Preventing Cell Phone Tie-Ups Omar Gallaga, who covers technology culture for the Austin-American Statesman, explains why it's a problem to have a crowd of cell phone users in one place and how telecommunications companies have been bolstering their networks.
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Preventing Cell Phone Tie-Ups

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Preventing Cell Phone Tie-Ups

Preventing Cell Phone Tie-Ups

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We are joined now by our technology expert ,Omar Gallaga. Omar, welcome back to the program.

OMAR GALLAGA: Thanks very much for having me, Melissa.

BLOCK: And help me understand something really simple here. If I'm making a phone call or downloading something, how does that affect maybe the person standing right next to me using the same provider?

GALLAGA: Well, you're sharing bandwidth with the person next to you who's on the same cell-phone carrier. If you're on AT&T or Verizon, everyone that's on AT&T and Verizon around you is sharing that same amount of data bandwidth. So, it's like if you have high speed Internet in your home, and a bunch of people got on your network and tried to download YouTube videos all at the same time, your network could get bogged down because you're all sharing that - only a limited amount of bandwidth.

BLOCK: And cell-phone companies are concerned about this, not just for tomorrow's inauguration, but more broadly.

GALLAGA: Yeah, exactly. They have been spending tens of billions of dollars over the years to expand the so-called 3G and 2G networks, which are the most common ones for cell phones today. 2G is kind of akin to dial-up networking speeds at home. 3G is more of a high-speed Internet experience, and as we have these smarter phones - Blackberrys, iPhones - people are expecting to be able to do full Internet browsing, being able to send photos immediately or stream video, even, online.

BLOCK: And with more and more technology eating up more and more bandwidth, how much do you figure the companies have to invest in expanding bandwidth?

GALLAGA: Well, it's definitely in the tens of billions of dollars nationwide. I spoke to Verizon last year before the Democratic National Convention. They had invested $700 million in Colorado alone, and about 45 billion nationally since 2000.

BLOCK: And are these short-term fixes, or really long-term structural things they are doing?

GALLAGA: For big events like this, they're definitely short-term fixes. These are mobile units that are brought in to try to just handle that bandwidth, and then taken away when the event is over. But the cell-phone carriers are trying to expand to larger coverage areas, and kind of expand the networks nationwide, for day-to-day operations as well.

BLOCK: Well, Omar for the inauguration tomorrow, you'll be there in Austin, Texas, experiencing the inauguration online. What are you looking forward to checking out tomorrow?

GALLAGA: Yeah, I'll be checking it out online and working at the newspaper but, I mean, in addition to just seeing what people are saying on Twitter and you know, seeing the live video feeds, I'm really excited about something CNN and Microsoft are partnering on called a 3D Photosynth.

And what they're asking people to do is to send in photos of the moment that Barack Obama does the oath, and what they're going to do is a 3D photo collage, collecting all of the photos they receive. They're asking people to either send in a photo of the moment of the oath, or send in three photos: something close-up, at mid-range and then a wide-angle shot. And this is going to be part of a huge, 3D collage that they are saying is going to be the most recorded moment in human history. It's going to be at

BLOCK: Assuming people can get their calls through to send those pictures.

GALLAGA: Yeah, and - but with photos, there is more likelihood of your emailing a photo, that it will be queued and sent later. So there may be a delay, but it's less likely to get dropped than, say, a live call.

BLOCK: Omar, thanks so much.

GALLAGA: Thanks very much, and I'm going to be posting links to a lot of the live inauguration events online at the NPR community site. That's

BLOCK: Great. Omar Gallaga covers technology culture for the Austin-American Statesman.

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