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United Center, AT&T unveil plan for better cell service

(Adam Lukach )
January 10, 2013|By Adam Lukach, @lucheezy | RedEye

Crowd noise should be the only thing making it hard to talk on your cell phone at the United Center these days, as the arena recently wrapped up a long-term, multi-million-dollar project with AT&T to improve the venue's cell service.

Steve Schulze, the United Center's CIO, said the new system was the result of a simple "demand equation," as "data usage and expectations have exploded" in recent years.

Cell service is an issue in many sports complexes, with the high numbers of fans and media teams packed into the same facility, using an unprecedented variety of electronic devices. That's where the new DAS, or distributed antenna system, comes in. The system is 4G LTE-capable and consists of more than 5 miles of both coaxial and fiberwire running throughout the UC. The system originates in an equipment room that sends service to 8 fiber aggregation points, which lead to 80 remotes and 400 antenna placed all around the arena.

Dave Fine, AT&T Vice President and General Manager of Illinois/Wisconsin, called it a "long term, sophisticated DAS" that should be a "one and done" project, meaning the system is comprehensive enough to support future technological developments as well as improve the performance of existing devices in the arena.

The DAS is neutral, meaning that other carriers will also be able to use the system to improve their service if they're interested.

Two other parts of the project are the AT&T Sports Zone, located in the concourse, and the free United Center mobile app. The Sports Zone features an Xbox for people to play, a TV broadcasting highlights and devices on which fans can listen to Bulls' players' warm-up music. The UC app features a host of things to do or see in the arena, including the ability to order food directly to you seat and an option to view unique camera angles for in-game replays and highlights. These are the elements that make this project unique to the UC, Schulze said.

Fine called the massive project a customer investment, saying "If you're going to serve the customers, you have to serve them where they live, where they work, where they play."

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