AT&T Boosted LTE Capacity By 400% For Inauguration Day

Accommodating a rapid influx of approximately 1 million users on your data network can be a daunting task, but that was the number of attendees that was expected to descend onto Washington, D.C. for the Presidential Inauguration of 2017.  Planning for a record number of smartphone usage placing heavy demands on the network, over fifty engineers at AT&T had been planning for the last two years for the largest temporary deployment of a mobile data network in the company’s history.

To handle the anticipated spike in mobile data usage, AT&T invested upwards of $15 million to boost its LTE capacity 400% across the city through a hybrid of temporary and permanent solutions that included the deployment of the following:

  • 7 Super Cells on Wheels (COW) around the perimeter of the National mall. These contain AT&T’s newest and highest-capacity antenna, the Drum Set Antenna (DSA), which is capable of 30x more capacity than a traditional single-beam antenna. The DSAs allows technicians to send precise cellular signals wherever they need to go by attaching transmitters pointed in various directions on each DSA.
  • The Luneburg Lens Antenna, better known as the Giant Eyeball Antenna, which can provide up to 10x more capacity than a traditional single-beam antenna. The 3-D shape of the Giant Eyeball Antenna lets AT&T engineers on the ground determine the crowd’s data consumption and distribute that data traffic accordingly.
  • 20 new and upgraded Distributed Antenna System (DAS) sites at Washington, D.C. hotels and airports. By more than doubling data and voice capacity, a DAS helps alleviate pressure on wireless networks when thousands of people in close proximity are actively using their mobile devices simultaneously.
  • 20 permanently upgraded LTE sites at the National Mall and the addition of a new, permanent 4G LTE cell tower in the area where the Inauguration is being held.

While the total numbers of people in attendance can be debated, the 2017 Inauguration was most live-streamed event to date for many social media platforms.  Twitter reported a record 6.8 million viewers. The content delivery network (CDN) Akamai, one of the largest CDNs with 216,000 servers in 120 countries, reported that data usage peaked at 8.7 TBbps while supporting 4.6 million concurrent users.  This figure topped the 2009 Inauguration, the 2011 Royal Wedding, and most recently the 2016 Election Day coverage for Akamai.

However, while not necessarily indicative of overall interest in the Inauguration, these statistics point to a definite increase in mobile data usage as a whole. There are simply more mobile devices in the hands of more consumers, in addition to the availability of a variety of live-streaming, data-intensive applications such as Youtube, Twitter, and Facebook. With attendees still reporting slow, intermittent, and even no cellular service during the 2017 Inauguration, 5G LTE service cannot arrive soon enough.

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