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.
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Nancy Schaar at the Times Reporter:
A 62-year-old Carrollton area man was found unconscious and unresponsive Thursday morning during an intense search overnight by Carroll County sheriff deputies, an Ohio State Highway Patrol trooper and the patrol’s airplane. [Sheriff] Williams said he attempted to use the man’s cell phone signal to locate him, but the man was behind on his phone bill and the Verizon operator refused to connect the signal unless the sheriff’s department agreed to pay the overdue bill. After some disagreement, Williams agreed to pay $20 on the phone bill in order to find the man.
Though this case is from a while ago—operators are now made available to assist emergency services—it got me thinking about what makes carriers and telcos such horrible companies to deal with once you're a customer. It's because accepting a long term cellular contract is a lot like going a couple of grand in debt.
As a result, their corporate culture gravitates toward that of a collection agency. It's inevitable, even if they try to avoid it, because that's the economic bottom line of the customer-facing part of their business. If an operator is actually having to talk to you, you must be a deadbeat or some other kind of problem.
Verizon, when asked by police to find a cellphone, suffered from a perverse blind spot: it could not see beyond the fact that the cellphone's owner owed it money.
Unconscious Carroll man found after 11-hour search [Times Reporter via Reddit]
The Wall Street Journal was first to report
that Verizon Wireless and AT&T will offer the next edition of Apple's iPad to run on their newest 4G wireless networks.
Motorola's long-awaited Android flagship, the Droid Bionic, is out tomorrow.
At Gizmodo, Brent Rose says it's similar to other recent 4G models such as Samsung's Galaxy S II, with fast-performing hardware in a thinner body. Unfortunately, it has a "super harsh" display and "just falls flat" when using certain features. He also reports lots of pre-installed junk.
The software side is a mixed bag of "Hey, that's cool!" with "Arrgh, please kill me!" On the cool side it has some robust security features, including onboard and SD storage encryption, remote wipe—why isn't this a standard part of Android yet?—and tons of control for your IT admin. Your office really has no excuse to not to let you use this phone. On the bad side, there is just a ton of bloatware on this.
At Engadget, Tim Stevens reports that it's a "bit drab" in the style department but seemingly an excellent performer, and reserves judgment until full testing is complete.
TechCrunch's Jordan Crook says that there's no doubt at all about it being a snappy performer, but finds it a bit large and isn't impressed by the smudgy finish.
USA Today's Mark W. Smith says that it's a winner.
For those who have been waiting out the 4G smartphone race this summer, hoping for a hit with the Bionic, your wait has been rewarded. This one is worth buying.
Joshua Topolsky at This Is My Next awards it 7.5/10 -- "Essentially as good and as bad as other recent Motorola entries" -- and says its not the killer handset expected by fans. Overpriced, too.
The Bionic has a 4.3" display, 16GB of internal storage and a 16GB microSD card, an 8MP camera with 1080p video, and weighs 5.6 oz. Available tomorrow on Verizon, it is $299 with a 2-year contract.