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The Cutting Edge | 411 / A Consumer Look at Telecommunications

Cell Phone Upgrades to Outlive Convention


Once the fences are removed, the hotel rooms freed up and the balloons and confetti swept away, Los Angeles will have at least one long-term benefit from hosting this week's Democratic National Convention: improved mobile phone service.

In anticipation of the cell phone-crazed hordes (media, delegates, support employees and politicos), all five of the region's major wireless carriers beefed up their networks to expand coverage and increase capacity for the convention.

The good news is that many of the improvements will stay put once the hoopla is over. For wireless phone users, it generally means that most companies will be able to handle more simultaneous calls in the downtown region--and customers should get fewer "fast busy" signals telling them that the network is full.

Pacific Bell Wireless, the convention's official mobile phone company, said that since March it has increased the capacity of its network more than fivefold in a nine-block radius from the DNC festivities at the Staples Center.

A portion of that capacity is being provided with temporary equipment such as Cells-On-Wheels (or COWs) and portable "pico-cells," but more than half of the new capacity is permanent, according to PacBell.

AT&T Wireless, known previously in this region as L.A. Cellular, said it added eight new permanent cell sites in and around the Los Angeles Convention Center and the Staples Center--a 400% capacity increase over 1999 levels.

Nextel Communications, which caters to business users, brought in two COWs to serve the Democratic crowd, but also doubled the permanent capacity of its existing cell sites in and around the convention center.

Sprint PCS added three new cell sites in the convention area as part of a massive construction plan that added 400 new sites in the Los Angeles region, according to the company.

And Verizon Wireless--the new carrier created by the combination of AirTouch Cellular, Bell Atlantic Mobile, GTE Wireless and PrimeCo PCS--brought three COWs to the convention, but also added three new permanent cell sites in and around the Convention Center and the interchange of the Santa Monica and Harbor freeways.

Next step: Improved coverage and capacity everywhere else in Southern California.

Behind-the-Scenes Clash at the DNC: Corporate bragging rights are a big part of all political conventions. In Los Angeles, AT&T Corp. was awarded contracts for long-distance phone service, hosting the DNC's Internet site and helping the DNC committee's technology chief Naz Nageer set up and manage networks for video feeds, audio, Internet and other applications.

But something went awry just weeks before the convention was to begin. Amid the stress and technical challenges, tempers flared, and sources say Nageer ultimately called security officers to remove an AT&T executive who was involved in the project.

Asked about the incident, AT&T was short on details. David Ferguson, general manager of networking professional services at AT&T Solutions, acknowledged that he reassigned the employee in question.

However, he said, "I don't think there was anything worthy of comment there. . . . I don't think it was that dramatic."

Maybe not. But DNC officials subsequently called in rival SBC Communications to help with the networking tasks.


Elizabeth Douglass can be reached at elizabeth.douglass

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