Why is it so hard to make a phone call in emergency situations?

When bombs exploded at the Boston Marathon on Monday, my Facebook feed was immediately filled with urgent messages. I watched as my friends and family implored their friends and family in Boston to check in, and lamented the fact that nobody could seem to get a solid cell phone connection. Calls were made, but they got dropped. More often, they were never connected to begin with. There was even a rumor circulating that all cell phone service to the city had been switched off at the request of law enforcement.

That rumor turns out to not be true. But it is a fact that, whenever disaster strikes, it becomes difficult to reach the people you care about. Right at the moment when you really need to hear a familiar voice, you often can't. So what gives?

To find out why it's frequently so difficult to successfully place a call during emergencies, I spoke with Brough Turner, an entrepreneur, engineer, and writer who has been been working with phone systems (both wired and wireless) for 25 years. Turner helped me understand how the behind-the-scenes infrastructure of cell phones works, and why that infrastructure gets bogged down when lots of people are suddenly trying to make calls all at once from a single place. He says there are some things that can be done to fix this issue, but, ultimately, it's more complicated than just asking what the technology can and cannot do. In some ways, service failures like this are a price we pay for having a choice and not being subject to a total monopoly. Read the rest

AT&T merger leak: it's all about raising prices and reducing competition

An AT&T legal staffer inadvertently (and briefly) posted a damning internal document to the FCC's docket for the pending AT&T/T-Mobile merger. The document makes it clear that "AT&T is giving Deutsche Telekom $39 billion primarily to reduce market competition" and that the company's claims of bigger network buildouts and increased employment are utterly fictional.

Again, the reality appears to be that AT&T is giving Deutsche Telekom $39 billion primarily to reduce market competition. That price tag eliminates T-Mobile entirely -- and makes Sprint (and by proxy new LTE partner LightSquared and current partner Clearwire) more susceptible to failure in the face of 80% AT&T/Verizon market domination. How much do you think wireless broadband market dominance is worth to AT&T over the next decade? After all, AT&T will be first to tell you there's a wireless data "tsunami" coming, with AT&T and Verizon on the shore eagerly billing users up to $10 per gigabyte.

Regardless of the motivation behind rejecting 97% LTE deployment, the letter proves AT&T's claim they need T-Mobile to improve LTE coverage from 80-97% simply isn't true. That's a huge problem for AT&T, since nearly every politician and non-profit that has voiced support for the merger did so based largely on this buildout promise. It's also a problem when it comes to the DOJ review, since proof that AT&T could complete their LTE build for far less than the cost of this deal means the deal doesn't meet the DOJ's standard for merger-specific benefits.

Leaked AT&T Letter Demolishes Case For T-Mobile Merger (via /. Read the rest