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New technology could improve social media posting at Summerfest

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Posted at 5:57 PM, Jun 30, 2016
and last updated 2016-07-01 21:51:41-04

You’ve been waiting a whole year for the world’s largest music festival to open its gates Wednesday, drawing thousands to Milwaukee’s Lake Michigan shoreline.

Your favorite band is on stage, and you take out your phone to post a video or picture to Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or maybe Snapchat. But did it go through?

Not surprisingly with the volume of people and high amounts of data demand, cell phone towers are stressed to the max. This often results in dropped calls, and delayed if not unpublished Tweets or Facebook posts.

Expect to see improvement this year, and perhaps more improvements in connectivity in the years to come. Summerfest officials tell TODAY'S TMJ4 they have already made extensive technology upgrades, and are considering more. 

“We just upgraded our data capacity this spring in preparation for this [2016] festival season,” a Summerfest official said.

Back in 2013, Summerfest officials decided to invest in technology that would improve cell phone data service, by installing what's called a cellular distributed antenna system (DAS). The technology is also in use in large metropolitan areas, including New York City’s subway system. DAS is slated to improve reliability and connectivity – so your social media posts go through, and so you can check out TODAY'S TMJ4’s mobile app for the latest news and weather while at the "big gig.' 

To date, the 2013 Summerfest upgrade benefits those who have Verizon, AT&T, and U.S. Cellular, according to officials in Milwaukee who said “Sprint and T-Mobile have not elected to join our DAS system, therefore we have no infrastructure on our grounds to accommodate their customers.” T-Mobile and Sprint customers will be relying soltey on the respective provider's towers. 

But, DAS is not the only option that would make it easier to post those Instragam selfies.

Officials said they investigated the possibility of adding WiFi to the grounds, but later determined it wasn’t a reasonable option, at least at this point in time.

“The grounds are too big and more difficult to cover than other venues such as baseball parks, stadiums and arenas,” officials said.

However, they noted that “each year we explore new technologies.” Not able to comment specifically on use of satellite technology, one industry expert says that satellites have become a cheap, reliable, and effective cost-alternative. Chances are if you’ve used in-flight WiFi, you’ve already used satellite internet.

“The satellite industry has the technological potential to deliver on the kind of advances necessitated,” says David Hartshorn, Secretary General of the Global VSAT Forum  (GVF). Hartshorn leads efforts to provide  satellite-based communications solutions --- and Summerfest could be a prime example. 

Hartshorn says he returned from a June 28 conference in London that specifically addressed how satellites can provide improved connectivity. He cited the example of how after several U.S. hurricanes, satellites allowed people to still use their cell phones, even after cell towers were damaged and destroyed from the floods and wind. The same technology would work well in large crowds during events like Summerfest, he said.

"During Hurricane Sandy, a WiFi base station was quickly placed within the community with a consumer-class high throughput satellite terminal for backhauling of the signal to the public network. Fast, low-cost, and a quantum leap in terms of effectiveness," Hartshorn added.

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