Cell phone use increases so drastically on Football Saturdays in Ann Arbor that Verizon Wireless can track people driving to Michigan Stadium by monitoring the use of its network.
“Lots of alumni come from all over Michigan – and we can see the routes they take to get here,” said Michelle Gilbert, public relations manager for Verizon Wireless.
Cell phone use increases 60 to 75 percent on game days in Ann Arbor, Gilbert said. “Network traffic was 70 percent higher Oct. 12 – the day of the Penn State game – than it is on a regular day,” Gilbert said. “And network use doubled during the hour after the game.”
Verizon Wireless anticipates increased cell phone calls during this Saturday’s home game against Michigan State as well.
“We are anticipating heavy traffic on our network this Saturday because a lot of people will be in Ann Arbor for the Michigan State game,” Gilbert said. “We measure cell phone use in all of Ann Arbor – we could narrow it down and just measure around the stadium, but there are a lot of people who don’t go to the game, but are in the city because of the game.”
In early October, Verizon Wireless increased the capacity of their network for the city of Ann Arbor by 30 percent in anticipation of football season and the return of college students to school.
“We always monitor our network to make sure it is operating the way it should,” Gilbert said. “By increasing capacity we have tried to insure that people’s calls will go through on the first attempt. Whenever there are a lot of people making calls at the same time – like the stadium environment – the chances of not making a call on the first attempt may increase,” Gilbert said. “The network is designed, however, to move with traffic and we have not received any complaints from people unable to use their phones or make their calls go through on the first attempt.”
LSA junior Pamela Thomas said she uses her cell phone each game day.
“I take my phone with me and someone calls me at least once a game,” Thomas said. “The reception is fine; the noise is the only problem.”
Not only does cell phone use increase on Football Saturdays, but the hours during and after the game are often the busiest of the week. The busiest hour of last week was 3 p.m. Saturday, while the busiest hour two weeks ago was 7 p.m. Oct. 12.
“The busiest hour for cell phone use depends on the game,” Gilbert said. “When games are sudden death like they were against Washington and Penn State, the busiest hour begins immediately after the game. For other games, halftime is the busiest hour of the day.
“Cell phone use is higher when we win than it is when we lose,” Gilbert said. “When we lose, people just don’t feel like talking as much. Call volume was 17 percent higher for the Penn State game than it was for the Iowa game last weekend.”
Gilbert said, “We assume that text messaging also increases on Football Saturdays because all traffic on the network goes up. But we don’t monitor text messaging separate from phone calls. We just monitor overall cell phone use.”
Football Saturdays are not the only athletic events that increase cell phone use in Ann Arbor.
“When the Michigan basketball season begins, we will see increased cell phone use around Crisler (Arena) as well,” Gilbert said. “Sporting events in general – Michigan football, basketball and the NHL Stanley Cup series all increase cell phone use.”
LSA sophomore Amy Greenfield said she uses her phone to speak with friends during the game.
“This year I sit with all of my friends, so I don’t use it as often as I did last year when I used it each game,” Greenfield said. “I still use it though and I have never had any trouble with the reception. In fact, I get better reception at the game than I do in my apartment.”
LSA senior Johanna Wetmore doesn’t attend football games this season, but does use her cell phone during the game.
“I don’t go to the games this year and I don’t use my cell phone any more than I usually do when they are on TV,” Wetmore said. “I don’t have any trouble using it when I do call during games either.”