AT&T uses small cells to improve service in Disney parks

AT&T will soon show off how small cell technology can improve network capacity and coverage in Walt Disney theme parks.

If you're a Disney theme park fan and you happen to be an AT&T wireless customer, here's some good news: Your wireless coverage within the company's two main resorts is going to get a heck of a lot better.

AT&T and Disney Parks are announcing an agreement Tuesday that will make AT&T the official wireless provider for Walt Disney World Resort and Disneyland Resort.

What does this mean? As part of the deal, AT&T will be improving service within the Walt Disney World and Disneyland Resorts by adding small cell technology that will chop up AT&T's existing licensed wireless spectrum and reuse it in smaller chunks to better cover the resort and add more capacity in high-volume areas . The company will also add free charging stations, which all wireless users visiting the resorts will be able to use to juice-up their devices.

Specifically, AT&T will add more than 25 distributed antenna systems in an effort to add capacity. It will also add more than 350 small cells, which extend the availability of the network. AT&T is adding 10 new cell sites across the Walt Disney World resort to boost coverage and capacity. And it will add nearly 50 repeaters to help improve coverage of the network.

Chris Hill, AT&T's senior vice president for advanced solutions, said that AT&T's efforts to improve coverage in an around Disney resorts is part of a bigger effort the company is making to add capacity and improve coverage in highly trafficked areas. He said that even though AT&T had decent network coverage already within the Disney parks, customers often experienced issues in some buildings or in remote reaches of the resorts.

"The macro cell sites can only cover so much," he said. "So you need to go to small cells to really get everywhere you need to be and to provide the capacity you need in areas with a high density of people."

AT&T

Hill said the idea of creating smaller cell sites that reuse existing licensed spectrum is a big trend among all wireless carriers right now. And he said, AT&T is deploying this small cell technology in several cities as well as other areas where large numbers of people gather, such as stadiums and arenas.

"We are deploying this technology widely across metro areas to increase density of our coverage," he said. "And it's not just us. There's a big wave of small cell deployments where tens of thousands of these access points are being deployed all over the place."

Cooperation with Disney is a key element in this deployment since the small cell technology requires that AT&T place access points on the Disney property. The footprint of the access points is very small. They typically look like large access points used for Wi-Fi. Hill said they can be easily disguised to fit in with the surroundings.

Unfortunately, wireless customers with service from other carriers won't see the same level of improved service. The network upgrade and the small cell deployments will only work for AT&T wireless customers. AT&T has no plans to allow other major carriers to use the network for roaming.

Also as part of the deal, AT&T will take over responsibility for Disney's corporate wireless services, providing services to some 10,000 Disney employees. And the companies have struck various marketing and branding agreements. As part of that aspect of the deal, AT&T will become an official sponsor of Disney-created soccer and runDisney events at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex. In addition, Disney will join AT&T in its "It Can Wait" public service campaign, which educates the public about the dangers of texting while driving.

Correction Wednesday 7-24-13 1:50 p.m.: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that AT&T would deploy Wi-Fi hotspots as part of this network upgrade to help offload wireless traffic. Also, a previous version of this story misstated the number of Disney employees that will now use AT&T wireless service as part of this deal. The story has been updated to reflect the changes.

 

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