First, let’s take a moment to welcome new advertiser AT&T. You may have heard of this outfit. It only employs 2,477 people in South Carolina, with a payroll of $173 million. Not to mention handling all those billions of texts. And now it’s hit the big time — advertising on bradwarthen.com. (See the new ad at the top of the stack on the right.)
Today, coincidentally, I visited the nerve center of it all, the very synapses that handle 90 percent of AT&T’s wireless traffic in South Carolina. Where was that? Well, I can’t tell you. That was a condition of my going there. Very hush-hush.
But here are some pictures I managed to smuggle out. That’s OK; you don’t have to thank me. I live to serve.
AT&T’s Pam Lackey and other officials had invited a number of media and economic development types out to let us know that the company has spent $125 million this year in SC to improve wireless service, including new cell sites and the upgrade of dozens of others. For instance, Forest Acres should see improved service from a new cell site at Trenholm Road and North Beltline. Meanwhile, 60 towers in Richland County have been upgraded with “enhanced backhaul connections,” which has something to do with enabling 4G speeds.
AT&T was showcasing its processing power today because increasingly, that’s what it’s about, explained Laurent Therivel, AT&T’s vice president and general manager of Mobility & Consumer Markets for North Carolina and South Carolina. Consumers are less interested in, say, how many songs they can store on a device; they want to make sure they have a good connection to Pandora. Even such apparently device-specific functions as Siri are all about the network. Smart as she is, if you don’t have a good network, Siri can’t think.
As we toured the facility, I heard a lot about MTSOs and RNCs and MSCs, and GSM vs. CDMA, and I nodded and hoped there wouldn’t be a quiz at the end. And tried not to bump into anything. And I kept my mouth shut as to what I was thinking: A bunch of wires running in and out of boxes, and that’s what enables my iPhone to work as it does? I still think it’s magic.
What’s the most interesting thing that I actually learned and absorbed, aside from the fact that AT&T is really serious about enhancing customer service? This: The whole thing runs on batteries.
Really. At one point, we were in this room that was like all the others, except a little chillier and darker. But the stacks of electronic paraphernalia in that room consisted entirely of batteries rather than high-tech switching equipment. Basically, the idea is that it doesn’t matter whether the grid is working or backup generation, so long as the batteries get recharged. If there’s an outage, the network never knows the difference.
I would never have guessed that, although I suppose that’s one way to make sure the call — or text, or data — always goes through.