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Inaugural Forecast: Heavy Mobile Usage With A High Chance of Digital Gridlock

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This may be a good day not to rely very heavily on your mobile devices or anything with Internet access.

At last count, crowd estimates in Washington D.C. are expected to swell anywhere between two to four million people today converging on the inauguration of President-Elect Barack Obama.

That's two million people, most of whom will likely be carrying some sort of cellular or mobile device.

What happens when a good chunk of them start calling friends, uploading pictures and videos, tweetering, texting and blogging roughly at the same time?

No one really knows. The telcos have been beefing up their bandwidth in anticipation of the heavy traffic. The CTIA - The Wireless Association is asking spectators within the crowds to text (lower bandwidth option), rather than call their friends. They are also asking people to put off uploading their pictures and videos, etc. until after the event to prevent overwhelming networks.

"Despite all the industry's efforts to increase network capacity, it's really important for the public to understand that unusually large crowds can generate congestion and communications delays... Think of a wireless network like a highway. Even though we're building more lanes, if millions of people jump on the road at the same time, there could be a traffic jam. For this reason, we want to remind Inaugural event attendees to do their part in decreasing network demand by texting instead of placing voice calls, and holding off on sending cell phone pictures or video until after the events are over."
- Steve Largent, President and CEO CTIA - The Wireless Association


Raise your hand if you think that's going to happen? Didn't think so. The media is not helping.

CNN has been inviting viewers about four times a hour for days to make sure they upload their pictures instantaneously during "the moment" when the President is sworn in. CNN is attempting to create an on the spot digital collage of spectator pictures.

But, I don't live or work in the D.C. area. This won't affect me, you say!

That may not matter.

The other great unknown is just how many will be turning to their mobile devices and desktops to follow the inauguration through streaming coverage via their iPhones, Blackberrys, PC's, etc. CNN is simulcasting it's coverage live on Facebook, even. Today will truly be a test of what the social networks like Facebook and Twitter can handle.

Here's hoping it will all go swimmingly. But for those businesses just going about their business today; have a "plan B" if you were hoping to rely on any of the above services to get through your day.

Another strategy; if you can't beat them, join them. It's a historical day.

Last updated: Jan 20, 2009




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