Can Wireless Networks Be More Consistently Reliable?
Jonestown Dan Jones, Mobile Editor 4/19/2013
Should we consider more ways to increase the resiliency of cellular networks in the wake of another tragedy that showed how easily they can get overloaded? That's the question researcher Anthony Townsend asked in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings in his provocative piece for The Atlantic: The Shame of Boston's Wireless Woes. Townsend points out that despite initial Associated Press reports -- later withdrawn -- that government officials had requested a communications blackout, it turned out that the networks had simply gotten too congested. Verizon Wireless advised people to stick to texts and emails to free up bandwidth for emergency calls as it moved to bolster capacity in the Copley Square area. (See Verizon Shows Off Its Hurricane Force for more on the mobile cells.) It is a hardly a surprise that the networks suffered from congestion. It happened after 9/11 and other disasters. Hell, if you've been to a massive trade show like CES, you've probably experienced the phenomenon yourself. Townsend also touches on the continued need for more backup options for carrier cell towers. This is something that came to the fore after Hurricane Sandy, as I've written. (See Sandy: The Case for Better Cell Site Backup?) When more than one-third of Americans are solely connected via wireless, according to the CDC, it's time to start taking reliable cellular uptime seriously; that's the crux of Townsend's argument.
- The time to stop treating our cellular networks as an afterthought in preparedness, as expendable casualties during crises, is long overdue. In fact, they are the key to getting first responders to where they need to be, and an essential tool for resilient responses by citizens in the hours and days after a major disaster. The cellular industry has enjoyed the benefits (and profits) of access to public radio spectrum. With that access now comes enormous responsibility. We can't afford a communications infrastructure that works only when we don't really need it.