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Hear, and now: How Florida is addressing The Swamp's phone service, connection problems

Florida fans often struggle to get in touch with friends while inside The Swamp. Fortunately, the UAA's well aware of the issue — and is working to fix it.

Jonathan Arnholz

Florida Gators fans have been frustrated in recent years when watching games inside Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, although some of these issues have nothing to do with the team or the action on the field.

University of Florida students and fans have been experiencing difficulties with the wireless connection inside the football stadium on game days.

With more than 90,000 people packed inside "The Swamp" during a game, the amount of traffic can slow down the network for fans like Chris Wrenn, a 21-year-old senior mechanical engineering major at UF.

"You can't go on the Internet for anything. You can't check Facebook, obviously, you can't send text messages, you can't receive text messages," Wrenn said. "Nine times out of 10, if I send something, it'll just come back and say ‘retry later.'"

Rebecca Wright, an 18-year-old undeclared freshman at UF, said that the connection problems inhibit her communication with people she knows.

"I'll text my friends or my family to find out where they're at in the stadium, and it never connects," Wright said.

Chip Howard, executive associate athletics director for internal affairs at the University Athletic Association, said that the problems revolve around the equipment currently installed in the stadium being insufficient.

"There's two different systems you have to install now, which five years ago, nobody had, and now everybody wants and everybody needs," Howard said.

One of these systems is known as a distributing antenna system (DAS), which primarily handles voice phone calls and other services from wireless providers. The current system at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium was installed before last season and features more than 330 antennae around the stadium.

AT&T, which installed the DAS, is the only provider on the system. But Verizon is in the process of installing its own equipment, and both providers will be ready for this weekend's Homecoming game against Vanderbilt, according to Howard.

The other system is a WiFi system, which is not installed in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. The WiFi network would act as a supplement, allowing users to get data without overloading the DAS. However, Howard said that installing the WiFi will not be easy.

"It's not a quick fix, and it's not a cheap fix either," he said. "It's very expensive to install a WiFi system into your stadium. You're looking at millions of dollars."

The UAA has been investigating a solution throughout the summer and into the beginning of this fall, according to Howard. That investigation continued last week, as representatives from the UAA information technology and communications departments toured Gillette Stadium, home of the New England Patriots. The Patriots' stadium had a new high-density WiFi network installed prior to this season.

The NFL has recently made a push to turn its football games into a full multimedia experience for in-stadium fans, including WiFi networks, enhanced video replay, and live fantasy football stats on the scoreboards.

In a digital age, sitting at home on the couch in front of a high-definition television can often be more appealing than actually attending a game. Howard knows improving the in-person fan experience is essential.

"The more times people go to a facility and they have access to additional WiFi, they're going to expect that at every different facility that they go to," Howard said. "And our facility should be no different."

Howard thinks that the connection issues at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, among other things, may have an impact on fans attending games or even leaving them early.

"The habits of the fans have changed, and we need to change with them," Howard said.

Improving the wireless connection at Florida home games will be a challenge, and it's a challenge with no immediate or inexpensive solutions. But Howard said that it's a challenge the UAA is willing to undertake.

"We're trying to deliver what the fans want as best we can."