Mobile

Carriers brace for heavy wireless data loads at Philly DNC

Wireless carriers are ready for tweeting, Facebooking, Instagraming Democrats after smoothly handling the Republicans in Cleveland.

SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

Republicans consumed wireless data in Super Bowl-level quantities last week as their party nominated Donald Trump in Cleveland. Now, the carriers are getting ready for the same challenge on the other side of the aisle in Philadelphia.

Verizon, the country's largest wireless operator, said Monday its customers used an aggregate 7 terabytes of data each day of the Republican National Convention, roughly the same amount the fans used at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, California, while watching the Denver Broncos defeat the Carolina Panthers in the big game this year.

AT&T, the No. 2 carrier, said average daily traffic on its network during the four-day convention was about 250 percent of the volume it handled during Game 6 of the NBA finals between Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors. The game was held in the same arena as the RNC.

Video streaming and social media have led to an explosion of data usage, particularly at big events like ball games and music festivals, said Verizon spokesman Chuck Hamby, adding that data usage at the 2012 DNC was measured in megabytes or gigabytes. "Now even a typical NFL game may see more than a terabyte of wireless data being processed in one single Sunday," he said.

The conventions gobble up data too and that's no surprise. Political types like to share Instagram selfies or chase Pokemon on their phones as much as anyone else. Demand for bandwidth rose in Cleveland when the Republicans descended on the city, and it's expected to rise this week in Philly.

The carriers have spent months getting ready. AT&T tripled its 4G LTE coverage in Cleveland, while Verizon added more fiber capacity for its wireless networks connecting to the Quicken Loans arena. Other carriers also built out their networks.

The preparations were worth it. More than 28.5 TB of data -- enough data for one person to stream video continuously for more than 6.5 years -- was processed on the Verizon network, while AT&T reported a total of 9.4 terabytes -- enough for nearly 27 million selfies -- traveling over its network in the Cleveland area.

Meanwhile, Sprint, which has roughly half the number of subscribers as AT&T or Verizon, saw 8.5 terabytes over the period. T-Mobile, the third largest carrier, said traffic on its network increased by 50 percent around the convention center and stadium as video streaming rose. It said video traffic accounted for a quarter of its daily network volume during the convention.

The surge in data traffic at the RNC heightens expectations for usage in Philadelphia, where wireless companies have taken advantage of big investments they made last year for Pope Francis' visit.

"We already had a solid network at the Wells Fargo Center and around Philadelphia," Kerri Strike, director of engineering and operations for T-Mobile's east coast region, said on a recent tour of the carrier's network at the convention site.

Strike said that T-Mobile has upgraded the cellular antennas inside the Wells Fargo Center, where most of the convention action will take place, including upgrades to its distributed antenna system in the arena. It's added capacity in high-traffic areas around the arena too, such as the bar.

AT&T said it's doubled capacity for the Wells Fargo Center. And Sprint is using new technology that allows it to bond together multiple channels of its 2.5 MHz wireless spectrum to get faster downloads on its 4G service and handle more traffic. Verizon has also increased capacity at the Wells Fargo Center by an estimated 550 percent.

Preparing and more importantly delivering rock-solid service at big events is crucial for carriers as they compete for consumers on a daily basis.

"If you're with your friends and their networks are all working and ours isn't, that's bad," Strike said. "People just expect their phones to work."