LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WHAS11) -- With over 100,000 people funneling through the gates, using your cell phone at the Derby could be tricky. But Verizon says thanks to new technology at Churchill Downs, Derby-goers with any carrier shouldn’t have any problems.
Verizon Wireless has deployed temporary assets at Churchill Downs for a few years, but starting in 2015 they’ve had permanent installations to enhance the cellular network.
Verizon System Performance Engineer Scott Hansen says today’s expanded social media world has driven the innovations for this year’s enhancements.
“They’re going to be able to do all of the things on their phone that they want to do. They’re going to be able to Facebook Live, they’re going to be able to stream, tweet--whatever they’re going to want to do, they should be able to do,” Hansen said.
Since 2014, Verizon has measured a ten-fold increase in the amount of data being used at the Kentucky Derby, and with around 50,000 people crammed into the infield, Verizon needed to make upgrades to accommodate.
“Any time you’re going to cram 140,000 people into an area it is definitely going to put a strain on, or impact, the network. What our goal though is is to make sure that when you go to use it you’re going to be able to. So are you going to be able to stream Netflix in 4K while you’re standing here? Probably not. But if you’re looking to post to Snapchat or send to Facebook or browse the web—do whatever you want to—you’ll be able to do that, and that’s the goal,” said Verizon Spokesman Steve Van Dinter.
All of this is accomplished by employing Distributed Antenna System, or DAS, technology, which enhances cell coverage in a series of steps.
“So, we have what is called a ‘head end’ which is inside on the second floor and it is a massive room full of equipment and wires and radios and a lot of heat generation, and there are fiber links that go out throughout the entire venue including out here into the infield area that hook up into these remote radios which feed our wireless signal into the antenna and then we broadcast from there. So it’s a series of mini cell sites across the entire venue,” Hansen said.
This technology is not just for the masses in the infield, Verizon has it spread throughout the grandstand and even beyond Churchill Downs.
The DAS also sends out a signal to remote antennas and small cells. With a dozen small cells providing service around the track, and additional cells in the surrounding neighborhood, Derby-goers can count on reliable service before, during, and after the big race.
“The other nice benefit for those that live and work around this area is that we’ve got those small cells going so that can actually provide that coverage and additional speeds to the folks that are around in this area. So that means a better experience for them year-round, not just when the Derby comes to town,” said Van Dinter.
While being able to access social media is great for many fans, Verizon says safety is a top priority.
“We want to make sure our fans can do what they want to on social media and, of course, we want to make sure if they need help—whether that’s calling 911 or trying to connect with a loved one—they’re able to do that,” Van Dinter said.
And, if after a long day at the track you need to order an Uber or call a cab, you should be able to do that, too.