Via David Farber's IP list, and Dewayne Hendricks' Dewayne-Net list, I learned of a good article in The Atlantic Cities by Anhony Townsend - The Shame of Boston's Wireless Woes that explains how Boston's mobile telephone networks collapsed in the immediate aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing on Monday, and some of the why. Townsend did a credible job in this piece.
What Townsend only touched on in the article is that it's not just the mobile telephone networks access capacity that fails in a disaster, it's that the basic architecture of circuit-switched telephony fails in a disaster. Even if you are in the coverage of a cell that has capacity available, you can't make a call in a disaster because the switch that connects your call to the person you're calling doesn't have any available circuits. So you get the hated busy signal. The switching fabric is a shared investment amongst all telephony providers, and there's no incentive to invest in switching capacity beyond what is normal load for an average day... and the occasional sporting event or concert which is handled by bringing in "Cells On Wheels". Of course, sporting events and concerts are known months in advance and can therefore be planned for.
As an Amateur Radio operator, this jumped out at me from Townsend's article: Lacking a redundant cellular system, Americans will continue to resort to the century-old technology of amateur radio for lifeline communications during and after large disasters. In Boston, this technology is still widely used during the marathon because of past experience with cellular traffic jams.
The Boston Marathon is well-known in US Amateur Radio for making very effective use of Amateur Radio operators for effective communications over the entire course. Amateur Radio operator Tim Carter, W3ATB wrote a great story about what it was like to be one of those Amateur Radio operators on the Boston Marathon course. In Boston Marathon 2013 – Bombs, Carnage and Amateur Radio Operators.
Many Amateur Radio operators obtain their Amateur Radio license soley so they can communicate effectively in disasters, either personally, or to help in the aftermath. Being better prepared to help in an disaster was on my mind on Tuesday as my favorite Amateur Radio Club - MicroHAMS, debated how to particpate in Field Day 2013, a nationwide distaster drill, this year on June 22-23. We decided to staff up a local Emergency Operations Center and operate exclusively data modes.
If you're interested in learning more about Amateur Radio, the ARRL (the US National Association for Amateur Radio) website is a good place to start.
Steve Stroh N8GNJ