Here’s Why Your Wireless Service Sucks At Sports Games & Other Major Events

How many times have you been to a major event and noticed that no matter what you do, no matter how many bars your phone says it has, you’re unable to send or receive data? To help alleviate the stress, app maker SwayMarkets decided to figure out exactly why it happens.

So why? Put tens of thousands of people into a venue, all trying to connect to one single wireless cell site or a small handful of them, and the infrastructure quickly gets overwhelmed.

To test this,  SwayMarkets’ founders went to Fenway Park on May 31 to catch a Red Sox-Tigers baseball game, armed with iPhones on three different wireless phone networks: AT&T, Verizon and Sprint. Using SwayMarkets’ CarrierCompare software, they constantly pinged the various providers’ networks to measure their speed and response times.

The results were revealing. And very, very bad.

The iPhones from Sprint and Verizon stopped working, while the one from AT&T kept chugging, albiet much, much slower than usual. The good news is that wireless carriers are working on solutions. Instead of relying on cell towers, some companies are testing small atennas that can be deployed around heavily populated areas to increase cell coverage.

With giant cell towers becoming overloaded, cell phone companies have begun to get behind the idea of “small cells”: tiny antennas that can be strategically deployed in areas that need more coverage.

Carriers have been testing them out at some big events, such as last year’s Super Bowl and the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. By placing small cells around an arena or throughout an event space, they can create more access points and reduce congestion.