London terror and mobiles...
One minute we are celebrating the Olympic-bid triumph, the next we are in shock. The attacks on London are cowardly and barbaric and my thoughts and prayers are with all those affected. I hope that the criminals responsible are brought to justice.
The use of mobiles during yesterday showed us how integrated and essential they have become in our lives. Many of the photos of the events unfolded came from mobile-phone cameras. The BBC were asking for photos and video clips, providing numbers for receiving MMS messages. I first heard about the attack via BBC alert on my Blackberry.
There were reports of the mobile phone system being jammed. This is a perhaps the wrong word to use, as usually it means a deliberate denial of service, which is what I thought the initial report was indicating. However, it seems that the system was "overloaded". Technically, the GSM network should not fail under the load, it should just operate to capacity, but perhaps there were failures. It is not clear.
I tried to contact my brother-in-law, who is a regular London Underground commuter. He heard the news early enough to avoid the commute. I couldn't reach him on a call, but he was able to receive a text message OK.
Perhaps it is time that the mobile phone systems were enhanced to include crisis-management features. There are a number of possibilities.
It should be possible to include a "roll call" feature into the system so that users can be "hailed" and be able to confirm that they are OK. Radio and network resources could be reserved especially to allow this mode of communication only, or to give it priority.
During the crisis, anyone trying to call into cells in the affected area could be played an announcement to indicate that the system is overloaded. The network could take over by issuing roll-call messages on behalf of callers.
Calls could be time-limited, so that the throughput of calls is increased. It should also be possible to queue users to avoid the added problem of repeated call attempts. This again would allow a higher throughput and more efficient management of the network resources.
If the called party is not in the affected area, it should be possible for the network to play an announcement indicating to the caller that the person they are calling did not appear to be in the affected area when the crisis emerged.
In short, during a crisis, the mobile network would bring "crisis management" protocols into play and manage how the network is used in order to maximize its effectiveness.
Returning to my Olympics post of two days ago, which started to examine how mobile technology could be deployed in the 2012 London Games, clearly the issue of safety and crisis management should be given top priority and I hope that the operators and management committees are able to address this issue.
These are just a few of the ideas that came to mind, although I hope that such measures are not needed in the future and that this country does not experience any more attacks.
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