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Wireless data not for the masses

Last night I was at the Patriots-Chargers football game.  As was the case with most of the fans there, I also wanted to keep track of the Red Sox-Yankees baseball game at the same time.  You don't often get two sporting events of such magnitude going on at the same time in the same city.

With almost 70,000 people there checking their cell phones (mostly through Web or WAP access), the wireless data network ground to a halt.  I had Cingular, which, in an informal poll of the fans around me, seemed to be the worst.  Verizon was working better, but was still pretty slow.  I don't have enough data points to talk about Sprint or T-Mobile, but I think that it was interesting that the two largest carriers had capacity problems in a spot with so many people.

Granted that these situations are unusual.  You don't often have so many people all accessing the Internet on the cell phones at the same time in such a small geographic area.  But, when it does happen, the carrier networks didn't seem capable of handling the crush of data requests.

After seeing business plans for people who want to power wireless services that are focused at large events like concerts and sporting venues, it makes me wonder if the carriers' networks are really ready for this.  The carriers build for normal usage rates and some level of peak capacity.  The Patriots play in their venue about 10-11 times per year, counting pre-season and playoff games.  And, there aren't usually that many people on their phone checking other scores.  So, the capacity in Foxborough is fine for almost every day of the year.

But, last night was a chance for the data network to shine.  And, it didn't.


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