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Air and Water Show All Set for Your Instagrams, Texts, Calls and More

By Paul Biasco | August 11, 2014 8:16am
 AT&T is installing a super antenna that can offer up to 18 times the capacity of a traditional antenna for the Chicago Air and Water Show.
AT&T is installing a super antenna that can offer up to 18 times the capacity of a traditional antenna for the Chicago Air and Water Show.
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DNAinfo/Paul Biasco

LINCOLN PARK — The U.S. Navy Blue Angels soaring by Chicago's skyline make for the perfect Instagram shot or video.

But wireless networks are hard pressed to keep up with all those those videos, texts, tweets and selfies competing to be sent at the same time, and many of them end up in a dead zone.

This year AT&T is fighting to get your messages across by deploying its most high-tech antenna — in the shape of a huge white sphere about 25 feet high, standing just west of Lake Shore Drive near North Avenue Beach.

AT&T technicians installed the 18-beam Luneburg Lens Antenna last week in preparation for the Chicago Air & Water Show.

It's the first time they have deployed the device anywhere in the country to combat what they call the "look at me" or "look where I am" effects.

 A closeup of the 18-beam lens antenna installed last week for the Chicago Air & Water Show.
A closeup of the 18-beam lens antenna installed last week for the Chicago Air & Water Show.
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DNAinfo/Paul Biasco

"Basically, the mobile traffic that we have seen over the AT&T network has just skyrocketed in past years," said company spokeswoman Erin McGrath.

The company tested a 12-beam version of the antenna at a music festival earlier this summer, but wanted to roll out the 18-beam sphere for the Air & Water Show, which is expected to draw as many as 2 million people over the weekend.

Antennas are typically vertical, but this spherical lens antenna can offer up to 18 times the capacity of a traditional, single-beam antenna, according to AT&T.

When the engineers at the site began to assemble the sphere atop the tower, they compared it to Christmas morning, sending pictures back to the office.

When technicians tried out the cell tower earlier this month, the antenna was able to double the amount of data traffic across the network such as tweets, social media posts and video.

The tower contains 18 unique beams, versus a traditional single-beam antenna.

The temporary tower is located on the southeast end of the Lincoln Park Zoo parking lot, just north of the bridge that crosses Lake Shore Drive, and is visible from the Drive.

The cell company has begun to install permanent antenna solutions at venues such as the United Center, but for outdoor temporary venues those aren't an option.

During the nine home Blackhawk playoffs games last season, AT&T customers averaged 133 gigabytes of data usage each game.

"That just kind of shows you the effect. Now people just constantly want to share where they are at," McGrath said. "Social is huge, texting is huge, but it's all data. It’s not voice."

The Air & Water Show runs Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. both days.

This year marks the return of the fan-favorite Blue Angels and Golden Knights parachute team who were both absent in 2013 as a result of federal spending cuts.

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