Verizon-Switch-Tour-AH-5

Exclusive: An Inside Look at Verizon Wireless’ Switch Facility

March 23, 2015 - Written By Alexander Maxham

How does Verizon make the most reliable network, reliable? We take a look at their Switch Facility in Southfield, MI

This morning,  we got the chance to tour one of Verizon’s Switch Facilities here in Michigan. This is one of just four that service the state of Michigan. This facility, in particular, covers Oakland and Wayne county, for those that are familiar with Michigan. Verizon has Switch Facilities like this all around the country, it handles all of the data and voice calls that go through Verizon’s network. Just to give you an idea of how much data runs through this building, on an average day it handles about 10 million calls and 500 million data transmissions per day. So as you can imagine this is a pretty important facility for Verizon. It’s like walking into a building with several huge server rooms. If you’ve ever worked in IT, like myself, then you know exactly what I’m talking about. There’s one room that’s for their 3G and EVDO networks, as well as another room for just 4G LTE. As you’d expect, Verizon needs to keep that room cooled, which they do so at 72-degrees Fahrenheit, and about 40% humidity. Which means there are plenty of air conditioners all around the building.

We got to speak with a few people in the networking side of Verizon here for the midwest region Lauren LoveWright who is the Region President. As well as the Network Executive Director, Ajay Ghanekar. Mark Emerick, Direct of Michigan Network Operations. And finally Trevor Thomas who is in charge of Verizon Public Relations in Michigan, Indiana and Kentucky. In the last 15 years, Verizon has invested over $2.5 billion in their network in the Detroit area. And over $100 million in the past year alone. Verizon knows that their business relies on their network (as their competitors also know, or should know). As their customers do everything, literally, on Verizon’s data network. Including calls, depending on the device they have.

In addition to the two separate rooms for both 3G and LTE, Verizon also has two rooms that are full of batteries, that are always charged up and on. This is to be sure that if the network losses power for some reason, the network can keep running. Each battery room can keep the network up and running for up to 8 hours. There’s also an electrical room, which is in the gallery of pictures below, that gets power from two separate commercial power plants.

The theme of Verizon’s Switch Facility is “redundancy”. A good example that was used was the blackout from 2003 when half of the east coast, including Michigan and Ohio lost power for days, and some parts of the state lost it for a week. With all the backups that Verizon has in place, their network should still be up and running through any type of power outage or extreme weather situation. This building is built for tornadoes as well as earthquakes, even though we don’t really get any earthquakes in this area. Verizon also has a couple of huge generators that are not inside the building. These generators have 8,000 gallon tanks that keep them going. Additionally, these generators can keep their Switch Facility going for weeks and even months.

Now all of this isn’t just for the “what-if” moments. Verizon does a weekly drill with these two large generators. Simulating a blackout, to be sure they can keep the network running. If this facility loses power, then the Verizon network in this part of Michigan is out. However, if the network is out and the Switch Facility isn’t, the facility is kinda useless. Therefore, Verizon has put generators on each of their macro cell sites, which are better known as cell towers. Verizon has said that about 96% of their macro cell sites have generators on site. So redundancy is a real thing for Verizon. But it means that no matter what happens, Verizon’s network will still be up and running. Even during the recent hurricanes that hit New York and New Jersey a few years ago, Verizon’s network was still up and running.

Verizon is also utilizing small cell sites across the nation. For those unaware, Small Cells are part of Verizon’s plan to stay ahead of the growing demand for data. Small cells have a radio, antenna, power and a fiber connection that allows them to augment capacity in a given area. We’ve seen Verizon deploying these in other parts of the country, and it helps improve signal as well as speeds.

Verizon says that their competitors don’t have a state-of-the-art facility like this to handle all of their calls and data packets. Verizon doesn’t feel that competitors (Sprint, AT&T and T-Mobile) don’t have the level of redundancies that Verizon has for power failure, severe weather or any other cause that might disrupt their network. We’ll we’re going to tour the other three carriers Switch Facilities and find out for ourselves if that’s true.

So Verizon’s reliability basically consists of lots of generators, lots of batteries that are bigger than your car’s battery, and a building that can withstand just about any amount of severe weather. No wonder Verizon’s network is so reliable.