The FCC wonders why cell 911 service borked in Boston

Doh! I was perusing some wordpress blogs and came across this:


In his final meeting at the Commission, the agency’s top regulator said the FCC would press forward with an examination of why wireless phones failed to operate in the wake of the bombing. Such a result is unacceptable, he said, given how essential it is for the public to access 911 during an emergency. “We will not let up as long as there is more to do to harness the technology,” he said.


This is why I say, it’s time to stop putting the lawyers in charge of the FCC and put the engineers and technical people in charge.

I can tell you why – it’s simple. A cell site can only handle so many calls at a time. A lot of them use variants of TDMA and CDMA which both have contention issues. TDMA because the number of time slots is fixed by physical realities, CDMA by the amount of bandwidth.

Even the ‘wired’ telephone network which more and more is becoming VoIP has contention issues. In a real emergency the switch fabric can only handle so many calls at once. When everyone picks up the phone it ties up the switch. Of course some people would get through, modern phone systems have these things called Class of Service(COS)  and Class of Restriction (COR). Entities with high COS and low COR get priority.

And ‘fixing’ this problem is likely to cost billions or trillions of dollars. You see, the limitations were a design choice in telecom switching, not a problem per se.

So really – maybe we should pass a law where half of the sitting commissioners are not attorneys but engineers and technical people. You wouldn’t need to have hearings to figure this crap out.


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