Coliseum's 'dead-zone' frustrates USC students

Steffi Lau
Daily Trojan
September 21, 2008

As the Trojans cruised to victory last week against Ohio State, students danced, cheered and celebrated in their seats. But many weren't so happy when they found that they couldn't use their cell phones to coordinate plans or celebrate with their friends and family.

Regardless of cell phone carrier, students complained that reception inside the Coliseum was abysmal, most saying they knew no one able to get reception within the stadium. But once students stepped outside, many found that only then did missed calls show and stalled text messages send.

"It was horrible," said Emma McDonnell, a sophomore majoring in health and humanity. "It was a problem meeting up with people because I couldn't get reception."

McDonnell, who has wireless service with AT&T, said that reception stopped working for her in the Coliseum at 1 p.m. and continued until 11 p.m., hours after she had left the Coliseum.

For some, the cell phone "dead zone" caused confusion.

"I had no reception and I was with my two little sisters who are 12 years old. My mom was freaking out because she couldn't reach us before the game," said Farrah Aldjufrie, a junior majoring in psychology.

She said she did not know anyone able to get reception.

Students said they had never experienced reception problems at the Coliseum prior to last Saturday, and an AT&T attributed the problems to the high level of interest in the game.

"Last Saturday's football game was a historic match," AT&T spokeswoman Debbie Lieberman said. "With so many people at the same location making calls to friends and family, you get network congestion."

Jonathan Lee, marketing director for the Coliseum, said there were more than 93,000 people in the stadium, calling it a higher volume than normal.

Anticipating the increased volume of calls, Sprint brought in a portable cellular tower, which is called a "cell on wheels," but is commonly referred to as a "COW," according to Sprint spokeswoman Candace Johnson.

But the measure was not enough. "There was an unexpected surge in traffic around halftime," Johnson said. "It caused a hit on the cell sites, so they couldn't hold the capacity."

Johnson attributed the problem to the unanticipated spike in calls during halftime, saying Sprint expected the volume to hold steady.

Though Sprint brought in a COW, AT&T and Verizon did not.

"In most instances, we don't need to roll out a COW," said Ken Muche, a spokesman for Verizon Wireless. "Typically, it would need to be a Rose Bowl-size crowd or an event like Hurricane Katrina for that to be necessary."

Muche said that Verizon is assessing what happened to ensure the problems will not occur again. Lieberman and Johnson said that AT&T and Sprint, respectively, are also evaluating the problems so new measures can be taken.

Lee said that the Coliseum is trying to get carriers to provide more cellular coverage for football games.

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