T-Mobile shifts F1 Grand Prix role into overdrive

No doubt about it, wireless carriers are revved up for this weekend’s Formula One Las Vegas Grand Prix (LVGP). The spectacle started with a star-studded opening ceremony Wednesday night and closes with the big race – through Las Vegas streets – on Saturday night.

In late September, attendees of MWC Las Vegas 2023 got a glimpse of what was to come, with traffic patterns rerouted, Verizon test engineers running around checking for dead spots and race merch hawked seemingly anywhere and everywhere.

T-Mobile in particular is crowing about its high-roller status as the exclusive wireless provider of the event, which means, in part, that its name is emblazoned across the magenta-covered T-Mobile Zone at Sphere.

Fortunately, it’s made network enhancements inside the Sphere since MWC because back then, Verizon appeared to be the only one satisfying U2 fans. A T-Mobile spokesperson said this week that as of November 10, T-Mobile is part of the JMA Wireless distributed antenna system (DAS) inside the Sphere, where they’re seeing speeds of 1,201 Mbps downlink and 158 Mbps uplink. (AT&T’s status is unchanged with the DAS in the Sphere, a spokesperson said.)

Outside & inside

For the Las Vegas Grand Prix, T-Mobile deployed seven cells on wheels (COWs) specifically to cover temporary construction sites like the grandstands. It also installed four new permanent small cells along Las Vegas Boulevard on the track.

New or upgraded network enhancements were done across 17 in-building locations, including the Paris, Horseshoe and Planet Hollywood, as well as F1 Paddock, Sphere, Harrah’s, Caesars Palace, Mandalay Bay, Excalibur, Luxor, Park MGM, Bellagio, New York New York, Signature at MGM Grand, Aria, MGM Grand and Harry Reid Airport.

The ”un-carrier” said it upgraded two executive airports, North Las Vegas and Henderson, and installed 62 permanent macro upgrades across Las Vegas over the last 12+ months. Most of its buildout of N41/2.5 GHz (Ultra Capacity) was completed in 2022.

That’s not all. In a press release last week, T-Mobile said it’s leveraging network slicing on its 5G Standalone (SA) network to power more than 100 point-of-sale terminals so fans can “pick up their refreshments and swag without delay.” It’s also touting its 5G Advanced Network Solutions (ANS) and T-Mobile Wi-Fi to support critical connectivity needs for attendees, event staff and race teams.

Eyes on the road

Fierce reached out to Verizon and AT&T about their LVGP preparations. Verizon did not respond, although its engineers were testing the network during MWC in preparation for the race and making tweaks accordingly. Executives pointed out that because spectators will only see a portion of the race as the cars go whizzing by, they’re going to be relying heavily on their smartphones to see all the other parts of the course in real time throughout the race.

An AT&T spokesperson said it planned on having three or four COWs on hand, and its C-band spectrum will be going full bore for its commercial service. FirstNet assets for the Grand Prix and Super Bowl include a response communication vehicle, three Satellite Cell on Light Trucks (SatCOLTs), two compact rapid deployables (CRDs) and additional mini CRDs.

Nothing inside the Sphere has changed for AT&T’s coverage, but the nearest cell site is 0.2 miles away and it serves the area directly outside the venue, the spokesperson said.

Not exactly the Super Bowl

While T-Mobile has made permanent upgrades inside Allegiant Stadium and elsewhere and those will remain in place for Super Bowl 2024, it’s worth noting that the Grand Prix is on a “whole other level” than the Super Bowl.

With the track basically built from scratch just for this race, T-Mobile worked closely with F1 and Las Vegas Grand Prix to pinpoint the best areas for its network upgrades and temporary enhancements, the spokesperson explained.

For example, well before anything was staged, they had to identify coverage based on where the grandstands were going to be, where they knew F1 headquarters would be located and general areas where people would be congregating through race week. (After all, nobody wants F1 race fans bad-mouthing their wireless service during show time.)  

In preparation for the Super Bowl, which will be held for the first time in Las Vegas in February, T-Mobile plans to deploy permanent small cells in areas immediately outside the stadium to better serve tailgaters and fans around the stadium. T-Mobile doesn’t expect to deploy COWs like it is for F1 as its macro network will be able to support customer demand for the Super Bowl. 

The AT&T spokesperson pointed out that the biggest difference compared to preparing for a Super Bowl is the total area they need to cover. For example, the Super Bowl is mostly concentrated in the stadium and Formula 1 is spread out throughout the 3.8-mile track.

With any luck – for this one weekend – the “race to 5G” will all but be forgotten and everyone can just chill to the tune of cars zooming over 212 Mph on a racetrack in the middle of the dazzling Sin City.