The best laid (wireless) plans

Is your media company sending people to Washington armed with the latest in cellphone gadgetry to get your reports back home? Wireless carriers are warning about a colossal network overload, despite major efforts to bring in reinforcements. TV stations and newspapers around the country have based plans on streaming technologies that require a wireless broadband connection, and it appears that might be seriously problematic. Wireless carriers are actually asking people in attendance to hold back on bandwidth use.

Many news organizations, including The New York Times, are asking people to send photos of inaugural events via e‑mail.

For those coming to pay homage to the BlackBerry-toting president, the inauguration has the potential to be a wireless Woodstock. If, that is, the networks can handle it.

“If some of these estimates come true, people should anticipate delays with regards to sending text messages or making phone calls or getting onto the Internet,” said Joe Farren, spokesman for the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association, an industry trade group. It has asked people to send texts rather than make phone calls (text uses less bandwidth than speech) and to send photos only after the event.

“We can only bend the laws of physics so much,” Mr. Farren said.

Wireless carriers are bringing in millions of dollars worth of portable wireless equipment, but nobody knows if it’ll be enough. The carriers obviously aren’t sure, so prepare for a major “cluster foxtrot” during inauguration coverage across-the-country. It will be a fascinating test of the Mobile Web and its flexibility.

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