The dropped calls, frozen progress bars and other signs of a wireless network overwhelmed by a flood of summer visitors are fewer and farther between for AT&T customers this season.
AT&T announced Wednesday the installation of a new "Distributed Antenna System" (DAS) at eight new locations in Ocean City.
The new equipment will help provide faster and more reliable service to customers who use AT&T as a service provider for cell phone calls, text messages and access to the Internet from mobile devices.
AT&T spokesperson Brandy Bell-Truskey said the capacity of wireless networks at the shore is not unlike that of the roads to the shore — "You have all these people going to the same place, on the same road, at the same time," she said.
In Ocean City, where the year-round population of 11,701 grows to an estimated 150,000 on a busy summer weekend, wireless customers experienced a gridlock last summer.
But between early spring and mid-June, AT&T added eight new antennas spread from E. Atlantic Boulevard on the north end of the island to 40th Street on the south end. And the company has plans to install more.
The result: dropped calls in June 2012 fell by two-thirds from June 2011, while the capacity of the network doubled, according to Bill Waldron, network optimization manager for AT&T.
AT&T and other wireless companies are working to keep up with demand for wireless capacity that increased by 8,000 percent from 2007 to 2010, Bell-Truskey said. Much of the increased demand comes from smartphones, which use 24 times more bandwidth than a traditional cell phone.
"We know that people are frustrated," Bell-Truskey said. "But we want them to know, 'We hear you.' And we're not done."
The eight new antennas were installed by NextG Networks, a utility company that received permission from City Council in December 2011 for 12 new sites.
NextG is a "carrier's carrier," planning, building and operating the equipment used by cell phone companies. NextG currently has a contract only with AT&T to provide expanded service in Ocean City, though another company, such as Verizon, could use the same equipment if they strike a deal with NextG.
Until 2010, AT&T was the exclusive service provider for the iPhone and iPad.
AT&T will continue to enhance coverage with a truck, known as Cell On Wheels (or COW), parked at Shelter Road in Ocean City through the end of summer.
"Whether during a family trip to the shore or for our customers that call Ocean City home, we want everyone to have a great network experience whatever they're doing — whether that's making a call, checking email, posting vacation pictures or surfing the Internet," Tiffany Baehmann, vice president and general manager of AT&T in the greater Philadelphia area, said in a prepared statement.