaught, AT&T has deployed two cell sites on wheels, one near Daley Plaza and the other near Grant Park, to pick up the anticipated demand in traffic. The carrier also has installed distributed antenna systems at McCormick Place, the Hyatt Regency at 151 E. Wacker Drive and the JW Marriott Hotel at 151 W. Adams, which have the added benefit of boosting wireless signals inside those venues permanently.

Sprint is rolling out one cell site on wheels at McCormick Place’s Lakeside building. It also has enhanced four existing cell sites and added one permanent cell site inside the convention center.

U.S. Cellular spokesman Steve Carlson said the carrier has added new and permanent capacity to its networks in the Loop, and it doesn’t expect problems.

Even with the upgrades, if big crowds of people try to upload video at the same time, a delay may ensue, said AT&T spokesman Jim Kimberly.

“We are envisioning this being similar to Lollapalooza with capacity needed for tens of thousands of people,” he said.

Sprint spokeswoman Crystal Davis said it’s uncertain whether neighborhood cell towers will be jammed.

“If there are a few hundred people, there shouldn’t be any impact. If there are thousands upon thousands, that might cause a delay or disruption,” she said. “But we don’t expect any problems.”

Clearwire operates its network mostly off of microwave dishes using a different frequency than its competitors, and the system can handle the anticipated traffic upsurge.

“We consider (the NATO Summit) similar to the Chicago Air & Water Show,” said spokesman Chris Comes. He said that could equate to an additional 25,000 to 30,000 people needing the wireless networks.



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