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Cellular providers say there is no way to know how much capacity they need to add to networks in Washington D.C.

Today is inauguration day for President-elect Obama as he takes over the reins from President Bush. Obama is widely known to be a fan of technology and is often seen with his beloved Blackberry which will be replaced by a more secure Windows Mobile device once he takes office.

Officials expect record setting numbers of Americans to descend on Washington D.C. to take part in the historic inauguration of Obama. With Obama proving to be very popular among the younger, more tech savvy voters in the country, cellular providers are warning that their networks may be unable to cope with the glut of calls, texts and other network traffic expected during the inauguration events.

The largest cellular providers have asked users to limit their phone calls and delay sending photos during the inauguration events. The same carriers also say they have spent millions to ensure that their networks can handle the massively increased traffic expected in Washington.

The fear of these carriers is that because of overwhelming traffic, customers will see a greatly increased amount of dropped calls, lost photos or delayed text messaged. One of the things expected to contribute to the amount of bandwidth consumer in D.C. is the large image sizes many camera phones are capable of capturing today.

With the popularity of mobile portals for social networking sites like Twitter and photo sharing sites, the available bandwidth could be quickly consumed. Many newspapers and TV stations are also asking cellular users to send in images of the inauguration events as they happen via email.

Joe Farren, a spokesman for the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association, told the New York Times, "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."

Cellular carriers in the D.C. area have added significantly to the capacity of their networks in the area to handle the traffic by fielding special trucks with cellular towers on them and generators in case of power failures.

On the other side are consumers and consumer advocates that say the carriers shouldn’t be so proud that they have beefed up service in the areas and should instead be apologizing to customers for charging for a service that doesn’t always work. Gene Kimmelman from the Consumers Union says cellular users in Washington may not get seamless service, but they will definitely get the bill at the end of the month.

Kimmelman said, "It’s like paying for an all-you-can-eat buffet and discovering there are only scraps left. Maybe they [cellular providers] should offer a rebate if they cut usage on Inauguration Day."

A Verizon spokesman says inauguration day is unprecedented in its size. The spokesman points out that Verizon knows how many people can fit into a concert venue and can add enough coverage. However, he points out that Verizon has no way to know how many people will be trying to use its D.C. network on inauguration day and therefore can’t predict accurately what sort of capacity it needs to add.





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