Great reception awaits pope in Philly; cell phone companies work to provide crowd with same

 Antennas such as this will sprout at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and Logan Square during Philadelphia's papal weekend. (AT&T)

Antennas such as this will sprout at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and Logan Square during Philadelphia's papal weekend. (AT&T)

The pope’s September visit to Philadelphia is pushing major cell phone providers to install dozens of extra antennas around the city to amp up service capacity.

Some of the improvements will stay in place long after Pope Francis flies back to Rome.

In an effort to ensure that cell reception is crisp when a million or more people crowd Philly for the pope’s visit, service providers are rolling out some big equipment.

AT&T, for instance, said it will bringing sky-scraping antennas on wheels to the Art Museum and Logan Square. And new antennas, known as cells on wheels or COWS, will be placed on rooftops across the city.

“The beams are up to nine beams that will divide the crowd into section, with each section having its own dedicated beam,” AT&T’s Kurt Woeher said.

That stuff is temporary.

More than two dozen more antennas will be installed on light poles along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, Woeher said. Those will be permanent.

“This had been on our wish list to get an outdoor distributed antenna system on the parkway. And the pope’s visit really helped push it over the edge and make it a reality,” Woeher said.

Verizon has almost identical plans, including installation of new antennas along the parkway and unleashing cell sites on wheels to meet demand. Both providers said bolstering capacity should quadruple service power.

Combined, Verizon and AT&T said the costs of pope-related infrastructure is expected to exceed $40 million.

And what if calls are still dropping and reception is shoddy?

“We have a team of people monitoring the event,” Woeher said. “And engineer testers in the field to collect data and respond to any operational issues that may come up.”

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