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Can you hear me now?

Saturday, October 23, 2010 | 9:31 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — Tigers fans who have struggled with dropped calls during previous football games may enjoy clearer airwaves in the future. 

Last week, AT&T installed a new 3G cell site in the northwest corner of Memorial Stadium, designed as a temporary Band-Aid to the cell phone reception problems the stadium and Columbia face during game days.

"It essentially adds more capacity to our network," said Mike Barger, a spokesman for AT&T.

Missouri football fans and tailgaters have experienced difficulties making or receiving calls and text messages during home games, due to limited bandwidth among wireless carriers. Customers of Sprint, Verizon and other wireless providers have faced similar issues.

Barger said no network or area is immune to this problem, as it is common "anytime you have a large concentration of people in a small area."

The first test of the new embedded cell site’s efficiency was Saturday, during the MU Homecoming football game against Oklahoma. It joined five other AT&T cell sites located within a half-mile of the stadium, Barger said.

"But when you have 60,000 to 80,000 fans — both in the stadium and tailgating around the property — the demand on the network is at its peak and periods of congestion are not uncommon," he said.

Barger also noted that phones being used to navigate sites like YouTube and Facebook in particular use up a large amount of bandwidth and "clog the pipes."

Missouri tailgater Jerry Swartz noticed a difference in his AT&T wireless service Saturday in comparison to service during previous game days.

"I think today has been better," Swartz said. "A lot of times in the past I couldn’t get through, and today I haven’t had a problem. I have not had one call drop today, and I’ve had several calls."

Neither AT&T nor the MU Athletics Department will know how well the new site fared until after the results have been compared to previous game days. However, the site was only intended to serve as a quick fix, not a permanent solution.

Barger said the wireless carrier has a "direct line" to the university, and that the two are currently engaged in talks about resolving the issue.

One possible permanent solution for MU has already been implemented in other Big 12 stadiums. "Distributed antenna systems" have been installed at both Texas A&M and the University of Texas, Austin.

The systems consist of small "antenna nodes that are scattered throughout the facility, like little cell sites," Barger said. "So inside the stadium you have a micro network exclusively for people watching the football game."

The Missourian could not reach the MU Athletic Department on Friday for comment, and Barger said in most cases AT&T will not divulge information on who pays for network enhancements.

Barger said Memorial Stadium’s temporary cell site will be in place until AT&T and the university can negotiate "a more permanent solution, like a (distributed antenna systems)."


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