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When Pope Is In Philadelphia, 'Can You Hear Me Now?'

By Ian Bush

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- Nearly two million people are expected to swarm Philadelphia for the Pope's visit in September. Many will want to share the events from their phones in real-time. But will cell networks be able to handle all that traffic -- whether you're on the Parkway or avoiding it?

"We know that this is a once in a lifetime experience," says AT&T spokeswoman Brandy Bell-Truskey. "And we know that such memorable experiences have everyone wanting to share with friends and family. Whether that's through text messages, photos on social media, or even phone calls, then that certainly does mean that there's a need to boost network capacity."

The equivalent of 25 Super Bowls will descend on the Ben Franklin Parkway and likely will overflow onto JFK Boulevard. If you've ever tried to post on Instagram from an Eagles game or Tweet from, say, the Made in America festival, you know the cell companies have their work cut out for them.

Verizon Wireless has been planning since last summer for one goal: "When customers press send, it happens," says system performance director Clint Pagano.

He says the company is negotiating with landlords to put equipment inside and outside. "We decided early on that we would be able to make headway by installing temporary resources, including cell sites and antennas, on rooftops of existing buildings and in building systems in key locations where we expect a lot of papal visit-related traffic," explains Pagano.

Along the Parkway and in other parts of the city, COWs and COLTs will be rolled out -- not animals on legs, but instead Cells On Wheels and Cells on Light Trucks.

"[AT&T] will deploy multiple COWs, and we believe these augmentations will help improve reliability and data speeds during the events," says Bell-Truskey. "We'll also leverage existing AT&T WiFi hotspots. They provide consistently fast speeds and can be used without counting against data allotment."

Verizon will truck in those trailers, too, and they've purchased slimmer one-ton Sprinter vans to use as mobile cell sites.

"They're presumably much easier to find space for," says Pagano. "With any one of those temporary resources, we need to find a prospective landlord. We need to lease space from the city or a private landowner. Once we have the lease in place, then we're in the position to go to the city itself and obtain the required governmental approvals."

Bell-Truskey says AT&T engineers are working with the city in the run-up to the visit; during it, network teams will serve as traffic control to ease data jams. Pagano says Verizon hopes that some of the temporary equipment crews install can be converted into permanent sites to give you more bars after Pope Francis has left town.

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