Pope Visit Could Challenge Philly Phone System

AT&T, Verizon prepare for "once-in-a-lifetime experience."

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When Pope Francis comes to town in September, will Philadelphians still be able to make and receive calls on their cell phones?

It’s not a crazy question: As many as 2 million pilgrims will flood the city to see the pope celebrate mass on the parkway. Philly’s telecommunication system isn’t prepared to handle quite that additional load — yet.

KYW reports on preparations by AT&T and Verizon:

“We know that this is a once in a lifetime experience,” says AT&T spokeswoman Brandy Bell-Truskey. “And we know that such memorable experiences have everyone wanting to share with friends and family. Whether that’s through text messages, photos on social media, or even phone calls, then that certainly does mean that there’s a need to boost network capacity.”

Along the Parkway and in other parts of the city, COWs and COLTs will be rolled out — not animals on legs, but instead Cells On Wheels and Cells on Light Trucks.

“[AT&T] will deploy multiple COWs, and we believe these augmentations will help improve reliability and data speeds during the events,” says Bell-Truskey.

The companies are negotiating with landlords to place temporary equipment on rooftoops and properties where large amounts of foot traffic are expected. Some of those sites may become permanent, to improve Philly’s regular cell phone service, after Pope Francis leaves.