Each year when hundreds of thousands of guests flood into the Florida Strawberry Festival phone signal becomes spotty within the grounds. AT&T is hoping to combat the issue with a ‘Cell on Wheels.’
Hundreds of thousands of guests coming to one event in town — even if stretched out over an 11-day period — puts a strain on cell signal.
Any massive gathering, whether it be Gasparilla, a music festival or even a popular theme park — causes in-and-out cell service regardless of what network you have.
It’s an annoyance at best and dangerous at worst when you’re trying to locate lost children or get in touch with a friend that has wandered off.
AT&T, which is also sponsoring two days of the festival, is trucking in a “Cell on Wheels” machine to boost internet connectivity for its customers attending the event.
“Events like the Florida Strawberry Festival are full of moments customers want to share through texts, pictures, status updates and phone calls,” Joe York, president of AT&T Florida and the Caribbean, said in a news release. “We’re working to boost capacity for customers during the festival so they can connect and share as much as they like.”
If 500,000 people attend over the 11 days — which is a generous estimate, as 526,025 showed up last year — it averages out to be approximately 45,455 people a day coming to the event. Obviously that’s not a perfect estimation as more people come on weekends and days with major musical acts.
However, even with a fluctuating number, the point remains that a massive quantity of people are co-inhabiting in a tiny space.
The majority of those people lug around smart phones and will be attempting to post selfies and videos all day long. Even getting a simple phone call to go through to a member of your party that you’ve lost in the mad dash to the shortcake stand can be a gamble if it’s a packed day.
Even local law enforcement is spreading the word to help minimize the number of times they’re asked to help assist tracking people down throughout the festival.
“We know that during those busy days signal can be a tough thing,” Plant City Police Spokesman Al Van Duyne said. “Some phone companies come in with their big semis to help boost signal in the area, but if there’s thousands and thousands of people all trying to use their phones at the same time it can be a hit or miss. I think it may have to do with how the festival schedules acts. If there’s two really big names playing on the same day the place gets flooded.”
Van Duyne said he remembers multiple instances when famous singers like Blake Shelton, Taylor Swift and Reba have been scheduled to play and suddenly all the phones had difficulty even sending texts or placing basic calls.
Everyone prepares to sit in traffic, struggle with parking and wait in long lines, but few are prepared to handle experiencing a festival with a group when they can’t easily get in touch with each other.
While the COW booster will inarguably help circumvent the problem, guests are encouraged to have designated meeting locations and times so if people do wonder off they can easily relocate their loved ones without having to trek all over the festival grounds or find an officer.
Representatives from AT&T said the company continues to see increased data usage across its mobile network, especially when its customers flock to large events. Since 2007, data traffic on its mobile network has increased more than 470,000 percent with video making up approximately half of its mobile data traffic, according to the company.
On top of bringing in an internet connectivity booster, AT&T is offering discounts today and March 7. The $3 discount on Midway wristbands can be obtained by bringing in a voucher from the company, which can be picked up at any AT&T corporate-owned store from Lakeland to Naples.