Last week and over the weekend, Americans flocked to see Pope Francis as he toured three U.S. cities on the East Coast. Due to the sheer volume of expected attendees – and their accompanying wireless traffic – U.S. carriers spent millions of dollars in the months ahead of the event preparing their networks for the burst of activity the pope would bring.
But how did the networks fare? Here are some carrier tallies* from the Pope’s visit to Philadelphia:
AT&T reported total data usage of 12.6 TB on its network in papal event areas alone during Francis’ stop in Philadelphia. That number was nearly 7.5 times greater than the traffic the network experienced at the University of Phoenix Stadium for the Super Bowl this past February.
To handle the load, AT&T deployed two Cells-On-Wheels (COW), two temporary high-powered rooftop antennas and an outdoor distributed antenna system (oDAS). The carrier also upgraded nearly 200 cell sites in the area in anticipation of the visit.
Sprint reported its customers across Philadelphia used 166.3 TB of data and placed 5.1 million voice calls during Francis’ stop in the City of Brotherly Love. The carrier said peak event area usage after the Pope’s visit to Independence Mall and after the Mass on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway marked an increase of 180 percent and 167 percent over regular data and voice usage, respectively, in those areas of the city.
Sprint’s usage figures for Philadelphia were slightly lower than the carrier’s network burdens across Washington, D.C. and New York City, which totaled 447.8 TB and 563.8 TB of data, respectively.
Though it declined to give specific figures, Verizon reported that it handled nearly 12 times the normal amount of network traffic in Philadelphia during Saturday night's event on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. The carrier also said it saw six times the normal traffic levels during Francis' stop in New York City.
Verizon said it began preparations for the Pope's visit 18 months in advance and spent nearly $30 million to increase capacity by installing new cell sites and mini-cells, and adding a distributed antenna system (DAS) in Philadelphia. All upgrades are permanent, the carrier said.
T-Mobile has not yet responded to requests for usage figures. This story will be updated as more information becomes available.
* These numbers do not represent a direct comparison between carriers.