Mobile Internet Broadcasting: Will it Ever Match Terrestrial?

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New York - Aug 25, 2011 - Will we ever reach a point in time such that our cellular system (and more specifically, Internet broadcasting) is able reach as many people reliably as terrestrial broadcasting? After the events of this past week, I really wonder. The earthquake that was felt along much of the east coast on Aug. 23, 2011, generated so much cellular phone traffic that many users experienced difficulty in completing calls, at least immediately after the event. Systems were overloaded.

As I write this (on Aug. 25, 2011) it is predicted that Hurricane Irene will run right over Manhattan within about 72 hours. Due to my past experience I expect issues with the cellular system as the storm passes and afterwards.

Moreover, have we seen any improvement over the years? I was reading an article I wrote in 2005 about Katrina ("When Disaster Strikes," Oct. 2005) in which I quote Marty Hadfield, then director of engineering for Entercom, regarding cellular phone availability immediately after the event. "The worst part is when you have lots of people concentrated in one spot; the cellular system gets overloaded. All the downtown sites were constantly overloaded. After about three days though, people's batteries began dying, and so the cell sites came back in to a useable condition."

"But those are unusual emergency events," you say. Interestingly, James Cridland, in his blog entry of Aug. 23, examines the notion that everyone at a soccer match can listen to the game being "broadcast" via the Internet. With some simple math James shows that, at best, 2.8kb/s is available to each user of the O2 Mobile 3G network who happens to find himself at Manchester United's stadium. For everyone there to listen to a 32kp/s stream, in theory at least, O2 would have to increase its available bandwidth by more than 11 times. Do you really think that’s going to happen any time soon? In the meantime, any number of people, from one to one million, can receive a terrestrial broadcast of that same event, right now, today.

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