Too many users, not enough capacity
Last modified on Thursday, 18 December 2008 06:48
Those lucky enough to get a ticket to the Obama Inauguration or to even be a spectator in Washington, D.C. on January 20, 2009 will likely encounter some delays when making calls or using their mobile phones.
The CTIA, the major industry group that represents wireless network carriers, has warned of dire consequences as extreme as network collapse and as minor as blocked or dropped calls and text messages.
However, both AT&T Inc. and Sprint Nextel Corporation presented a sunnier picture, pointing that they have made preparations months in advance to boost network capacity. "We're ready. We know how to do this. We know how to provide service for mega events," said Mark Siegel, a spokesman for AT&T Mobility. He said that AT&T handled both the Democratic and Republican National Conventions and the huge turnout for the funeral of former President Ronald Reagan without any problems.
Sprint’s spokesman, John Taylor, indicated that crowd size will be the biggest factor in the number of disruptions to wireless networks. Estimated crowd turnout ranges from 2 to 4 million people, due to the overwhelming popularity of the new President elect and huge voter turnout.
"If we see attendance at 2 million or below, people will have a great experience on our network, but if there are more than 2 million, then they may see delays in calls and delivery of [text messages] with dropped or blocked calls," Taylor said. "The general public should be prepared for some disruption."
Mobile carriers are increasing network capacity with the kind of equipment normally used to prepare for hurricanes and large crowd events. These include cell on wheels (COW), cell on light truck (COLT) and other equipment to boost a cell site's capacity.
Sprint has increased its CDMA network capacity by 40 percent in the downtown Washington area and its iDEN network by ninety percent, while AT&T has increased capacity in its 3G GSM network by eighty percent and its 2G GSM network by sixty-nine percent. Verizon Wireless is part of Verizon Communications Inc. that operates local phone service in the Washington area, and it is expected to make similar boosts in its capacity.
Sprint had a two hundred percent increase in cell phone activity in Grant Park, Illinois on the night of Obama’s victory speech, and said the company’s capacity handled it well.