The inauguration of Donald Trump as the 45th President of the United States will be a stress test for the infrastructure of Washington, D.C. Supporters, protesters, reporters, and spectators will descend on the capital around January 20, clogging streets and filling eateries.
From the Capitol and the White House to the Lincoln Memorial, the National Mall will be teeming with more than a million additional visitors. And the nation's wireless networks are doing all they can to keep this extraordinary host of political guests connected.
Their efforts are similar in many ways, but there are also large differences between the Big Four.
AT&T (NYSE:T) poured $15 million into bolstering its D.C.-area network for this event. The investment involved over 50 network engineers, seven temporary Cell on Wheels trucks parked around the National Mall, and 20 permanent upgrades to Ma Bell's LTE network equipment near that area. The company has also constructed one additional 4G LTE tower near the Mall, adding another permanent boost. AT&T claims to have improved its LTE capacity in the D.C. market fivefold.
Verizon (NYSE:VZ) is also mixing temporary and permanent upgrades. Its local wireless equipment has been upgraded to LTE Advanced standards, employing sophisticated techniques to let each cell station provide better connections to more devices. Engineers will be on hand for the festivities, patrolling the grounds and making adjustments on the fly, as needed. The budget for Verizon's upgrades is not known, but the company claims to have boosted its data and voice coverage sixfold for the event.
Below the two big boys, Sprint (NYSE:S) has doubled its LTE capacity and added some of that LTE Advanced magic to the mix. Together with its own fleet of Cell on Wheels trucks at crucial areas with high expected foot traffic, these permanent upgrades should bolster Sprint's capacity next week.
Finally, T-Mobile (NASDAQ:TMUS) just announced its own inauguration upgrades. The Magenta network claims to have improved its D.C.-area LTE capacity nearly tenfold over the last year on a permanent basis. T-Mobile is applying some of the same LTE Advanced upgrades that Verizon and Sprint brought to the party, but also stated that some of its next-generation network upgrades are ahead of the other networks. And like everybody else, T-Mobile is also adding some Cell on Wheels trucks to the mix for a temporary adrenaline shot.
How to read the inauguration's tea leaves
In general, the inauguration is providing a significant lift to D.C.'s mobile coverage. Much of these boosts will stay around long after the Trump-inspired media frenzy dies down, making our capital a testing ground for the next wave of nationwide network upgrades.
The relative success or failure of each network's inauguration preparations will come back as the basis for marketing campaigns for the rest of 2017. In particular, T-Mobile is setting itself up for a marketing bonanza as it deploys brand new technologies to reach a massive capacity improvement. If it works as planned, the Magenta marketing machine will get plenty of fodder for its bombastic ads, tweets, and blog posts.
Of course, some of the touted inauguration improvements were long planned, and necessary upgrades for the everyday network experience. In particular, T-Mobile included the effects of recently acquired spectrum licenses in the high-quality 1.7-gigahertz radio spectrum block.
With or without this high-profile event, these upgrades would be boosting T-Mobile's network quality right about now. Sprint sat out that particular auction, while Verizon and AT&T grabbed the lion's share. Reading between the lines, it should come as no surprise that Sprint's event upgrades appear to lag behind the other major networks.
It's a microcosm of the larger wireless market -- AT&T and Verizon can invest in the new technologies they need, T-Mobile is pulling out all the stops to keep up with the big boys, and Sprint can afford to take real action only when the stars are properly aligned.