Wireless Carriers Readying Mobile Coverage in Capital for Inauguration

NEWS ANALYSIS: More than 800,000 people are expected to descend on Pennsylvania Avenue and the National Mall in Washington for the Inaugural Parade and ceremony. And almost all of them will have smartphones and will expect coverage.

From the viewpoint of the wireless carriers that cover Washington, DC, the good news is that about 800,000 people are expected to be on the National Mall and lining the parade route when President Obama is inaugurated for his second term and then travels to the White House afterwards. That’s about a million people fewer than attended the first time. What’s the bad news?

“Data usage in the Washington, DC, area has expanded 12-fold since the last inauguration,” said Verizon Wireless spokesperson Melanie Ortel. Ortel said that increased smartphone penetration means that hundreds of thousands of people will be sending photos, videos and text messages, and they’ll be talking on their phones. This means the demand for data will be five or six times greater than the demand during the last inauguration. While that may sound like a recipe for disaster, it’s not.

Ortel said Verizon Wireless started preparing for the 2013 inauguration as soon as the last one was over. “Since then we’ve enhanced our existing cell sites and we’ve built new cell sites,” Ortel told eWEEK. She noted that Verizon Wireless will be deploying temporary assets on the mall and in surrounding areas. In addition Verizon Wireless has beefed up the company’s network to handle the increased traffic.

But Verizon Wireless isn’t the only phone company that’s been getting ready for the inauguration. AT&T spokesperson Mark Siegel told eWEEK in an e-mail that the company is increasing broadband capacity by 200 percent around the National Mall, and that the company has permanently increased its capacity along Pennsylvania Avenue and around the National Mall.

Siegel said that in addition, AT&T is bringing in temporary cell sites, adding antenna sites and in-building coverage, and it’s beefing up its network infrastructure to handle the extra traffic. Both Verizon Wireless and AT&T have fully implemented LTE service in the DC metro area.

AT&T is also recommending that customers of all wireless services follow three simple steps. The first is to text rather than talk, since text messaging takes far less bandwidth than voice conversations. Next the company suggests saving photos and videos and sending them later, again because of bandwidth requirements. And finally that customers use WiFi where available. Siegel said that AT&T has nearly 60 WiFi hotspots near the National Mall that can be used to avoid network congestion.

Sprint, meanwhile, has an additional challenge. Because of the company’s long relationship with emergency services and first responders, the company’s Emergency Response Team is working closely with those and other government entities to ensure they have connectivity at all times.

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash is a freelance writer and editor with a 35 year history covering technology. He’s a frequent speaker on business, technology issues and enterprise computing. He covers Washington and...