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Royals parade congested wireless networks despite added capacity

A sign held up in front of Union Station reflected fans’ frustrations with cellphone service during the Royals celebration Tuesday.
A sign held up in front of Union Station reflected fans’ frustrations with cellphone service during the Royals celebration Tuesday. Special to The Star

Kansas City’s World Series parade clogged more than its streets and byways Tuesday. It caused a wireless traffic jam as well.

Tweets backed up and failed. Text messages stalled. Internet connections idled.

For some, cellphone coverage was reminiscent of the last time the Royals won the World Series. One fan got lots of attention for hoisting a sign: “Cell phone signal like it’s 1985” and launching a social media meme.

Twitter held many comments like the one from Krista Gillespie:

With a city-estimated 800,000 frenzied fans trying to document and share the moment — and all at the same time — the wireless airwaves along the parade route ran much like I-35 or I-70 during rush hour.

“While we prepared the parade route for intense data usage ahead of time, all wireless operators experienced heavy congestion,” said an email from T-Mobile US spokesman Scott Goldberg.

Think about the size of that crowd. Wireless carriers have had to add extra capacity for stadiums holding fewer than 100,000 fans singularly engaged in the same event at the same time.

Julie Dey, a vice president with wireless network rating company RootMetrics, said Kansas City’s parade was like the crowds that gathered when the pope visited Washington, New York and Philadelphia.

Crews worked “day and night” to prepare for those stops and the traffic they would generate on wireless networks, she said. Although there was less time to prepare for the Royals’ downtown romp, the pressure on networks was the same.

“Those kinds of events are situations where people want to get on the network the most often,” Dey said. “Everybody wants everybody to know they were there.”

Kansas City’s parade crowd was spread out a bit more geographically than typical stadium crowds, but the large concentration at Union Station probably topped any stadium crowd.

Still, the service impacts were localized.

For example, service shortfalls went undetected by sites such as Downdetector.com that track service complaints about the big four wireless carriers. There was nary a spike in its charts.

But, oh, did Kansas City’s demand for wireless capacity leap with all the tweeting, texting, phoning and posting.

The network team at Verizon measured data traffic in areas along the parade route, which started at the Sprint Center and ended at Union Station. Data traffic, which combines everything online that everyone was doing with mobile devices, was four times normal levels, Verizon spokeswoman Brenda Hill said in an email.

Verizon “deployed two temporary cell sites to support the parade traffic, and we believe our network performed well despite the extraordinary demands due to the density of the crowd,” Hill said.

Fans did some network comparisons in the crowd, prompting this exchange between a Sprint customer and Sprint customer care:

Sprint added extra temporary capacity Tuesday.

Its fastest network speeds come on its 2.5 GHz spectrum, what it has called Sprint Spark and already existed along the Kansas City parade route. The spectrum’s strength comes from its capacity to carry lots of wireless data at the same time. It has weaker coverage, meaning that signal needs to hit cell towers more often to get where it’s going.

With this in mind, Sprint set up an additional 2.5 GHz cell site on the downtown parade route, spokeswoman Melinda Tiemeyer said.

AT&T saw “unprecedented traffic” during the parade and had “optimized five of our cell sites along the parade route to handle expected increases in traffic,” spokesman Chris Lester said in an email.

Those sites, he said, handled the equivalent of “about 2.1 million championship selfies,” Lester said.

Mark Davis: 816-234-4372, @mdkcstar

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