Mobility Makes for a Well-Connected Republican National Convention
AT&T was always there…out in front of everything, providing that mandatory baseline for rapid communications and rapid response."
- Scott Morris, Director of IT, Committee on Arrangements
Connect audiences everywhere to convention activities
A range of mobility services and solutions including wireless upgrades, mobile application development and messaging capabilities; audio and web conferencing
Meet the mobile demands of participants, keeping them informed and the convention on schedule; enhance collaboration and support extended coverage to the media
United States political party system
50,000 on-site guests
About the Committee on Arrangements for the 2012 Republican National Convention
Every four years, the Republican National Convention (RNC) is held to officially nominate the Republican candidate for President. The convention is a four-day event packed with high-profile speakers, press conferences and an enthusiastic audience of tens of thousands of guests and delegates. The 2012 Convention was held in Tampa Bay, Florida, and was managed by the Committee on Arrangements (COA).
The convention is an event of international significance, and the committee plans far ahead of time to ensure a seamless production. Since it is held only every four years, changes in technology can lead to a whole new set of requirements. In 2012, mobility had emerged as a top priority for connecting staff as they planned the convention and keeping participants everywhere in touch. The 2012 event would demand the best wireless infrastructure, wireless application development and conferencing services to meet the needs of today’s mobile world.
In the summer of 2011, AT&T was named the official mobility provider for the 2012 RNC. To support convention activities, the company made significant upgrades to the area’s wireless and Wi-Fi capabilities. AT&T also provided application development, helping create “Tampa 2012,” the first-ever mobile app built for a Republican presidential convention. AT&T Messaging Toolkit enabled the RNC to quickly message internal groups and allow supporters and the general public to sign up for multi-mode convention alerts. The COA used AT&T Connect® services during planning and production to connect staff and media through audio and web conferencing.
‘A Lot of Moving Parts’
From August 27th to the 30th, the Republican National Convention made its home at the Tampa Bay Times Forum. “The number one goal of a convention, whether it is for the Republicans or the Democrats, is simply to get a bump for the candidate – it’s their stage,” said Scott Morris, Director of Information Technology for the COA.
The convention is a huge production, similar to a four-day Super Bowl. More than 50,000 guests attended the 2012 event throughout the week, including 15,000 members of the media. Activities include committee meetings, delegate voting, guest speakers and the official nomination. Senators, governors and celebrities are among the speakers. News conferences take place throughout the day, with prime time speeches broadcast to millions worldwide.
Coordination is key. A successful convention requires extensive planning and committee collaboration. For the 2012 RNC, planning began over a year in advance. The COA departments include operations, IT, security, communications, media and lodging arrangements. The convention itself uses 4,500 volunteers. “It’s a lot of moving parts,” said Morris. The 2012 RNC even had a hurricane storm onto the scene, pushing the start of the event back a day.
Creating a New ‘Now’ Infrastructure
During the convention, network uptime is critical. “You only have a certain amount of time before the event is over,” said Morris. “If there are any outages or downtime, then you’re putting the entire convention behind schedule.” This pressure is magnified by the fact that the whole world is watching. The network must remain up while supporting massive amounts of quickly fluctuating network traffic, as the 50,000 guests, delegates, staff and media all make various voice and data transmissions throughout the event.
With nearly all convention workers and attendees coming in from out of town, wireless communication is a top priority. “Everybody is extremely mobile. Without a solid mobile service, everything would just halt,” said Morris. Drastic spikes in network traffic require robust, scalable infrastructure. But the convention location is not chosen for its IT capability, and the COA must make it work. It’s not an easy task.
In addition, the shift in technology from 2008 to 2012 was dramatic. Four years is a lifetime in technology terms, and mobility needs have drastically evolved with the rise of smartphones, mobile apps and social media. “This was the first true high-speed mobile device convention that there has been. The demand for having data available is hugely exponential,” Morris said. Beyond cell phone calls, people are using mobile devices to transmit all kinds of data, from photos and videos to live-streaming. It all added up to a need for much more bandwidth.
Strong and Savvy
The COA depends on official providers to support the convention’s technology needs. The 2012 convention worked with about 10 companies to provide technology infrastructure, wiring, licensing, design support and rental equipment. AT&T became the convention’s first provider, coming on board to supply the mobility solution. “AT&T definitely made a robust commitment to the convention and the Tampa Bay community by providing the best possible service from the very beginning,” said Morris.
As the official mobility provider, AT&T strengthened wireless and Wi-Fi capabilities at the convention site and throughout the surrounding area, making both temporary and permanent improvements to the network infrastructure across Tampa Bay. “AT&T got on the ground and started planning and adding additional services to the area to be able to handle the saturation,” said Morris. “They were able to get in the backbone that was actually needed.” In the year leading up to the convention, AT&T added network capacity, upgraded wireless Internet service and activated new cell sites.
The company also provided a suite of other services, keeping the convention’s communication capabilities on the leading edge of today’s technology with mobile app development, AT&T Messaging Toolkit and AT&T Connect and Connect Event Services conferencing services. “AT&T was almost a jack-of-all-trades, providing software, hardware and design personnel on the ground along with all of the different networks that came into play,” Morris said.
With support from AT&T, the COA was able to maintain sufficient bandwidth and 24x7 network uptime throughout the convention – and the network was definitely put to the test. “You could see the levels drop drastically as somebody new came out on stage and everybody’s taking and uploading pictures and making quick phone calls. The network never went down during the convention. It was always up,” said Morris.
Even with a hurricane threatening, the convention stayed on track. “When you’re working within a short time period, rapid capabilities are the number one item for success,” Morris said. “AT&T was always there step-by-step, out in front of everything, providing that mandatory baseline for rapid communications and rapid response.”
From planning meetings to pop-up press conferences, AT&T Connect conferencing enabled quick responses to changing needs. The service connects users from virtually anywhere in the world over enabled devices, promoting collaboration across distance by maintaining instantaneous, flexible communication. The COA used AT&T Connect from the earliest planning to connect its geographically dispersed and mobile staff. “Due to all the moving parts, everyone from senior leadership to volunteers was always on the move with the various event locations throughout the Tampa Bay area. The ability to pick up the phone and immediately have people locally and around the world on a call was huge,” said Morris.
With AT&T Connect Event Service, that capability expands to 1,500 users at once. The service enabled reporters who were not at the convention to call into a dedicated phone number to attend daily press conferences.
But it may have been “Tampa 2012,” a mobile app designed specifically for the 2012 RNC that most dramatically brought the convention into the modern day. AT&T worked with the COA “Convention Without Walls” department to develop the multifaceted app. Designed for iOS and Android platforms, “Tampa 2012” provided attendees key information about the Tampa Bay area, convention activities and logistics. It also gave offsite audiences access to the convention and a platform to join in, view live convention coverage and share their experiences. “If somebody wasn’t able to attend, they could still experience the convention as if they were in Tampa,” explained Morris. The app got rave reviews, with 37,000 downloads for just one week.
From Tweets to Texts
The COA offered audiences a variety of ways to stay informed. In addition to the app, AT&T Messaging Toolkit enabled people to sign up for alerts to be received through the channel they like best. From tweets and social media posts to emails and text messages, AT&T Messaging Toolkit promotes flexible access to important information. “It provides whatever method of communication each person feels comfortable with,” said Morris. “In today’s rapidly emerging and ever growing mobile communications realm, the only way to succeed is using a flexible system that can handle all avenues.” AT&T Messaging Toolkit alerts were also sent over the mobile network.
“Our security department used it to have the ability to blast text all staff, volunteers and key law enforcement agencies in the case of an emergency. We didn’t have the necessity to use it, but it was there and it tested well,” Morris said. AT&T also helped plan alternate convention arrangements, preparing temporary, moveable cell sites in case the location needed to be moved.
As for day-to-day mobility operations, the COA staff didn’t spend time in micromanagement. “AT&T provided dedicated team members to physically sit in our office and event locations, which was extremely helpful,” Morris said. “AT&T brought their A game,” he added. “Any time I raised any kind of question or flag, it was solved immediately. I knew that the second I fired off an email, wheels were already starting to turn.”
As Morris passes the reins to the next committees, his advice? “The earlier you can get started the better,” he said, “because there are so many different moving parts to building something of this magnitude from scratch. In the end, the only constant is change.” Having the right provider helps. Morris continued, “The level of commitment that AT&T put forth was above and beyond. The staff, services, and equipment were a key factor to making the convention a huge success.”
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