Cellphone carriers in Washington DC are fearful that a communicative citizenry will overwhelm their networks, says the NY Times. They have taken the unusual step of asking people to limit their phone calls and to delay sending photos. The carriers are also spending millions of dollars to temporarily and substantially upgrade their networks in Washington.
Many news organizations, including The New York Times, are asking people to send photos of inaugural events via e-mail. The inauguration has the potential to be a wireless Woodstock. If, that is, the networks can handle it.
“If some of these estimates come true, people should anticipate delays with regards to sending text messages or making phone calls or getting onto the Internet,” said Joe Farren, spokesman for the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association, an industry trade group.
“We can only bend the laws of physics so much,” Mr. Farren said.
To limit problems, the carriers are adding radios to the cell towers and bringing in trucks (Cellsites On Wheels) with on-board generators in case of a power failure.
“We know how many people can pack into a race track or concert,” said John Johnson, a spokesman for Verizon Wireless. Given the enthusiastic crowds that Barack Obama has drawn throughout his campaign, Verizon cannot easily predict the call volume on Tuesday. “It’s unprecedented,” said Mr. Johnson.
“You drive it where it needs to go, park it, push a couple of buttons, the mast will deploy, the dish will deploy and our generator and satellite ensures we’re fully self-contained and independent,” said Tanya Lin, manager of emergency response team operations for Sprint. The company is bringing in two such trucks, in part to be prepared for any emergency that could compromise the usual infrastructure.
Sprint Nextel, which said it had been planning for the inauguration since April, has also increased capacity of its cell sites and terrestrial transmission lines to prepare the network to sustain 10 to 15 times the number of users it would serve on its networks during a normal day.
AT&T Mobility said it was spending $4 million to upgrade its networks. The company said that along the parade route, it was adding 80 percent to the capacity of its 3G network, its much-maligned high-speed data network; the company is improving its slower 2G network by 69 percent and increasing staff by 60 percent. It has increased coverage at 11 major hotels. And it has two satellite COLTs and two reserve satellite COLTs.
Biz Stone, co-founder of Twitter, said the company was hoping to sidestep network hiccups. He is not expecting the same traffic spikes as during the election, when the site was flooded with as many as 10 messages a second, but says the service “will nevertheless be doubling our through-put capacity before Tuesday.”
Meanwhile, Sprint is preparing for Super Bowl XLIII in Tampa on Feb. 1. The company, the official wireless sponsor of the National Football League, has added 18 cell sites to enhance coverage, and three Cell Sites on Wheels – or COWs – will be in place near Raymond James Stadium with an additional COW covering downtown Tampa.
Sprint says it spent more than $49 million throughout Florida in 2008, including more than $11 million in the greater Tampa area. More than 70,000 fans are expected to attend Super Bowl XLIII.