MTS Allstream and Rogers Communications have spent more than $1.5 million upgrading the wireless service at the home of the Winnipeg Jets over the past six months and will make further investments in 2012 so hockey fans can talk and text without delays during games.
The telecommunications companies have been inundated with complaints about the wireless service at the MTS Centre since the beginning of the hockey season and are doing their best to address them, both companies said.
"Providing capacity for large venues like the MTS Centre is a challenge for all wireless carriers due to the periods of intense usage," said MTS spokeswoman Selena Hinds. "To give you some perspective, there are on average more than 300,000 wireless voice and data connections coming out of the MTS Centre at a Jets game. This is three to four times more voice and data connections compared to your average concert (there)."
Sara Holland, senior manager of public relations at Rogers, said the company realizes that the use of mobile devices is growing by leaps and bounds.
"Passionate Jets fans, like everyone else, are using their electronic devices to stay close to each other and their teams. We get it and we are working on it. This is a joint initiative and we are working together to improve service in the MTS Centre for our customers," she said.
Hinds said MTS has committed to make "major" new investments in WiFi technology at the MTS Centre this year.
"When we are finished our project, customers will be able to connect to the Internet through any Wi-Fi-enabled devices, such as an iPhone, BlackBerry, iPod or tablet. With the combination of our new Wi-Fi service and our 4G wireless network, customers will have two options to connect to the Internet which will further increase wireless capacity within the MTS Centre," she said.
Word of further investments in the wireless service is music to the ears of many Jets fans. While some say their ability to send and receive texts and phone calls has improved since the beginning of the season, others maintain their wireless devices are virtually useless while they're sitting in their seats.
"You can't tweet, Facebook or do anything reliably," said Marty Fisher, a new Jets fan who grew up in Toronto following the Maple Leafs. "I'm a pretty active Facebook poster. I like to post my witty, smart-ass comments. It's an annoyance."
But he said he has also had trouble calling home to check on his kids during games, too. He said connectivity issues could be worse for doctors or other professionals.
"It's a First World problem. I'm at an NHL game and my smartphone doesn't work," he said.
The spotty wireless service in the press box has also proven problematic for journalists covering the hockey games. One out-of-town scribe said the wireless service has been "hit and miss" all season, although it has shown signs of improvement lately. He said True North officials started offering Internet cables to reporters who couldn't get wireless access and eventually had wirelines installed at every station in the press box because "everybody was asking for one."
"I've never had to plug in anywhere before (at a hockey game)," he said.
Hinds said True North makes its own decisions regarding bandwidth and capacity in the press box.
Scott Brown, spokesman for True North, said it has been working closely with MTS to resolve the wireless issues that started at the beginning of the season.
"As far as the press box is concerned, we may have underestimated the volume of activity that would occur online up there during a game but we've been trying to find a proper solution for the problems.
"The media's been pretty understanding as we try to solve the problems and I think we're getting pretty close to getting it figured out. It's a matter of juggling need with cost," he said.