German Operators Pump Up Oktoberfest Phone Coverage

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Oktoberfest © Kzenon Shutterstock

GERMANY: It’s not just beer – Octoberfest visitors want signal!

Every year, millions of people descend on Munich for Oktoberfest, the largest folk festival in the world [Surely “beer festival” – Editor]. The 179th Oktoberfest opened last Saturday, just one day after the launch of the 4G-enabled iPhone 5, but while many of those attending are getting their traditional dress of dirndl or lederhosen ready for the big event, the mobile operators are racing to ensure that there is Oktoberfest phone coverage.

Many of those in attendance will want to share the atmosphere of the beer tents through photos and videos sent from their smartphones. This desire places exceptional demand on German phone networks, which every year take drastic measures to improve coverage for the event.

Oktoberfest phone coverage

Susanne Faude of Telefonica Germany explained that data demands from festival-goers with smartphones were doubling year on year. For this year’s festival, O2 is tripling capacity, with eight base stations for 2G and 3G networks connected to a specially built fibre optic network and for the first time, they are improving LTE coverage with two stations built specifically for Oktoberfest.

O2 would not reveal where the LTE stations are within the festival area, but one has been spotted west of the wine tent at the site of the festival, the Theresienwiese.

Vodafone also tripled capacity, but no special provisions were made for LTE, although download speeds of 13Mbps and upload speeds of 14mpbs were still possible using HTC Velocity 4G.

The operator has added seven temporary 2G sites and 38 cells for the 900 and 1800 MHz bands as well as nine 3G sites and 72 cells on three frequencies. Voice traffic is directed onto the 2G networks, freeing the 3G capacity for data. In addition, coverage in the Schottenhamel Festhalle will be improved with antennas located inside the tents.

E-Plus was the only operator to ignore LTE entirely, but has still managed to increase capacity by around 80 percent, installing six NodeBs designed for HSPA and eleven base stations around the site.

Practice makes perfect

There are also joint initiatives to improve signal. Every year Deutsche Telekom builds eight additional 15-metre high cell towers, supporting 2G and 3G networks. The temporary infrastructure would be enough to satisfy the mobile demands of a city the size of Augsburg.

A lot of planning goes into building Germany’s largest mobile hotspot each year, from construction to the amount of capacity. In March, the network planners begin their calculations, in June contractors build the masts, antennas and cabinets and in August, the network is actually constructed.

While it is operational, service technicians continually monitor traffic, ensuring that the antennas are properly set and rotated. The UMTS antennas are lowered while the GSM antennas are not – as they are less sensitive to interference.

Previous experience has taught the network planners how to align the antennas and where they need to increase capacity. In one Oktoberfest Saturday last year, the network allowed for more than half a million phone calls and 300,000 texts. Particular emphasis is paid to the entrances and the marquees.

During the second weekend of Oktoberfest, many Italians traditionally visit the festival. This so-called “Italian Weekend” affects the mobile network as approximately one third of traffic at peak times comes from international calls. The volume of data transferred already amounts to hundreds of gigabytes and has doubled in the last two years.

LTE not a priority

International calls and SMS traffic above the flat rate allow mobile operators to increase their revenues from Oktoberfest, but money is only part of the motivation as no operator can afford to let its customers down at such a massive event.

Fixed networks are also expanded for the Oktoberfest. About ten weeks before the festival begins, pipes are laid underneath the floors of the tents and 20 kilometres of copper cable used for cash machines, media connections and emergency lines.

But what about LTE coverage? Deutsche Telekom said that it would make any special provisions for LTE at this year’s Oktoberfest but it definitely would next year. LTE plays such a minor role in planning because there are simply too few contracts in Germany, but it is still possible to get a fast connection as Munich is well served for 4G outside the festival grounds.

No signal

However, despite the best efforts of the operators, the phone networks are still overloaded at peak times, especially the second weekend or after 7pm in the evening. The best way to make a call is to just wait for a signal or to move to another area of the site where you will be served by a different cell powered by a different mast.

Standing underneath a mast brings no benefit as the signal is dispersed horizontally and not directly underneath. If in doubt, just move way from large crowds to maximise your chances of getting through.

However the service technicians do have one amazingly simple way of improving things. If they find there is so much demand in one site that the network is overwhelmed, they can simply restart a particular area of the site from scratch, just like a wireless router at home.

The 2012 Munich Oktoberfest ends on 7 October.

Euro Story: each week, TechWeekEurope will publish a selected story from across  NetMediaEurope’s network of European sites. This week’s story by Harald Karcher  is from ZDnet.de. It was translated and localised by Steve McCaskill.

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