AT&T completes Disney DAS and small cell rollouts

Even an overgrown mouse laboring as a sorcerer's apprentice can be challenged to deliver better wireless service at an expansive theme park. So AT&T (NYSE:T) has worked its magic to improve communications across several Disney properties in the United States.

AT&T first announced last July that it would deploy more than 25 distributed antenna systems (DAS), 350 small cells and 40 repeaters at Disney World Resort and Disneyland Resort properties to improve its 3G and LTE services. This week it announced that the deed is done.

AT&T is the "Official Wireless Sponsor" for both resorts, so it behooves the operator to have robust service at those locations. The specific properties getting new AT&T network gear include Magic Kingdom Park, Epcot, Disney's Hollywood Studios, Disney's Animal Kingdom Theme Park and Downtown Disney Area Walt Disney World Resort near Orlando; Disneyland Resort in Anaheim; and Disney Resort Hotels in Hawaii, California, Florida and Hilton Head, S.C.

The overall network enhancements benefit both Disney guests as well as workers with better coverage, more reliability and very fast data speeds, said Cliffe Barnett, AT&T director of RAN engineering for north Florida, in a video the carrier posted on YouTube .

Source: AT&T

However, the small cell rollout appears to target primarily staffers at the resorts. John Donovan, senior executive vice president, AT&T technology and network operations, wrote on a company blog that the devices are deployed in areas that face "geographic cellular challenges and are mostly located in offices, administrative areas and tunnels" used by Disney workers.

"In both Orlando and Anaheim, our engineers have found the areas with small cells have experienced a more than 10x increase in mobile voice and data traffic on our network," Donovan said.

Donovan did not provide a specific status update regarding 10 cell sites that AT&T said last summer it would roll out across Walt Disney World. He wrote, however, that AT&T expects to deploy more cell sites at the resort.

Both small cells and DAS are part of AT&T's Project Velocity IP (VIP), which is aimed at adding more network coverage density, Donovan noted.

Yet AT&T's focus on using small cells for coverage, rather than new services, is at odds with recommendations issued last week by equipment vendor ip.access and analyst firm Yankee Group. The firms contend that because RF engineers are driving small cell deployments, major service opportunities that might be directed by marketing and sales teams are being missed.

"Small cells have a coverage-filling heritage, but it's outdated. Operators who still only look at the technology from that point of view are restricting themselves, restricting their service opportunities, and most importantly, restricting revenues," said Ken Rehbehnm, Yankee Group principal analyst.

For more:
- see this AT&T blog
- see this ip.wireless and Yankee Group release

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