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Democrats put wireless networks in Philly to the test

T-Mobile tests performance

Upgrades galore for Wells Fargo Center

Adding capacity and coverage

Radios atop Wells Fargo Center

COWs come to Wells Fargo Center

The nation's largest wireless carriers spent months preparing for heavy data usage in during the Republican and Democratic national conventions this month.

They already saw big surges in data traffic in Cleveland for the RNC and are ready for the onslaught in Philadelphia brought by Democrats posting selfies to Instagram, live-tweeting speeches on Twitter and streaming live videos via Facebook.

Caption by / Photo by CNET/Marguerite Reardon

T-Mobile's Kerri Strike, director of engineering and operations, (right) and T-Mobile field technician Tracy McDaniel (left) test T-Mobile's network performance inside the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia ahead of the DNC. Roughly 50,000 press and delegates are expected to be in the arena this week putting all four major wireless carrier networks to the test. With the rise of social media, thousands are expected to be sharing photos and streaming video, generating terabytes of content that will flow over wireless networks.

Caption by / Photo by CNET/Marguerite Reardon

Every carrier has made improvements. AT&T doubled its network capacity at the Wells Fargo Center, while Verizon says it's increased wireless capacity in the arena by an estimated 550 percent. T-Mobile has reused spectrum to increase capacity on its 4G wireless network and has upgraded its network within the Wells Fargo Center to make sure it performs at top speeds. Sprint has deployed its new carrier aggregation technology, which uses multiple channels of its 2.5GHz wireless spectrum to increase speeds.

Caption by / Photo by CNET/Marguerite Reardon

AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile are using a so-called neutral "distributed antenna system," or DAS, to help bolster cellular coverage and boost capacity within the Wells Fargo Center. The way it works, carriers all share antennas deployed throughout the arena, which then feed into a central area where the signals connect to each of the carrier networks. On a tour of the network last week, T-Mobile field technician, Tracy McDaniel, showed off T-Mobile's upgraded equipment in the DAS at Wells Fargo in Philadelphia.

Caption by / Photo by CNET/Marguerite Reardon

The DAS, or distributed antenna system, is connected to each carrier's cellular radios on top of the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia to transmit calls and provide internet access to phones and other mobile devices.

Caption by / Photo by CNET/Marguerite Reardon

To add network capacity outdoors, wireless operators often use cell towers on wheels or so-called COWs. These temporary structures can be set up and taken down within a few hours and run on battery power. Sprint deployed its COW (pictured here) behind the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia to provide customers with additional capacity on its 4G LTE network during the DNC.

Caption by / Photo by CNET/Marguerite Reardon