RNC and DNC 2012: Major Cellular Carriers Beef Up Tampa and Charlotte Networks

PHOTO: A person takes a photo using a smartphone of a Romney campaign sign, Aug. 26, 2012 in Tampa, Florida.
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With hours of streaming video promised, app stores stocked with helpful stuff, and Twitter and Facebook expecting to average thousands of updates a minute about the candidates, the 2012 election and conventions will doubtless be the most connected political events so far in history.

And that doesn't just mean for the onlookers. The cities of Tampa and Charlotte, the respective locations of the Republican National Convention (RNC) and Democratic National Convention (DNC), are, in anticipation, becoming two of the most connected cities in the U.S.

"What we have done here [Tampa] and in Charlotte is continue the development of our network. We have improved and enhanced the network in both cities to deal with the people and be ready for a huge in rush in data," Pete Cornell, Vice President, AT&T Network Operations, told ABC News.

AT&T, which is an official sponsor of both conventions, has invested more than $140 million in the Tampa Bay network. It has activated three new cell sites or towers, deployed 10 temporary cell sites on wheels (CoWs), set up 1,500 square miles of Internet service, and launched over 200 AT&T Wi-Fi hotspots.

Similarly, AT&T has beefed up its network in Charlotte for the DNC with 12 new cell sites, 10 CoWs in preparation for the convention, and Wi-Fi hotspots. Both areas have AT&T's 4G LTE service. The enhancements should help with both data access and voice calls.

"The big thing for us this year is the whole social media and a mobile way. More convention attendees are going to be on their phones tweeting and getting information; it is a big driver for us, that's what we have focused on," Cornell said.

The country's other major carriers -- Verizon and Sprint -- have also beefed up their networks in the areas. In Tampa, Verizon has set up new cell sites as well as deployed its own CoWs to enhance 4G LTE reliability and speeds. The network expects record-setting reliance on its LTE and 3G networks.

"We've carried out a broad range of network preparation efforts such as the installation of Distributed Antenna Systems (DAS) to manage additional network traffic in major meeting spaces; enhanced network capacity at hotels; increased capacity in permanent cell sites throughout Tampa and Charlotte, positioning Cells On Light Trucks (CoLTs) and Cells on Wheels (CoWs) in appropriate places -- with others on standby as needed," Sheryl Sellaway, a spokesperson for Verizon Wireless, told ABC News.

Similarly, Sprint has invested $9.7 million in its Tampa Bay network and boosted data in the area by 25 percent by adding five cell sites. It will also have its own CoWs near the convention center.

The carriers promise to be prepared not only for the masses but for the weather. Though the center of Tropical Storm Isaac has now missed Tampa, all three of the major carriers said they took measures to make sure a storm would not affect the stability of their networks.

"AT&T has a very robust planning and response function we have dealt with natural disasters for as long as we have been a company," Cornell said.

Sprint said in a press release that it had hardened 70 percent of the cell sites with permanent generators in case of loss of power.

But temporary storms or damage to the network aside, it's clear that the cities of Tampa and Charlotte are excited about the lasting improvements of the networks, which now make them some of the most connected cities in the country.

"The enhancements that we've made to the network will benefit residents and visitors of Tampa and Charlotte for years to come," Sellaway said.

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