Fans, Teams Win with AT&T Stadium Wi-Fi Push

October 10, 2011

Fans and teams may be the big early winners in the cellular industry’s nationwide push to bring better phone reception to crowded places, an effort currently led by AT&T’s aggressive plan to build localized Wi-Fi networks inside major sporting venues like San Francisco’s AT&T Park and Chase Field in Phoenix.

To alleviate the bandwidth crush caused by the relatively new phenomenon of fans who want to shoot and instantly share pictures, videos and text messages from their seats, AT&T is partnering with teams and schools to build Wi-Fi networks directly inside the stadium walls, providing a better, faster Internet connection to those in attendance. Atlanta’s Turner Field, Stanford Stadium and Minute Maid Park in Houston have also received AT&T network attention, part of a Ma Bell strategy to improve cellular coverage by bringing in Wi-Fi and other network improvements right to the fans in the seats.

Read the rest of this post at our new site, Mobile Sports Report.

Samsung Verizon LTE Hotspot Spotted in the Wild in Orlando

March 20, 2011

It was shown at CES, but it hasn’t yet been made available — but the Samsung LTE Mobile hotspot is apparently making appearances in the wild, since the SSID list pulled up from our hotel room here in Orlando Sunday night saw the Verizon SCH-LC11 Samsung tag. Too bad it was locked, preventing us from doing some in-hotel wardriving to see if that LTE network is really as hot as folks say it is. C’mon Verizon insider! Share the wealth!

An availability announcement might be on tap this week — but it might get lost in the discussion of the week of CTIA that is already trending on Twitter as #ATTMobile. Sidecut Reports hadn’t been in Orlando more than 15 minutes before hearing barroom chatter about AT&T and T-Mobile while watching the end of the Kansas-Illinois game. The good thing is that while we were traveling many hard-working telco reporters were cranking out some great instant reporting and analysis. Links below. And if you have a working Samsung mobile hotspot, tell us how it performs!

GigaOM’s Stacey H with a straight news take w/Sprint comment

GigaOM’s Stacey again with a good regulatory/DOJ take

All Things D’s Ina Fried does a Q&A with AT&T’s Ralph de la Vega (who finally admits that his company has a spectrum depth problem and is willing to pay $39 billion to fix it)

Easy DAS it, Palo Alto — Or, How AT&T is Using Small Antennas to Fix its Big Network Problems

March 7, 2011

If all goes according to AT&T’s wishes, the city of Palo Alto may soon become the premier testing spot for Ma Bell’s plan to boost its cellular network power by installing a large number of small cellular antennas around town. Ostensibly billed as a method for AT&T to overcome terrestrial and urban challenges in Palo Alto, the small-antenna plan for Silicon Valley’s cultural nexus is also part of a big nationwide push of Distributed Antenna System (DAS) technology deployment by AT&T to help Ma Bell get its overtaxed cellular network back up to speed.

Historically used to improve cellular coverage inside of buildings, DAS is basically a method to deploy a series of synchronized smaller antennas instead of a larger, cellular antenna array, such as those found atop buildings or on the unsightly antenna towers that are now a common part of the urban landscape. Inside a building, a DAS can help improve cellular reception by bringing small antennas closer to users inside, who then don’t have to connect their cell phones through walls or windows. A typical DAS system might then route the internal antenna connections to a stronger antenna connection on the roof to link to the parent cellular network, improving throughput while conserving device and antenna power.

In Palo Alto AT&T is proposing to build out about 80 new DAS tower sites, placing them atop regular utility poles in and around Palo Alto’s leafy downtown area. If the plan wins city approval Palo Alto’s AT&T customers should see marked improvement in cellular connectivity, simply due to the increased number of available towers that can connect iPhones and other devices back to AT&T’s network. According to AT&T’s extensive Palo Alto wireless information web site, the proposal has been submitted to the city but no decision has yet been made.

This is what a DAS antenna in Palo Alto might look like in the wild. Credit: AT&T.

According to industry insiders, AT&T has recently committed significant internal resources to stepping up its DAS deployment efforts nationwide — indeed, AT&T mentions DAS deployments prominently in several recent press releases touting network improvement plans in cities including Seattle, Houston, Dallas and Kansas City among others. For AT&T, using DAS deployments seems to make a lot of sense — given that the company’s current network suffers from a lack of backhaul capacity, it might be easier for AT&T to more quickly increase its cellular reach by installing a lot of smaller antennas than by trying to significantly upgrade existing antenna deployments, since the latter method could involve expensive, time-consuming acts like ripping up streets to bring fiber connections to tower sites.

Smaller DAS antennas might also pass civic muster more quickly than new traditional cell-tower deployments, which generally take a year or more of paperwork for all licensing and regulatory clearance even when there is no neighborhood opposition. And as all cellular service providers know, opposition to new cell towers is almost a given, so outdoor DAS may be the wave of the future should AT&T’s Palo Alto deployment prove successful.

AT&T infographic explaining the need for DAS in Palo Alto.

AT&T is also planning to build out a public Wi-Fi hotspot in Palo Alto, much along the lines of similar deployments in New York and Chicago. Though AT&T has touted the hotspots as a successful strategy, our attempts to ask AT&T to quantify the usage of said hotspots has so far gone unanswered. From an industry standpoint the DAS deployment has more far-reaching ramifications especially with AT&T’s planned launch of Long Term Evolution (LTE) 4G services later this year. With more antenna connections, AT&T could conceivably offer much better network performance in a much faster time frame, even just by offloading existing users from the crowded existing antenna towers. That may make DAS a savior technology as Ma Bell tries to add more heavy data users to an already crowded cellular infrastructure.