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Sprint Antennas US Open
Sprint’s antennas overlook Chambers Bay. Photo via Sprint.

Now that golf fans can finally carry their smartphones on U.S. Open grounds, mobile carriers are ramping up their network capacity.

More than 120,000 people are expected to attend golf’s major four-day tournament next week at Chambers Bay in University Place, Wash., along with thousands more coming to the Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday practice rounds and 4,500 volunteers helping out throughout the week.

To prevent their networks from becoming clogged — which can certainly happen at large sporting events — AT&T, Sprint, and Verizon are all setting up portable cell towers near the course to ensure that customers can still make calls, send texts, and surf the web even with the abundance of devices in a confined space.

AT&T set up two cell tower-on-wheels in preparation for the U.S. Open.
AT&T set up a cell tower-on-wheels in preparation for the U.S. Open. Photo via AT&T.

Verizon, for example, spent the past few months adding extra capacity and LTE spectrum to its five existing cell sites near the course. The carrier also placed two cell tower-on-wheels (COW) units at Chambers Bay, and an additional unit at a nearby parking lot.

AT&T did something similar, adding temporary capacity to its nearby cell sites and setting up a COW near the course.

Sprint, meanwhile, placed two COWs that utilize its 1.9 GHz and 2.5 GHz spectrum bands and also increased capacity of its nearby cell sites.

We reached out to T-Mobile, but did not hear back. We’ll update this story if that changes.

As we reported last week, the USGA is allowing fans to bring their mobile devices at the U.S. Open for the first time ever. Given the changes, the USGA added its own Wi-Fi network and created specific zones inside the ropes at Chambers Bay to provide an area for fans to make calls — doing so elsewhere is not allowed.

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On the course, taking photos is prohibited, except for during the Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday practice rounds. Video and audio recording is not allowed at any time. Fans will also need to keep their devices — a maximum of 7 inches in length and/or height —  on vibrate or silent at all times.

The USGA also created an app to enhance the fan experience, complete with a player locator, interactive course map, and video highlights.

It will be interesting to see how well the WiFi holds up — remember, this is the first time the USGA has allowed mobile devices at the U.S. Open — as well as the cell networks.

Clogged networks during sporting events was certainly a concern this past fall for the City of Seattle, which asked Seahawks fans to limit their social media use during a game. The city was concerned that too many people streaming video and uploading photos from their smartphones would clog cell networks and possibly prevent those in need from reaching emergency services.

“We want to make sure everyone is aware of the limitation of technology,” Seattle Police Department spokesman Sgt. Sean Whitcomb said in September. “If the [carriers] aren’t going to say it, we will. Technology is convenient and helpful, but it does have its weaknesses. It does have its vulnerabilities.”

The U.S. Open, one of golf’s four annual majors, runs June 18-21. This is the first time the tournament is being played in the Seattle region. Check out more of our U.S. Open coverage here.

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