AT&T shows off massive backbone facility in Bothell


by OWEN LEI / KING 5 News

Posted on March 4, 2011 at 7:30 AM

BOTHELL --  Text messages, apps, and even those ringtones we download -- before they hit your phone, they come from somewhere. 

For AT&T customers, that somewhere is an undisclosed location in Bothell, Wash.

"I imagine it doesn't go straight phone to phone," said smartphone shopper Peter McLain.

Much of what we consider quite personal courses through the 80,000 square feet of wires and lights and circuit boards that make up the wireless provider's largest "backbone" facility in the country.

Today, AT&T gave business leaders a tour of their normally secret facility as it announced plans in 2011 to enhance Ethernet backhaul connections to cell sites in the greater Seattle area.  It's a move that would essentially increase the amount of data each site can handle.

Pacific Northwest Regional Vice President Mike Maxwell also told business leaders they also would also be spending millions in Washington and Oregon to ramp up speeds on their existing 4G network.

"We're accelerating our LTE build," Maxwell said, "2013 is when LTE will be completed."

LTE is a wireless technology that allows for faster downloading than AT&T's current 4G network, which runs on HSPA+ technology. 

AT&T competitor Verizon Wireless recently began deploying 4G devices running on their own LTE network.

The Bothell backbone site is one of three -- the others are in Atlanta, and north of Dallas -- and consists of two acres of computer terminals, under the constant drone of cooling units, a building that uses as much power as more than 100 businesses in nearby downtown Bothell, said an on-site operations manager.

The display of raw computing power is also, in a sense, AT&T's pitch to Washington business groups, on the heels of all those announcements about their chief rival, like how Verizon now carries the once-exclusive iPhone.

"Competition raises everyone's game," said Maxwell. "It's raised our game. Our business remains very strong. We're pleased with our intake flow share and our market share overall and are confident that's going to maintain."

On Wednesday, the head of AT&T Mobility and Consumer Markets, Ralph de la Vega, told listeners at a San Francisco technology conference the company saw no surprises when it came to customers switching to Verizon in light of the iPhone availability.

"Everything is pretty much within our expectations," de la Vega said in the webcast. Though he apparently did not elaborate what the expectations were, he did mention that it may be too early to tell, given the "volatile situation."

In other words, they still see plenty of customers, but customers with high expectations, no matter the smartphone, no matter the carrier.

"Absolutely speed, we want everything as fast as possible, and I just want more information more quickly," said Jennifer Harris, who said she had recently switched providers because of her phone preference.