AT&T Invests $23 Million in Infrastructure for Pope Visit

The moves will quadruple the network's capacity in the "traffic box."

Richard A McMillin/Shutterstock

Richard A McMillin/Shutterstock

In preparation for the World Meeting of Families and Pope Francis‘ visit to Philadelphia, wireless companies are investing heavily to make sure cell phone service won’t be interrupted when 1 million to 1.5 million people descend on Center City.

AT&T has spent $23 million to bolster its local cell capacity by installing new antennas, opening a new cell tower, and bringing in temporary mobile cell sites. Company officials say the moves will quadruple the network’s capacity in an area approximately the size of the “traffic box,” and hopefully allow people to make calls, share photos and videos, and post to social media sites without interruption.

“There will be a massive amount of AT&T customers using smartphones trying to share this once-in-a-lifetime experience,” said Kurt Woehr, AT&T’s director of network engineering for the Greater Philadelphia area. “It’s a challenge, but a challenge that we’ll meet.”

AT&T installed a permanent distributed antenna system along the Ben Franklin Parkway. It consists of multiple strategically-placed antennas that distribute coverage, and provide for more efficient management of wireless capacity in heavily-trafficked areas. It also added a new 4G LTE cell tower at 23rd and Race Streets. 

The company also made improvements to its network underground so that passengers on the Market-Frankford and Broad Street subway lines will have heightened LTE coverage.

Woehr expects social media updates to be a big part of how people experience the event — and said that helped the company plan for network usage.

“I was paying attention when Mayor Nutter visited the Vatican. He tweeted when he was about to meet the Pope. That was the first tip off. I expect photo sharing on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter as big drivers of network traffic.”

Verizon also spent a pretty penny. It invested $20 million in network upgrades — installing new cell sites, boosting capacity on existing sites and deploying several mobile cell sites.