CHICAGO -- Depending on your age, taste in music and tolerance for long bathroom lines, heatstroke and drunk tourists, Chicago's Lollapooloza festival may be your ideal weekend or your worst nightmare. Either way, it'll be more palatable this year if you're a Verizon customer thanks to the operator's installation of small cells at the outdoor concert venue.
This year, texting someone to come rescue you or uploading a video of Paul McCartney or Metallica -- again, depending on your preferences -- will be easier than years past at the notorious black hole for cellular coverage. Verizon Wireless has installed 12 small cells in Grant Park, where the three days of concerts will be held, to improve coverage and capacity. The small cells will become permanent fixtures in the heavily trafficked park and replace the carrier's usual approach of deploying temporary colts, or cell towers on wheels, for events such as this.
Light Reading caught up with Brian Pascoe, Verizon's region president for Illinois and Wisconsin, and Jacque Vallier, Verizon's director of network for Illinois and Wisconsin, ahead of Lollapooloza at Verizon's destination store in downtown Chicago (a safe distance away). (See Pics: Verizon's Chicago Destination Store.)
Pasco said that at 2011's Lollapooloza, 11 terabytes of data were used over the three-day weekend, but that grew to 124 terabytes last year. Lolla isn't the only traffic driver at Grant Park either. The recent Blackhawks parade used 4.8TB of data (1.3 of which were from Carol Wilson), 350% more than was used during the three-day NFL draft in the same spot.
By adding small cells, provided by Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC), Vallier says Verizon gets five to eight times the coverage of its traditional colt deployments. "Colts have worked well, but small cells are a better solution," he said, adding that it was easy to justify their deployment ahead of this weekend's Lolla festival. Vallier did, however, note in an interview earlier this year that working with the city and obtaining the rights for small cells can take 12 to 18 months, so the Lolla deployment has been in the works for a while.
Both small cells and Chicago have been focal points for Verizon's network densification plans. The carrier said it will more than double the 134 small cells it already has in Chicago over the next two years. And it has invested $800 million in its network here, including for small cells, 25 distributed antenna systems (DAS), LTE-Advanced upgrades, colt deployments for disaster relief and special events, and a plan to bring LTE to the city's subway system. (See Verizon Trumpets Network Densification Plans, Verizon Scales Up Small Cells, AT&T Cuts Back and Verizon Allocating $500M to Small Cells.)
The Illinois and Wisconsin leads also stressed that it's $800 million out of the $1.9 billion Verizon is investing in the broader region. Chicago is clearly an important city, but they want to make it clear that the company has love for the smaller cities as well and that, while some of its competitors are making a big deal out of Chicago now, the Windy City always been a leading market for Verizon. (See Sprint to Bring 540 Jobs, LTE-A to Chicago .)
"I would say that Chicago is a top-tier market in the country," Vallier said in an earlier interview. "We design and engineer systems to the same standards in other metro areas, but outside of New York, San Francisco and Chicago, you don't have the tall buildings and infrastructure as widely, so it does get unique attention. We are using small cells across the nation, but there's a heavy focus in dense metro areas."
— Sarah Thomas, , Editorial Operations Director, Light Reading