GREENSBORO — Spectators with mobile devices inside the Greensboro Coliseum this week for the ACC men’s basketball tournament should find it easier to share their experiences in real time on social-media websites.
In a room recently carved into the coliseum’s renovations, AT&T installed a system of technology that essentially wires the coliseum as one large antenna.
The new equipment was in place for the ACC’s women’s tournament last week, and according to Betacom Inc.’s Jeff Donlan, the lead technician on the job, “your signal should be stronger than it is outside.”
“I would go as far to use the word ‘explosion’ in just data usage by fans at sporting events, whether it’s a coliseum like Greensboro or a football stadium like Bank of America here in Charlotte,” said AT&T spokesman Josh Gelinas.
“They’re not just going to it to watch the event passively. They’re taking photos and then immediately sharing them to social-media sites. … The experience is just much more interactive than we’ve seen in the past.”
Fans at past ACC tournaments might have struggled to upload photos on their phones. That process should be as easy inside the coliseum as anywhere else.
But the room where the magic happens is far from ordinary.
Wires cover the walls and ceiling in a new room at the coliseum like a giant electrical circulatory system. The technology runs on 72 individual battery cells that make up three stacks. Each cell is about the size of a basic tool box.
They power a system that takes the radio frequency electrical signal and converts it to optical for the sake of efficiency. That gets sent to remotes strategically located in the coliseum and turned back into an electrical signal when it is sent to the antennas.
The back half of the room is filled with empty racks, and Verizon will fill those with equipment this summer, according to coliseum deputy director Scott Johnson.
“There’s a significant investment on their part to upgrade that system,” Johnson said of AT&T. “And when Verizon saw AT&T was doing it, they jumped on and said, ‘Well, AT&T is doing it, we want to do it too.’ ”
Since the services belong to the mobile providers, it’s up to those companies to determine where they want to improve service.
Verizon will have a truck on site that works like a mobile data system for the ACC tournament.
Donlan and his team from Betacom Inc. finished the physical build and structure for AT&T’s new equipment in 2½ weeks with 24-hour crews. Donlan said it was an “extremely fast” build, adding that the typical build time is a month-and-a-half.
And he said the equipment is state of the art.
“A lot of this stuff is like the second time I’ve worked with some of it,” Donlan said.
It’s the latest addition to the coliseum in a series of technological enhancements that include LED lights and a new shutter system on the lighting. That allows the coliseum to go instant blackout.
But many past ACC tournament spectators were well acquainted with another instant blackout — the kind where photos and texts refused to send from a phone.
That’s what makes the room filled with AT&T’s new equipment most important to the fans.
AT&T doesn’t release the cost of its projects, and most probably won’t notice the improvement when using social media. But the key for Johnson, the coliseum and those wireless providers is that they won’t hear from as many frustrated fans, either.
“We’ve seen a significant demand and significant requests in relationship to uploading photos and downloading things,” Johnson said. “Technology is always changing all the time. So by the time we feel like we’ll be settled with that, it will be time to start over and upgrade even more.”