[telecom] The Shame of Boston's Wireless Woes

The Shame of Boston's Wireless Woes

Anthony Townsend The Atlantic APR 17, 2013

Almost immediately after Monday's tragic bombings at the Boston Marathon, the city's cellular networks collapsed. The Associated Press initially reported what many of us suspected, that law enforcement officials had requested a communications blackout to prevent the remote detonation of additional explosives. But the claim was soon redacted as the truth became clear. It didn't take government fiat to shut down the cellular networks. They fell apart all on their own.

As cell service sputtered under a surge of calls, runners were left in the dark, families couldn't reach loved ones, and even investigators were stymied in making calls related to their pursuit of suspects. Admirably, Boston residents and businesses responded quickly by opening up Wi-Fi hotspots to help evacuees communicate with loved ones.


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Reply to
Monty Solomon
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Tue, 23 Apr 2013 08:50:05 -0400Monty Solomon referred to an Atlantic article:

Let's be a little bit realistic here. It's impossible to predict when a major event is going to happen whether that's natural disaster such as hurricane, tornado, earthquake, "9/11 bombing" or a terrorist bombing a public event such as the BAA marathon. Do they really expect telco to provide 500 or 1000% increase in traffic and maintain that level of service 100% of the time? I'd say no. It's just not practical to provide 100% up time through all kind of events that come down the pike (in this case Interstate 90.)

Reply to
Joseph Singer

In the 1950's era, when the Bell System / BTL was contemplating line concentrators, there was mention of the 'fire engine effect'.

Déjà vu all over again - sigh.

Reply to
Julian Thomas

I can't help but suspect the traditional landline network can better accomodate an upsurge in traffic than the cell phone network. For myself, in routine snow storm rush hours I've found cell phone service unavailable, while landlines worked just fine.

However, in the future, I'm not sure if landlines will still have the edge. There's been many reports have sloppiness by traditional landline carriers in maintaining their networks and in customer support. Verizon wants to cut compensation of its legacy employees.

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Cell voice is highly brittle. But there is no denying that SMS is far better than any other current scheme in impaired situations: it uses very little bandwidth, queues and retries until it succeeds, and is ubiquitous.

Of course, it fails hard when no visible cell site has both power and backhaul.

I wonder, does any cellphone show you when your outgoing SMS has not yet been delivered?

Reply to
David Lesher

:Cell voice is highly brittle. But there is no denying that :SMS is far better than any other current scheme in impaired :situations: it uses very little bandwidth, queues and retries :until it succeeds, and is ubiquitous.

:Of course, it fails hard when no visible cell site has both :power and backhaul.

:I wonder, does any cellphone show you when your outgoing SMS has :not yet been delivered?

Apple's iMessages, which is an SMS replacement, does; if the recipient has opted in, it'll tell you if the recipient has read it as well. I expect others of the sms replacement tools that are popping up do the same thing. These are not as reliable as SMS, they use data, and not the control channel, they're still pretty reliable, and if the client side is good, they'll keep trying. iMessages falls back to SMS if the recipient isn't reachable over a data connection; no delivery confirmation is available then.

Reply to
David Scheidt

On Sat, 4 May 2013 17:09:16 +0000 (UTC), David Lesher wondered:

All those I've ever used while abroad have been willing to report success or failure when delivering a message to the SMS gateway. On failure, it would remain queued in the OutBox, urging me to Retry sending it. Nokia, Motorola, and LG, brand-wise, all did this.

In the US, there were never any failures. HTH. Cheers, -- tlvp

Reply to

According to wikipedia: "SMS message delivery is not guaranteed, and many implementations provide no mechanism through which a sender can determine whether an SMS message has been delivered in a timely manner. SMS messages are generally treated as lower-priority traffic than voice, and various studies have shown that around 1% to 5% of messages are lost entirely, even during normal operation conditions, and others may not be delivered until long after their relevance has passed. The use of SMS as an emergency notification service in particular has been starkly criticized."

So, I would disagree that text messaging is a viable alternative in impaired situations, indeed, given its inherent structure, I would say it's particularly weak.

As mentioned, historically landline phone lines had extremely high reliability, and it's only recently that it's started to slip.

To put it another way: Say someone is at a crowded train station and they need an ambulance. They can't get through on my cell phone due to overload. In the old days, they could ask someone at a pay phone to let they use it due to emergency. But it's impractical to ask a large crowd of people to stop using their cell phones.

I have text messaging blocked on my cell phone since I don't want to pay for unsolicited spam messages. Some people try to text me, and they get no response that their message was refused. This has led to some confusion and miscommunication where people assumed I got their message but did not. Seems to me in this modern age of computers, a reject response message ought to be sent out. (The carrier tells me they can't do that.)

If they could strengthen texting with a solid structure so that there was higher reliability and real feedback, it then could be a viable service in emergencies. Of course, _all_ 911 centers would need to be equipped to properly receive and process text messages; I'm not sure that's the case now.

Reply to

One option in the cellular system (which, ttbomk, has never been implemented) is that calls to "911" would have priority, up to and including bumping off another user.

A similar option is supposed to be available to certain classes of users, with the classic example being the cell phone held by the fire chief. Anyone know if that's in place anywhere?

- There's also the FCC mandate that any cellco "seeing" an attempt by a (compatable) phone, whether with an account on that service or not - and, for that matter, whether there's even a SIM card present or not, shall allow the connection to go through. I'd guess that, in theory at least, a "911" call inititally attempted on the customer's, err, customary cellco "A" but blocked because it's super busy, could get shifted to carrier "B'. But I've never heard of this.

By the way, the cellcos are trying to eliminate this FCC mandate as we speak.

A very small group are set up that way, but as of yet there's no background infrastructure to automatically find your location and route the texts to the local PSAP (911 center). For that matter, I don't believe we have a national "911" designation "number" for SMS/text messages.

Reply to
danny burstein
[Moderator snip]

Yes, my Android phone will alert me that it couldn't send an SMS and asks if I'd like to retry it.

Reply to

Same here, although I haven't asked my carrier (ATT) whether it's possible to notify senders that their message hasn't been delivered.

I suspect that this silent disappearance ot SMS messages sent to phones that won't accept them is a carrier tactic to cause people to reconsider blocking SMS.

Reply to
Matt Simpson

You give them too much credit. Some of the gateways between carriers work better than others, and the others don't reliably send back failure notices.

Reply to
John Levine

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