Bill SmithAT&T hosted a webinar today with Bill Smith, President of Network Operations, that dived into how it keeps its network operating and makes sure that areas hit by disasters get service again as soon as possible.

At the center of the presentation was a tour of the company’s Global Network Operations Center (GNOC) located in New Jersey.  This massive 195,000 square foot operations center – or as they like to control it, “mission control”  – is manned around the clock, every day of the year.  From here the company can monitor network usage spikes, outages and even when they think a botnet loaded onto computers by malicious software may be starting to appear.

It is from this location that the company deploys its disaster teams that are stationed around the country in clusters.  When a tornado or earthquake strikes, a team is dispatched with tractor trailers loaded with equipment that are geared towards getting at least temporary service restored as soon as possible.  As an example, Mr. Smith mentioned that one of their towers had been on top of the destroyed hospital that was shown in all the videos following the fatal tornado in Joplin, MO a few weeks ago.  Thanks to the disaster team they were able to get coverage back to the city without much delay.

One of the more intriguing aspects of the talk was what the company does to handle major events such as sporting events.  If it’s a situation such as a football or basketball stadium, they have been deploying devices called Distributed Antenna Systems (DAS) that are much cheaper to deploy in this situations and will give a better coverage in a building such as those.  In a situation like the Talladega Speedway that only has events a few times a year, the company will deploy vehicles called Cells on Wheels (CoWs) that can be moved with ease from location to location.

Of course some of the biggest points discussed were the potential merger with T-Mobile and the deployment of LTE that the company is planning.  Essentially AT&T is in need of more bandwidth and towers to deal with the increased usage of cell phones that happens on a daily basis, and buying the carrier is the quickest way to solve all of those issues.  No matter what, however, the rollout of LTE is happening and will first appear in five markets with an additional 15 being added by the end of the year.

All in all it was an interesting half-hour look behind the proverbial veil of what goes into running a cellular carrier.  While all consumers want are their handsets to work, but to get that to happen, a heck of a lot has to go right.