Democratic convention shows off technological prowess

AT&T expects to handle more wireless network traffic than any single event in its history.

When the Democratic National Convention kicks off on Aug. 25 in Denver, delegates, party officials and the media will tap into some of the most sophisticated communications networks ever installed for a single event.

Comment on this article in The Forum.Qwest Communications installed a fiber-optic network at the Pepsi Center convention venue, which is capable of handling 50 billion bits per second of data. It also installed equipment that could handle 130 simultaneous video feeds for the media at the center and at nearby Invesco Field, where Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., is scheduled to deliver an acceptance speech on Aug 28, said Charles Ward, president of the Qwest Colorado division.

The network will support live, gavel-to-gavel streaming video coverage in high-definition television, a first for political conventions, available on the convention Web site,, according to officials with the Democratic National Convention Committee, which also will provide a Spanish language simulcast of the convention on the Web site.

AT&T expects to handle more traffic over the wireless network it installed for the convention than any single event in its history, said Jace Barbin, the company's vice president and general manager of its Rocky Mountain region.

The Qwest and AT&T networks will serve 5,000 delegates, 14,000 Democratic party members, officials and their families, and an estimated 15,000 media representatives.

Barbin said AT&T spent the past year beefing up its wireless infrastructure in the Denver area with new cell sites anddeployed a number of mobile cellular on wheels systems - known affectionately as COWS - to the Pepsi Center to augment coverage. Barbin declined to disclose how many COWS the carrier plans to deploy for the convention, but said there will be enough to handle the anticipated traffic load.

AT&T also installed extra cellular antennas inside the convention center to provide solid signals, Barbin said, with the network delivering wireless data rates of 1.7 megabits per second for download and 1.3 megabits per second for upload. The average home computer user downloads data at speeds of 7 megabits per second, using a telephone company digital subscriber line service.

The AT&T network will serve only AT&T customers, so the Pepsi Center and Invesco Field contracted with ADC Telecommunications to install systems designed to boost capacity and coverage for other carriers, such as Sprint and T-Mobile, said Mike Smith, an ADC spokesman. He said ADC installed 92 remote antenna units at the center and 33 remote antenna units at the stadium, which feed into base stations that transmit and receive signals from multiple wireless carriers.

Qwest started installing its telecommunications infrastructure this winter when it began installation of fiber-optic circuits in the parking lot of the Pepsi Center, which will house the media village. The big push to install circuits began in July, and about 60 Qwest personnel still are working to complete the installation, Ward said. Qwest installed 3,334 miles of fiber and 140 miles of copper and coaxial cable for the convention, along with 2,600 data lies and 3,400 voice grade circuits, he added.

Qwest split its network into two private networks, one to serve the Democratic National Committee and delegates and another to serve the media. The Obama campaign decided in early summer to use Invesco Field at Mile High Stadium for his acceptance, which will require Qwest to move quickly to extend both networks this weekend after the Denver Broncos play their pre-season football game on Aug. 22 before the convention starts three day later, Ward said.

Neither AT&T nor Qwest are providing Wi-Fi service at the convention center, but bloggers and independent journalists covering the convention will have free Wi-Fi access at the Big Tent venue two blocks from the convention center. The event is sponsored by the Alliance for Sustainable Colorado, an environmental group, the Daily Kos political Web site and ProgressNow, an activist Colorado political group.

Meru networks said it is providing 12 of its model AP320 Wi-FI access points, which will blanket the Big Tent with coverage in the 2.5-gigahertzand 5-gigahertz bands. Multiple network resources installed in Denver will make it "the most technologically savvy event of its kind," according to the Democratic committee.