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Cell Companies Prepare, Provide Tips for Inauguration Day

What happens when several hundred thousand people in one location simultaneously lift their cell phones and try to send video and photos to their friends? Past experiences with large crowds have turned out reasonably well, The Post's Cecilia Kang reports, but providers say the inauguration will be on a completely different level:

For months, the carriers have been preparing for a predicted explosion of cellphone traffic during inauguration weekend as millions of visitors are expected to gather in the Washington area for festivities. Wireless operators say they plan to boost capacity at cell sites on the mall, along the Beltway and underground on Metro so that more calls can be placed at the same time. By the time Jan. 20 arrives, they will have spent millions of dollars to add staff for the event, rolled in extra cell towers on truck beds and expanded bandwidth on wired parts of their networks.

Even with those plans in place, they predict some hiccups.

"You can add hundreds of thousands of lanes to a highway, but if millions of people go for a drive at same time, you can still have a jam," said John Johnson, a spokesman for Verizon Wireless. "There are just so many unknowns."

Some tips on getting through on the big day:

• If you must use your cellphone for a non-emergency, text, don't call. Text messages take up less bandwidth than voice calls and may get through more easily.

• If you take pictures or video on cellphones, save the files and send them later. Such files are large and can clog the system.

• Coordinate a rendezvous point with friends and family in case cellphone signals are down.

By Christopher Dean Hopkins  |  December 26, 2008; 12:15 PM ET  | Category:  Crowds
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