The nation’s four wireless carriers are breaking out the big guns ahead of President-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration later this month, pushing out new improvements and temporary upgrades to handle what will likely be the most data-heavy presidential installation in history.
Verizon on Wednesday revealed the details of its network overhaul in the Washington DC area, claiming to have boosted capacity in the area by 500 percent. The carrier said the bump comes courtesy of its use of three-channel carrier aggregation as well as new tools like Remote Electrical Tilt (RET) antennas and Matsing Balls.
Just as the name implies, Verizon said RET antennas can be adjusted remotely to change the angle as needed. Matsing Ball technology, on the other hand, allows the carrier to divide crowds into sectors (think pie slices) and individually adjust network settings in those areas to handle traffic demands.
According to Verizon, all the carrier’s permanent cell sites around the National Mall and surrounding area have been upgraded over the past several months with RET antennas to give coverage and capacity a lift during the event. But Verizon’s Chief Network Officer Nicola Palmer reported the advanced technologies launched in preview for the inauguration will also be more widely deployed throughout Verizon’s network in 2017.
Similarly, AT&T said it has invested nearly $15 million and boosted network capacity across the Washington DC area by 400 percent ahead of the inauguration.
The carrier’s enhancements include permanent LTE upgrades to 20 cell sites, with multi-beam antenna technology added to a number of those; a brand new permanent 4G LTE tower built in the area; permanent improvements to Distributed Antenna Systems (DAS) at hotels and airports; and the deployment of seven Super Cell on Wheels (COWs) along the National Mall, two of which will be equipped with AT&T’s high-capacity Drum Set and Eyeball Antennas.
Like Verizon’s Matsing Ball technology, AT&T said its Super COWs each come with at least 10 antenna beams and better serve large crowds by dividing them into sections, each with its own dedicated beam. According to AT&T, one Super COW is equivalent to six of the normal COWs it deployed for the 2013 inauguration, providing 30 times the network capacity. The Drum Set Antenna provides 20 times more network capacity than a single beam antenna, the carrier reported.
An AT&T spokesman said planning for the inauguration began two years ago, and included a team of more than 50 network engineers to map out and deploy the technology.
Not to be left behind, Sprint and T-Mobile also told Wireless Week they’ve been beefing up their DC-area networks ahead of the event.
A T-Mobile spokeswoman said over the past year the Un-carrier has enhanced existing sites, built new facilities, and staged COWs on site. The result, she said, has been a nearly 10-fold increase in capacity.
Like AT&T, a Sprint spokeswoman said the carrier has been working over the past two years to add “several” new sites around the National Mall and metro stations and upgrade at least a dozen sites with 1900 MHz 2nd LTE Carrier capability. The spokeswoman indicated Sprint is using two-channel carrier aggregation on 2.5 GHz sites across the area to increase data speeds and will also be deploying several COWs at locations from the Lincoln Memorial to the U.S. Capitol to provide additional capacity. All of Sprint’s COWs will be capable of three-carrier aggregation on 2.5 GHz spectrum, she said.
A little perspective
The rush to build up their networks ahead of the inauguration is no show of vanity on the carriers’ part – it is a necessity to handle a massive increase in smartphone usage at the event.
Verizon shared that for President Barack Obama’s first inauguration in 2009, only 10 percent of the U.S. population used a smartphone. According to AT&T, that number had grown to 35 percent of adults by his second inauguration in 2013 and has more than doubled to over 72 percent in 2016. Between the 2009 and 2013 Obama inaugurations, AT&T noted data usage increased by more than 16 times, though the crowd for the latter was smaller than the original.
Additionally, AT&T pointed out that back in 2012 the iPhone 5 was the hottest device on the market and picture sharing app Snapchat had not yet come into its own. And of course, live streaming video wasn’t a thing back then either. So the carriers are quite sensibly preparing for another exponential jump in data traffic this year.
“We’ve been preparing our network in the DC area for months to be ready for this historic event,” Verizon’s Palmer commented. “Verizon customers at the inauguration will be using Instagram, SnapChat, and Twitter to share photos and videos of the swearing in ceremony, run Facebook Live while attending the parade, and connect with folks back home, all from their wireless devices.”
Filed Under: Infrastructure