Cell service to speed up for fans at, in Heinz Field

Jeremy Boren
| Friday, Oct. 26, 2012, 12:01 a.m.

Smartphone-toting Steelers fans should notice faster AT&T wireless service at Sunday's 1 p.m. game against the Washington Redskins at Heinz Field.

AT&T and the Steelers announced Thursday they have equipped the stadium with hundreds of small wireless signal transmitter/receivers to build what's known as a Distributed Antenna System. It's designed to ease the strain that thousands of fans trying to send emails, photos and text messages place on AT&T's wider 4G LTE cell phone network.

AT&T began offering 4G service in Pittsburgh in mid-September. Competitor Verizon Wireless introduced the high-speed standard in December 2010.

“They're going to have a faster experience,” Brandy Bell-Trusky, an AT&T spokeswoman, said of football fans.

“We know there are a lot of folks who come to the game every week and want to text and tweet because it's part of the fan experience now,” she said. “This presents a unique challenge for us and other carriers. You have all of these people in the same place at the same time using their devices.”

Bell-Trusky said AT&T invested significant time and money to install the system but would not provide figures. She said it will be active even when Heinz Field is idle, but the signal primarily reaches inside the stadium and to the surrounding parking lots where fans tailgate before and after games.

Public subsidies were not used in the project, said Mary Conturo, executive director of the Sports & Exhibition Authority, which owns Heinz Field.

A Steelers spokesman did not return a call seeking comment.

Bell-Trusky said AT&T has installed the antennae system in 50 sports venues nationwide, including Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, where the Giants beat the Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI in February. In a first, AT&T said fans at that game uploaded 40 percent more data than they downloaded, meaning they sent a lot of photos and text messages.

Don Carretta, executive director of Verizon's network in Western Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia, said Verizon wants to install its own antennae system in Heinz Field in time for the start of the 2013-14 football season.

Verizon offers the enhanced system in Consol Energy Center, home of the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Jeremy Boren is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7935 or jboren@tribweb.com.

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