AT&T Deploys ‘Mobile DAS’ to Answer Big-Event Needs

AT&T's Mobile DAS truck

AT&T’s Mobile DAS truck

For many sporting events these days, it’s a challenge to bring the mobile connectivity fans want and need when onsite. It’s an especially challenging task at outdoor events like golf tournaments, where infrastructure may be limited and large numbers of fans may be congregated in hard-to-reach areas, like near tees and greens.

At the recent Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial PGA Tour stop in Fort Worth, Texas, AT&T brought some new technology to handle fans’ mobile needs: A mobile DAS, or distributed antenna system, deployment that delivered much more granular cellular coverage to the event than other solutions, like cell towers on wheels (COWs) were capable of bringing.

Simply, by putting DAS head-end equipment into a truck (pictured above) and then by putting up a lot of smaller antennas around the course, AT&T was able to provide more coverage where it was needed, one of the hallmarks of any DAS system. With a few COWs on site as well, AT&T provided a much better level of connectivity than ever before, according to Chad Townes, VP of AT&T’s antenna solutions group.

“Your first choice is always to put in permanent infrastructure, and leave it there if we can,” said Townes in a phone interview earlier this week. But at many places where coverage is needed, like the Colonial Country Club, it simply isn’t possible to string wire and put up antennas. In the past, what cellular providers typically did in one-time situations was bring in the COWs, the cell antennas on wheels. The problem with those antennas, Townes said, is that they sometimes interfered with each other (if parked too closely together), plus they run into the same limitations a regular macro tower has, mainly an inability to handle a big, compact crowd of phone users.

Chad Townes, VP, AT&T Antenna Solutions Group

Chad Townes, VP, AT&T Antenna Solutions Group

Enter the mDAS, which Townes said was “created kind of out of necessity.” With numerous smaller antennas (which don’t interfere with each other as much) AT&T was able to provide much more targeted cellular coverage, a key for events like golf tournaments where fans are often clustered in areas like hospitality tents or greenside stands. Media and tournament officials also put heavy wireless demands on providers, and the mDAS was used to satisfy those bandwidth needs as well.

Townes said AT&T’s mDAS actually got its first test run at the Democratic National Convention a couple years ago, when AT&T didn’t want to sign a long-term DAS lease with the facility the convention was held in. The DAS truck was built, and the antennas were put up the day of the event, with great success. The next question was: Where to use mDAS next?

Inside the AT&T mDAS truck

Inside the AT&T mDAS truck

“Now that we had this asset, what could we do with it?” Townes said. Golf tournaments made instant sense, given their one-time needs for coverage and the infrastructure challenges of an open grassy field. Where else might AT&T deploy mDAS in the future? Maybe at state fairs, or motor sport events held on downtown streets, or big-crowd music festivals, Townes said.

Townes, who is scheduled to speak at the upcoming SEAT conference in Kansas City, said the mDAS was just another way AT&T has responded to the always-changing and never-the-same needs when it comes to providing big-event connectivity.

“Even when you’re putting wireless into stadiums, no two are alike because there are always differences in building materials, or the shape of the bowl,” Townes said. The mDAS, he added, “was just another example of how we had to get real creative” to solve an event’s connectivity needs. (AT&T video about the mDAS at Colonial below)

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