Everywhere you turn in Park City this week, there's a cell phone.
Or a lap-top.
Or a tablet computer.
At the Sundance Film Festival, it seems that everyone has to have one.
Or more than one.
"All those people are carrying not just one, but sometimes two or three media devices," said Erik Varney of Verizon Wireless. "Data use has exploded."
And therein lies a challenge for the companies that provide wireless services. When 45,000 film-makers, film buffs and film wannabees get together in one small place, with all devices blazing away, something's got to give. And it basically means wireless companies have to give more bandwidth.
If the companies don't beef up the volume of data that can flow through their system, they face the wrath of customers complaining about dropped calls, calls that never made a connection, or data transmissions that are too slow for the fast pace of Sundance.
Many cellphone users at the film festival seem satisfied with their voice calls this week. "Cellphones make life very convenient," said South African film-maker Ross Bradder. "Certainly for me, here in Park City, I've had no problem using the cellphones so far."
But others have had some troubles, especially with uploading and downloading data
Lauren Bobbitt uses her smartphone to arrange press coverage of a new film called "Compliance." She essentially employs a Park City sidewalk as an office, crouching over documents spread out on the ground. "I do get a lot of dropped calls," Bobbitt said. "But that just might be my network. The data is the biggest issue. My emails never go through."
Similar slowdowns were noticed Sunday by Lisa Gutberlet, who handles international sales for a film production company. "Emails and text messages have been delayed for a few hours," she said.
The wireless companies say the volume of data is trending sharply upward everywhere. But it reaches exceptional peaks at special events like Sundance where thousands of tech-savvy people cluster together.
Part of Varney's job is to make sure Verizon has enough bandwidth available to satisfy the demand for connectivity.
"Complete data connectivity," Varney said, "from finding your location and uploading video streams and doing text messaging, and video messaging and picture messaging. Especially with the celebrities. You want to take a picture and send it to all your friends and post it on Facebook and Twitter it as fast as you can."
A.T.& T beefed up bandwidth for their customers by bringing in three COWS to Park City. COW is an acronym for Cell-site On Wheels. The mobile units parked near film festival venues have high-tech electronics and tall, temporary cell-towers.1 comment on this story
Verizon's approach at Sundance is to rely on the same equipment they use all year-round. Varney says mobile units aren't needed because the company planned ahead to make sure it had more than enough capacity in place. For special events like Sundance, though, they do use software controls to dedicate more bandwidth to the area where it's needed.
Varney said Verizon has plenty of experience providing wireless service to Sundance. "We make sure that we've engineered our network to handle the capacity when it peaks out, when there's a lot of people on the street, trying to make phone calls, and taking pictures of Justin Timberlake, or whoever might show up that week."