Will I Get Cell Phone Service During the DNC?

Wireless carriers are anticipating record-breaking demand and say they are adjusting accordingly.

Wells Fargo Center. Photo by PHL Approach via Wikimedia Commons.

Wells Fargo Center. Photo by PHL Approach via Wikimedia Commons.

With 50,000 guests projected to spend four days in Philadelphia this July for the Democratic National Convention, there’s a real chance we might achieve some version of phone signal Armageddon.

But fortunately, the nation’s leading wireless carriers have anticipated the record-breaking demand, and say they are making enhancements to keep the city sane and connected during the big event.

In April, AT&T was declared the DNC’s official communications and technology provider and since then has made network upgrades throughout the city.

Prior to the convention, AT&T says its main upgrades will include increasing LTE capacity in spaces that will likely have the most traffic: the Wells Fargo Center, where the convention will take place; the Lincoln Financial Field, where reporters will assemble; and other areas like the nearby entertainment complex XFinity Live! and downtown hotels.

“This is another great example of the positive impact the convention can have on the city after we’re gone,” said DNC CEO Rev. Leah Daughtry in a statement. “This strong partnership is part of our overall effort to make the 2016 Democratic National Convention the most innovative convention in the city.”

Verizon customers can feel assured as well. On Monday, the telecommunications company released its plans, including a new system to improve capacity at the Wells Fargo Center, airport and in some SEPTA stations, which will amount to customers having “more than six times greater capacity than before.” Verizon will also establish “Cell on Wheels,” a temporary cell site that will increase capacity in parking lot E, near where the media will congregate.

To cover broadcast media at Independence Mall and the National Constitution Center, the company will install new fiber optic cables in the downtown area.

“We’ve been working since May of 2015 to prepare,” said Andrew Testa, a spokesman for Verizon, who said the company’s decisions for the DNC were largely informed by Pope Francis’s 2015 visit to Philadelphia.

The World Meeting of Families brought more than 200,000 people to Ben Franklin Parkway and more than 850,000 attended the Sunday papal mass, Testa said. “While that kind of traffic is certainly unique, it does help us to understand the capacity needed to support the traffic and how we optimize the network for the DNC,” he said.

Verizon will also be prepared with a 24/7 command center and an eight-hour generator if something goes wrong with the power at the Wells Fargo Center. Since 2012, the company has invested $271 million in Philadelphia’s wireless and wire line networks, and $117 million in Cleveland’s wireless network, where the Republican National Convention will take place in mid-July.

T-Mobile says that it’s been working to secure its network for the DNC by upgrading two distributed antenna systems at the Wells Fargo Center and the Pennsylvania Convention Center. Over the last nine months, the company has strengthened its network across Pennsylvania by expanding its LTE range in places like Chester, Avondale and West Chester, and by adding completely new LTE coverage to areas like Bloomsburg, Bradford and Mansfield.

Ultimately, Philadelphia is winning, with wireless providers making upgrades that they say will be permanently fixed in the city.

“Philly is an important market for us,” Testa said, “And we take a great deal of pride in knowing that people will rely on us to stay connected during this important event.”

Follow @fabiolacineas on Twitter.