Cell Phones May Not Work During Inauguration

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By Uriah A. Kiser/Media General News Service
Published: January 20, 2009

Internet bloggers were buzzing Monday about how their cell phones didn’t work during Sunday’s inaugural kick-off concert.

Many said they tried to make calls but all they heard was a busy signal. Then some tried texting their messages, but for some that didn’t work either.

Officials estimate there were about 300,000 people at the National Mall for the concert, and despite extra efforts to make sure the system worked with the larger crowds, it had its share of problems.
Nearly 2 million people are expected on the Mall on Tuesday.

“Think of the most beautiful Fourth of July weekends in D.C., and then picture what the roads are like when everyone is leaving the city. Then imagine you added at least a couple million more people to those roads. That is what the cell phone network will look like,” Joe Farren, spokesman for the Wireless Association told the News & Messenger last month.

That’s when area residents first learned that there may be problems with their cell phones on Jan. 20.

Wireless companies tried to combat the possibility of calls not going through by adding COWS, or cells on wheels, and COLTS, or cells on light trucks.

These mobile cell towers are designed to add capacity to the cell phone network already used by at least 2 million people every day, Farren said.

CTIA - The Wireless Association based in Washington—said more radio frequencies have been tapped for cell phones in the city, which will enhance existing cell phone sites.

Verizon has reportedly done all it can to increase capacity as well.

The CTIA has published some tips for cell phone users who attend the inaugural.

- Text, don’t call; text messages and e-mail can often get through when regular calls cannot.

- Snap and save; those with camera phones should take as many photos as possible with them, but save them and send them to friends and family later. The photos use a lot of bandwidth and have the ability to crush cell phone networks if overused.

- Have a back-up plan; cell phones will be far less reliable during the inauguration ceremonies Tuesday, and finding a loved one may not be as easy as picking up the phone. They suggest having a rendezvous point and a time to connect with another party worked out prior to going to the Mall.

Uriah A. Kiser is a staff writer with the News & Messenger in Woodbridge, Va.

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