Glastocomms: How well connected is Worthy Farm?

Glastonbury has yet again been and gone, seemingly in the blink of an eye. Around 175,000 people descended on Worthy Farm from Wednesday 21st July this year for what many consider to be the greatest show on earth. Such a large crowd of people in any one location predictably brings with it a whole host of challenges around logistics, staffing, facilities, and not to mention mobile phone coverage for the steep rise in devices in Somerset.

Attendees have different ideas about how to address the personal mobile phone challenge. Renowned for being stolen, lost or broken, some festival goers simply don’t trust themselves with smartphones anymore so instead choose to resurrect old flip phones or Nokia 3310s for the weekend. However, there is also a vast number of people who persevere, relying on their smartphones as not only a means to make calls and texts, but also for data services such as WhatsApp.

Generally speaking, phone signal is pretty good at Glastonbury. Last year, network operator EE constructed the UK’s largest and most powerful temporary 4G network, which involved temporary base stations and an additional 2.6GHz high capacity spectrum. At this year’s festival, EE went one step further. For the first time ever, a permanent mast was erected offering coverage not only to the festival, but also to long-suffering local residents whose own mobile coverage inevitably suffers during the course of the long weekend.

For the fifth year running, EE was Glastonbury’s official technology and communications partner. The operator had predicted that 40 terabytes of data would be used during the festival – equivalent to 400 million selfies uploaded to Instagram. This is no surprise given Glastonbury 2017 was set to be the most socially shared music event of the year. The increasing trend of social networks, messaging apps, and live video streaming means the amount of data being consumed is rising year-on-year. Festival goers are more data hungry than ever.

For EE customers, mobile phones work well across the board with the exception of the Pyramid Stage. For instance, when watching (ohhh) Jeremy Corbyn (to the tune of Seven Nation Army), making phone calls worked, but mobile users found data coverage was limited. Then again, the Labour leader had drawn the biggest crowd since the Rolling Stones headlined that stage in 2013.

The partnership between EE, the largest mobile network operator in the UK and Glastonbury shows the lengths event organisers are willing to go to, to ensure that revelers can stay connected at all costs. Smartphones are integral to modern life; social media effectively becomes free advertising. It has therefore been vital to ensure cellular service is not an afterthought.

For a festival the size of Glastonbury, the importance of having a phone that works for communications cannot be overstated, and provisions have certainly been made. Next year is a fallow year for Worthy Farm, a year off for both festival goers and the Eavis family, who’ll have time to reflect on next steps for connectivity. But when 2019 comes around, I will be looking forward to returning, and hopefully being able to send a WhatsApp message from the Pyramid Stage!

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