I’m often asked how the network operates or why cell phone coverage can differ from area to area. So I took a tour around Atlanta with one of the people responsible for making the network work, Sprint engineer, Hector Rodriguez-Riego.
Hector’s job is to test for call quality, data speeds and overall network performance. He, along with more than 400 of his colleagues across the country drive thousands of miles a year conducting field tests, analyzing the data they collect, and working with field technicians to improve the performance of each and every cell site.
I joined Hector as he loaded up the Sprint vehicle with multiple test devices, a laptop and other equipment to show me how Sprint engineers tests the performance of the local network.
Normally he just covers the areas around northeast Atlanta, outside of the Perimeter. But on this day, we left the suburbs and ventured into city.
Driving around hilly, tree-lined neighborhoods in Atlanta and along the city’s highway surrounded by tall buildings, I was reminded just how much I thought I knew about wireless networks, but didn’t. From the soaring towers to the smallest boxes the size of a laptop, their capabilities are intriguing.
I quickly learned that when it comes to ensuring excellent network coverage in a market like Atlanta, the topography definitely makes for some challenges. To combat trees that can tower 100 feet or more and endless miles of rolling hills, there are times we have to get pretty creative with how and where we put cell sites.
One of these recent solutions has been the installation of small cells which are popping up all over light poles and buildings throughout downtown and midtown Atlanta. These small and mighty sites pack a lot of power but mostly go unnoticed by passersby.
To give me an idea of how small cells are improving coverage, we stopped by one of our sites on the campus of Georgia Tech University. In the speed test we conducted, we saw incredible download speeds of more than 111 Mbps. Hector explained that while that was impressive, there were other areas nearby in which he’s clocked speeds of more than 200 Mbps!
We also visited a few cell towers around town. Along with a lesson on the various parts and functions that make up the towers – antennas, radio, etc - we also stopped to test the surrounding areas around these towers for voice and data performance as well as signal strength.
In between peppering Hector with questions about how the network works, I thought about how extremely passionate he was about making sure wireless users are able to text, call, and upload and download data when they need it. So I asked him what he loves most about it. He told me “the variety of things I can do.”
“I feel proud when I can fix an issue a customer may be having with the network, and then see the difference in the overall performance,” he says.
Hector, who splits his time on the road and in the office analyzing the data he collects, is right that these drive tests are used to optimize network performance for customers in Atlanta and across the country. It’s also true that they’re helping to determine where Sprint plans its Next-Gen Network, an aggressive and largest network build in many years. The build includes installing and upgrading new and existing cell sites, increasing capacity and expanding coverage.
Not only will I pay much closer attention to the towers and cell sites I drive or walk past every day, but I’ll also be looking out for my Sprint colleagues on the road and hope you’ll join me in giving them a wave!
If you’re a news organization and would like to experience a network test drive, please contact Sprint at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.