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Boston Officials Did Not Shut Down Cell Network After Marathon Bombing

timothy posted 1 year,7 days | from the no-good-answers dept.

Communications 211

An anonymous reader writes with this excerpt from Motherboard about the immediate aftermath of yesterday's bomb attack in Boston, which attempts to explain the (unsurprisingly) poor accessibility of the cellular network after the blasts: "Gut instinct suggests that the network must've been overloaded with people trying to find loved ones. At first, the Associated Press said it was a concerted effort to prevent any remote detonators from being used, citing a law enforcement official. After some disputed that report, the AP reversed its report, citing officials from Verizon and Sprint who said they'd never had a request to shut down the network, and who blamed slowdowns on heavy load. (Motherboard's Derek Mead was able to send text messages to both his sister and her boyfriend, who were very near the finish line, shortly after the bombing, which suggests that networks were never totally shut down. Still, shutting down cell phone networks to prevent remote detonation wouldn't be without precedent: It is a common tactic in Pakistan, where bombings happen with regularity.)"

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211 comments

That doesn't mean it wasnt jammed (3, Insightful)

headhot (137860) | 1 year,7 days | (#43460655)

Why the network operators didn't get requests to shutdown the network, that doesn't mean it wasn't jammed. The military has jammers it uses where they suspect IEDs to prevent triggering via the cell network. There is no reason why the BPD, DHS or other agency would not have jammers for such an occasion. I would be surprised if they did not with all the money that was thrown around after 9/11

Re:That doesn't mean it wasnt jammed (5, Insightful)

usuallylost (2468686) | 1 year,7 days | (#43460729)

I am leaning toward the 50,000 people in the area all trying to call home at once.

Re:That doesn't mean it wasnt jammed (2)

tedgyz (515156) | 1 year,7 days | (#43460945)

Right. We had similar problems in DC during the Rally for Sanity.

Use SMS in emergencies (5, Informative)

mrops (927562) | 1 year,7 days | (#43461973)

In such emergencies, its better to use SMS than place a voice call.

SMS rides on control signal and as long as your cell phone has a signal, it will get queued and delivered.

Voice calls require acquiring of a dedicated voice channel, these are limited and overloaded in such emergencies.

Re:That doesn't mean it wasnt jammed (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,7 days | (#43461013)

It is even more likely that Verizon and AT&T's networks are not as good as they claim and people just couldn't get a signal to make a call on either network.

Re:That doesn't mean it wasnt jammed (2)

MickyTheIdiot (1032226) | 1 year,7 days | (#43461217)

...or they aren't engineered for the once-in-two-decade major catastrophe. Technology has limits, and you have to draw a line somewhere so that people can actually AFFORD to use the service.

Re:That doesn't mean it wasnt jammed (2, Informative)

Lumpy (12016) | 1 year,7 days | (#43461347)

AT&T networks crumble when there is only 10,000 people in a small area like that. WE have a small motorcycle rally here in July and the 8000 to 10,000 people will utterly crush the nearest 3 cell sites for the entire weekend for AT&T. Verizon does better, but data is completely useless.

Re:That doesn't mean it wasnt jammed (0)

sycodon (149926) | 1 year,7 days | (#43461641)

Hell, AT&T is crushed when I try to download pr0n over DSL.

Steaming pile of crap is what AT&T is.

Re:That doesn't mean it wasnt jammed (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,7 days | (#43461801)

Yeah, I've had problems with cellphone activity at concerts in Pittsburgh where they have signs saying "Text yada yada yada to blah blah blah!", let alone when the show is running late and people are calling friends/family not present.

Re:That doesn't mean it wasnt jammed (4, Informative)

MightyYar (622222) | 1 year,7 days | (#43460745)

I was able to text back and forth with my niece, who was at the race. No idea what network she is on, though the interwebs say it is an AT&T number. I don't think things were being actively jammed.

Re:That doesn't mean it wasnt jammed (4, Insightful)

Gilmoure (18428) | 1 year,7 days | (#43461469)

SMS is one of the lower level cell phone protocols, uses the least bit of bandwidth and is almost always on, even when higher level voice and data fail. Ideally, modern phones could be set up to pass SMS traffic from phone to phone, when a tower signal is unavailable. This would allow messages to get in and out of disaster areas like New Orleans during Katrina.

Re:That doesn't mean it wasnt jammed (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,7 days | (#43461691)

> Ideally, modern phones could be set up to pass SMS traffic from phone to phone, when a tower signal is unavailable.

Every phone an autonomous, anonymous P2P remailer for SMS, perhaps even e-mail and voice, and without the capability to do dragnet surveillance on the traffic from the outside? What are you thinking, my friend?! ;-)

Re:That doesn't mean it wasnt jammed (5, Insightful)

MightyYar (622222) | 1 year,7 days | (#43461753)

Presumably, any jamming worth a crap would need to block SMS, which is why I mentioned it.

Re:That doesn't mean it wasnt jammed (4, Insightful)

TheCarp (96830) | 1 year,7 days | (#43461163)

> There is no reason why the BPD, DHS or other agency would not have jammers for such an occasion.

Really? And why should they? The entire idea that they should have them is based on specific technical details of specific attacks, and requires both that they guess right that its the right time to use them and that the bomb maker didn't anticipate their use.

Additionally, with all the people involved, they generally want people to get the "Im safe" messages out, because it decreases overall mayhem and people trying to contact them for information.

> I would be surprised if they did not with all the money that was thrown around after 9/11

Well I wouldn't either, but, thats a different issue.

Re:That doesn't mean it wasnt jammed (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,7 days | (#43462139)

when I worked in telecom, specing out a CO for site we would generally have enough T1's (24 full-duplex lines) to provide for 20% of the population as that would cover normal traffic at any one point in time. It was always known that during emergencies it would become overwhelmed and low priority calls (you and me) would fail while there are settings to allow high priority calls (emergency responders, police, government, etc) to drop a line in use by someone lower priority and go through.

My bet, is the majority of people starting phoning home to let loved ones know they were all right - the networks aren't designed for that level of instantaneous traffic.

not all that effective (3, Insightful)

O('_')O_Bush (1162487) | 1 year,7 days | (#43460669)

I would think that shutting down cell towers wouldn't be particularly effective, given that the same mechanism that would allow one to trigger a bomb with a cell phone is also present in other RF devices such as baby monitors and walkie-talkies.

Re:not all that effective (1)

ZiakII (829432) | 1 year,7 days | (#43460731)

It would not be hard at all to scramble everything. Just fly a Prowler [wikipedia.org] and you can pick and choose what frequencies we jam. It is what we do in Iraq with convoys most of the time.

Re:not all that effective (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,7 days | (#43461425)

Yeah, "not hard at all!"*

*- well, not hard, as long as you have a multimillion dollar UAV on standby over the event, loaded with the exact right equipment, and flawless intelligence allowing you to know exactly what frequencies need to be jammed based on the great evidence that "two bombs went off within 12 seconds of each other." (Apparently that's enough to let law enforcement know exactly what frequency to jam?)

Oh yeah, and you also have to make sure that the Prowler is close to the hypothetical other bombs, since its range is not unlimited. And if there are multiple bombs, you have to have multiple prowlers, or hope they're all close to each other, and within range of your single prowler.

Oh yeah, and you also need to hope that there's not a simple timer mechanism on the bombs, instead of a sophisticated RF trigger.

But other than that - SURE, not hard at all!

(You keep using that word - I do not think it means what you think it means.)

Re:not all that effective (5, Insightful)

TheCarp (96830) | 1 year,7 days | (#43462161)

Totally different threat profile.

A convoy is moving and is a very small target in a very large area. It is especially exposed, and an especially juicy target in a war zone. You can expect attacks fairly frequently, they have to find you/be ready for you.

This event is predefined, the attacker knows where and when the targets will be there. The attacker already has time to prepare and makes himself known on his time table.

This changes everything. In your convoy for example, there is no benefit to rigging bombs to blow when their signal is jammed or even to arm in response to signals from a jammer.... as the prowler is not the convoy and need not be all that close to them, arming or blowing in response to the jammer means wasted bombs or blowing up innocent bystanders, will almost never hit a convoy.

Here we have a totally different scenario. A secondary device triggered by a loss of signal could have huge impact. The devices are already at their pre-determined target. You don't jam, he can detonate, you do jam, they might detonate, point is....you have no way of ever knowing what he planned until its all over.

Re:not all that effective (2)

dunezone (899268) | 1 year,7 days | (#43460749)

But baby monitors and walkie-talkies can pick up interference and other communication which can cause the trigger to go prematurely. With a cell phone its waiting to receive a phone call so if no one knows the number its less likely to go off prematurely.

Re:not all that effective (1)

MightyYar (622222) | 1 year,7 days | (#43460803)

I was thinking about this yesterday... I'd be terrified that someone would call the wrong number or something. Or that it would give me some vibrating notification. Or that it would reboot and vibrate on wake. Nope, the life of a bomber is not for me!

Re:not all that effective (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,7 days | (#43460961)

Telemarketing to cellphone numbers is now an anti-terrorism tool.

Re:not all that effective (1)

O('_')O_Bush (1162487) | 1 year,7 days | (#43460865)

I know it isn't as elegant, but I would think that given a choice between accidental detonation and loading the mechanism altogether with cell phones, the former would be most desirable.

Re:not all that effective (-1)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,7 days | (#43460999)

Not unless you specifically put hardware on the bomb-side that required a very specific set of frequencies that would never randomly happen in a million year period or higher. (pretty easy to do)

Mobile phones and the like are probably used because they are just simpler.
But given these people likely already had some sense of electronics knowledge, making a sound-activator wouldn't be that hard, so I have no idea.

Jammers from all phone signal emitters would be far more effective.

Re:not all that effective (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,7 days | (#43461871)

Not unless you specifically put hardware on the bomb-side that required a very specific set of frequencies that would never randomly happen in a million year period or higher. (pretty easy to do)

Mobile phones and the like are probably used because they are just simpler.
But given these people likely already had some sense of electronics knowledge, making a sound-activator wouldn't be that hard, so I have no idea.

Jammers from all phone signal emitters would be far more effective.

That's brilliant, we could build a device that interprets radio signals and only detonates when it detects a signal formatted like a phone call addressed to a specific number. Then we just call that number and BOOM... wait. That's exactly what a cell phone bomb is, only without all that messy mucking about with arduinos.

Re:not all that effective (1)

EvilSS (557649) | 1 year,7 days | (#43461789)

Just hope that Rachel from card services doesn't pick an inappropriate time to call and help you lower your interest rates...

Re:not all that effective (2)

egamma (572162) | 1 year,7 days | (#43461227)

I would think that shutting down cell towers wouldn't be particularly effective, given that the same mechanism that would allow one to trigger a bomb with a cell phone is also present in other RF devices such as baby monitors and walkie-talkies.

They could also set the bomb to trigger if it loses reception.

Re:not all that effective (1)

Charliemopps (1157495) | 1 year,7 days | (#43461463)

yes, generally the trigger is on a relay that's switched on and off by the phones speaker. The "lost signal" beep would like set it off without any extra effort at all. Then you have the fact that its just plain easier to use a cheap watch with an alarm on it.

The fact of the matter is, no matter what you think of, there is no way to stop this sort of thing. They could have had concrete trash cans that direct blasts up, but then they just don't put them in the bins. Ban black powder, but then they just use stuff you can find at a hardware store... put concrete barricades up but that just directs the blast back at the crowd. Ban everything that could possibly be used and then they'll take a dumptruck full of dirt and plow into a crowd at 60mph. People who want to do something like this will always find a force multiplier. This is a psychology issue, you need to treat the mind. You can't stop an avalanche once it's already started.

Could be cell phone (0)

ackthpt (218170) | 1 year,7 days | (#43460687)

Could be any other means to detonate, but doesn't smack of precision. I have the feeling this is a loner, not a coordinated team who did this. So many unexploded packs found.

Re:Could be cell phone (2)

Nidi62 (1525137) | 1 year,7 days | (#43461075)

My first thought was that they were simple countdown timers, as there were a couple seconds between explosions. If they were triggered remotely, they would have gone off simultaneously of they were triggered by the same operation,or longer than a few seconds between explosions if they were triggered separately (I guess the bomber could have had 2 phones and dialed the bombs as the same time, but that seems overly complicated). The amount of time between explosions lends credence to the idea that they were simple timers: set one then set the other a couple hours before, drop them off, then get away.

Re:Could be cell phone (1)

geekoid (135745) | 1 year,7 days | (#43461167)

Depends. There are reason to delay explosions.

Re:Could be cell phone (1)

Nidi62 (1525137) | 1 year,7 days | (#43461225)

Depends. There are reason to delay explosions.

That is true, but if you are going to delay explosions, you don't delay them for only a couple seconds. If you want to get people running away from the explosion, you wait about 30 seconds to a minute. If you want first responders, you delay anywhere from a few minutes up to 15-20 minutes. A couple seconds delay will not give you any significant increase in body count or damage over simultaneous explosions.

Re:Could be cell phone (2)

rvw (755107) | 1 year,7 days | (#43461539)

Depends. There are reason to delay explosions.

That is true, but if you are going to delay explosions, you don't delay them for only a couple seconds.

If you want the simultaneous, then it doesn't matter if they are a couple of seconds apart. For effectiveness it has no consequenses. And maybe this is easier to handle, e.g. if you have to use two remote detonators. If bomb A doesn't go off, you can decide not to use bomb B, for whatever reason.

Re:Could be cell phone (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,7 days | (#43461987)

Depending on the detonator, the delay could've come from simple chemical differences, or even if you have identical SIM card on two phones doesn't quarantee simultanous operation, also group texting doesn't quarantee simultanous operation. So basically with such a short delay, you can't make a conclusion timers were used.

I'm sure they'll tell us at some point. There's nothing to be gained hiding that info, but could help to find the person/people behind this.

Re:Could be cell phone (1)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,7 days | (#43461085)

So many unexploded packs found.

Nope. [nytimes.com]

On Tuesday morning officials said that the only explosive devices found were the ones that exploded at the marathon — clarifying conflicting statements that were given Monday in the chaotic aftermath of the blast, when some law-enforcement officials had said that other devices were found. “There were no unexploded devices found,” Gov. Deval Patrick said Tuesday morning.

Re:Could be cell phone (1)

Known Nutter (988758) | 1 year,7 days | (#43461091)

According to the update this morning on CNN, there were no unexploded devices located.

Authorities including bomb experts searched an apartment in Revere, Massachusetts, and removed items, after two deadly bombs struck the Boston Marathon. But officials cautioned that there are currently no clear suspects -- and the motive remains unknown. Officials also announced a twist in the probe: Suspicious packages that were detonated out of precaution were not explosive devices after all.

http://www.cnn.com/2013/04/15/us/boston-marathon-investigation/index.html?hpt=hp_t1

Re:Could be cell phone (4, Insightful)

wonkey_monkey (2592601) | 1 year,7 days | (#43461351)

Officials also announced a twist in the probe: Suspicious packages that were detonated out of precaution were not explosive devices after all.

That's not a twist, it's just a thing. A twist is if it turns out to have been Richard Simmons.

Re:Could be cell phone (1)

rvw (755107) | 1 year,7 days | (#43461555)

Officials also announced a twist in the probe: Suspicious packages that were detonated out of precaution were not explosive devices after all.

That's not a twist, it's just a thing. A twist is if it turns out to have been Richard Simmons.

That's not a twist. It would have been if it had a link to a Rick Roll.

Re:Could be cell phone (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,7 days | (#43462089)

That's not a twist. It would have been if it had a link to a Rick Roll.

M. Night Shyamalan, is that you?

Re:Could be cell phone (2)

geekoid (135745) | 1 year,7 days | (#43461145)

By 'so many' you mean 'none'? HINT: don't pay attention to the news to get any good information about the bombs for at least 24 hours. There reporting anything they hear, regardless of source.

Overloaded (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,7 days | (#43460715)

After the Earthquake in Virginia in 2011, you couldn't make a cell call to save your life, since several million people picked up their phones within a few minutes of each other. Text messages went through fine within a half a minute or so. Something similar happens whenever an unexpected event of note happens anywhere.

Re:Overloaded (1)

KernelMuncher (989766) | 1 year,7 days | (#43461027)

Same thing in NYC when the earthquake hit - cell service was immediately overwhelmed. Even texts stopped working after a few minutes. Just too many people using their cells in a relatively small area.

Re:Overloaded (1)

MickyTheIdiot (1032226) | 1 year,7 days | (#43461297)

And I don't think there is an engineering solution for it. It's a race condition... there will always be a bigger event that needs more capacity and you end up with a huge, costly network no one can afford to use and, even if everyone could afford it, would be have massive capacity.

I think you wall off some capacity for emergency users (911, police, first responders) and do your best with the rest.

Re:Overloaded (2)

rvw (755107) | 1 year,7 days | (#43461589)

And I don't think there is an engineering solution for it. It's a race condition... there will always be a bigger event that needs more capacity and you end up with a huge, costly network no one can afford to use and, even if everyone could afford it, would be have massive capacity.

I think you wall off some capacity for emergency users (911, police, first responders) and do your best with the rest.

One solution would be to allow text/sms only. The phone keeps trying till it has delivered the message, it's small in size. You could even send all users a broadcast sms to let them know that.

Re:Overloaded (1)

cdrudge (68377) | 1 year,7 days | (#43461677)

Because that wouldn't overwhelm the control channels with even more traffic while not utilizing the voice/data channels at all. Great plan.

Re:Overloaded (1)

Zorpheus (857617) | 1 year,7 days | (#43461905)

Yes, a special emergency protocol would be good, that reserves most of the band with for SMS and emergency services. And of course for people who pay extra.

Re:Overloaded (2)

tlhIngan (30335) | 1 year,7 days | (#43462179)

One solution would be to allow text/sms only. The phone keeps trying till it has delivered the message, it's small in size. You could even send all users a broadcast sms to let them know that.

You do realize that control channel overload is what causes the cell network to go down these days, right?

When the control channel is overloaded, a phone can't make a voice of data call (requires using the control channel to select the appropriate voice or data channel and timeslot).

Allowing text/sms only would work, but it also means that the rest of the cell tower is underutilized. Better would be to reprioritize things so re-establishing a data channel, voice channel, or handoffs have higher priorities than texts to get better utilization. Texts can always be delayed and the phone retries anyways, while being able to establish a voice and data connection can come in handy.

And yes, networks often have 911 prioritization as well - establishing an emergency call can use reserved bandwidth so even the fullest of cell towers can handle an emergency despite being slammed with traffic.

It's why the iPhone basically killed AT&T's network - the Infineon chipset it used was very power efficient and was aggressive - the instant no data was being sent, it tore down the data connection. Doing this often enough consumed control channel traffic until AT&T's network was overwhelmed with administrative data. It lead to one of the oddest conclusions available - AT&T had the fastest data network around. IF you could establish the connection. The voice and data channels were underutilized, while the control channels were overloaded so you couldn't make a voice or data connection, do handoffs (leading to dropped calls), and texts got delayed.

A poorly-written Android IM app on T-mo in the early days did the same as well.

Though, you'd think prior to a handoff, when the phone is scanning for a new tower, you could have the phone use the old tower's control channel to communicate with the new tower to get new voice/data channel allocations for handoff while the phone tries to re-establish the control channel connection. Add some in-band signalling just in case and you could offload some control channel traffic.

Reserve capacity (1)

Firethorn (177587) | 1 year,7 days | (#43461623)

I think you wall off some capacity for emergency users (911, police, first responders) and do your best with the rest.

I agree, though there's some interesting ideas with having the phones themselves act as a mesh network to get information in/out of the affected area, but I'll point out that the military has been trying to institute something like that for decades with limited success. The idea is that a soldier's short range device hooks up with a nearby truck's, which relays it to another truck or plane that can relay it to the most appropriate ground station or satellite link. All dynamically.

There has been some progress on using relaying to extend the range of emergency radio networks - truck to truck to network, basically.

Re:Overloaded (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,7 days | (#43461969)

And I don't think there is an engineering solution for it. It's a race condition... there will always be a bigger event that needs more capacity and you end up with a huge, costly network no one can afford to use and, even if everyone could afford it, would be have massive capacity.

I think you wall off some capacity for emergency users (911, police, first responders) and do your best with the rest.

That would actually be exately the sort of thing to throw some of that huge U.S. defense budget at.

It's hugely expensive and only really useful for it's stated purpose in a state of emergency, but it would also have lots of collateral benefits for civilians during peace time. By pulling from tax revenue you get to sidestep issues like the free rider problem, and get the cost distributed over a much larger population than volintary subscribers. As a government project you could also use eminent domain to solve rite of way issues.

still allow outbound? (1)

callmebill (1917294) | 1 year,7 days | (#43460723)

Boston slashdotter, here (as if that mattered). Anyway, wouldn't it be as effective to just disallow inbound calls/sms/etc? Allow people to make outgoing calls to call friends and family and all, but don't allow phones to receive calls.

Re:still allow outbound? (1)

rvw (755107) | 1 year,7 days | (#43461597)

Boston slashdotter, here (as if that mattered). Anyway, wouldn't it be as effective to just disallow inbound calls/sms/etc? Allow people to make outgoing calls to call friends and family and all, but don't allow phones to receive calls.

Only allow sms, no calls. Notify everybody by a broadcast sms.

Text Messages (1)

areusche (1297613) | 1 year,7 days | (#43460765)

All it would take is a text message instead of a phone call to detonate something.

Re:Text Messages (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,7 days | (#43460931)

That technique seemed to work for my last relationship.

Something's weird here (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,7 days | (#43460831)

Something's really weird going on with this whole mess. Given redundancies and failover capacity, I'm having a hard time believing that simple load caused failures that blocked cellular transmissions, especially as the failure occurred pretty much right after the blast, and not enough awareness would have been out there to cause the level of traffic needed to bring down the cell system soon enough to have had any effects in blocking cellular-detonated explosives.

I'm not a conspiracy nut, but this whole bombing bothers the hell out of me along with some of the other oddities involved.

Re:Something's weird here (1)

cryptizard (2629853) | 1 year,7 days | (#43460929)

I think you are underestimating how many people were at the marathon, and what percentage of them were using their cellphones immediately after the explosion (near 100).

Re:Something's weird here (1)

cryptizard (2629853) | 1 year,7 days | (#43460951)

Also maybe you are overestimating the cell phone network in Boston. I get 0 bars in my apartment in the South End and can only get edge for some reason in the two blocks around me, if I am outside. I have never been in a city with a worse cell phone network.

Re:Something's weird here (1)

afidel (530433) | 1 year,7 days | (#43461693)

I had T-Mobile last time I was in Boston and it worked just fine, it even worked in the underground other than when we went under the river.

Re:Something's weird here (5, Insightful)

kannibal_klown (531544) | 1 year,7 days | (#43461441)

As someone who had a loved one in the World Trade Center on 9/11 and couldn't reach her on her mobile until the afternoon, I'm not surprised that a cell network became overloaded. It's happened in other times too.

Considering this wreaked of terrorism, especially to those on the scene, things really blew up. Marathoners calling loved ones and even just REGULAR citizens in Boston (perhaps far away from the site) getting / making calls in a panic, etc.

Cell towers aren't magic, they can only support so much. And since the phone companies aren't using their profits to expand their existing networks then a large metro getting hit with an event is going to overload it... or at least a general region. I mean, in that immediate area alone you had: people living / working in the buildings, LOTS of runners, LOTS of spectators, etc.

Perhaps the feds DID put up a jammer. Perhaps we don't know the whole story. I'm just saying, that an overloaded network sounds perfectly plausible.

Re:Something's weird here (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,7 days | (#43461535)

The bomb went off on live television. Anybody watching the race, and (at least local) coverage at the finish line would have seen an explosion. It was also covered by many national & international news outlets, so they would have cut to "breaking news" very quickly.

I think "simple load" is perfectly reasonable to explain it. When the Bruins won the Stanley Cup and had their little parade through Boston on the duck boats, I was in the city that day, and couldn't make calls or send texts on AT&T, and no bomb went off, prompting people to make phone calls to friends, family, etc. When you cram thousands and thousands of people into a small area, and they all try to text, call, update facebook, etc. at the same time, it's going to congest that network a lot.

Load from that many people all trying to make a call can ABSOLUTELY overwhelm the service.

But this whole bombing bothers the hell out of me along with some of the other oddities involved.

Oddities, such as?

Re:Something's weird here (2)

rvw (755107) | 1 year,7 days | (#43461625)

Something's really weird going on with this whole mess. Given redundancies and failover capacity, I'm having a hard time believing that simple load caused failures that blocked cellular transmissions, especially as the failure occurred pretty much right after the blast, and not enough awareness would have been out there to cause the level of traffic needed to bring down the cell system soon enough to have had any effects in blocking cellular-detonated explosives.

Given the fact that a simple new year can bring down a network (in the sense that most people cannot make calls for half an hour), this doesn't surprise me.

Legalize Bombs (0, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,7 days | (#43460841)

Where are the statements from the NRA calling for the legalization of bombs in accordance with the 2nd Amendment? After all, bombs don't kill people, people kill people.

Re:Legalize Bombs (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,7 days | (#43460997)

Fuck you, you are just as bad as they are.

Re:Legalize Bombs (1)

kullnd (760403) | 1 year,7 days | (#43461263)

Why would they need to? Bombs are illegal, they are going to likely stay that way - But that didn't stop the criminal did it, apparently the person who did this didn't care that a law prevented him/her from having a bomb. I doubt that a sign on the street saying "bomb free zone" would have helped either, just saying.

That is the best use of text messaging (4, Informative)

damn_registrars (1103043) | 1 year,7 days | (#43460849)

I almost never use text messaging, but it is extremely useful when cell networks are overloaded as it uses almost no bandwidth and hence messages almost always get through. Unfortunately not many people think of it that way and tend to keep trying to make a voice call when the network is rejecting their attempts.

Re:That is the best use of text messaging (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,7 days | (#43461139)

its worth noting that they are basically email and are subject to email relay backups. But you're right that at least they queue and therefore will likely get through.

Re:That is the best use of text messaging (1)

TigerNut (718742) | 1 year,7 days | (#43462087)

But they're not. SMS messages are sent over the control channel on the cellular network (which is why they use much less of the system infrastructure than a voice call, which requires assignment of a voice/data channel, etc.) and they can stay fully within the cellular phone system infrastructure. No email relays involved.

Re:That is the best use of text messaging (1)

SJHillman (1966756) | 1 year,7 days | (#43461255)

Another advantage of text messaging is that (most) phones will keep trying to send it every few minutes/seconds until it goes through, whereas voice requires you to keep trying manually. This, combined with the lower bandwidth requirements and less battery usage, are why they recommend sending texts if you're lost in the woods with little or no reception... it's much more likely to get through and much less likely to kill the battery. I use text messaging a lot at work just because signal is so poor inside the building I can't keep a voice call connected for a more than a couple minutes.

Re:That is the best use of text messaging (5, Informative)

afidel (530433) | 1 year,7 days | (#43461827)

SMS actually take zero bandwidth on GSM networks, they use the ping packets that the phone must exchange with the tower every so often to send the message, it would otherwise be padded with zero's. That's why the message length on SMS is so short, it's limited by the difference between the header needed for a ping and the size of a timeslice. Some phones will opt to use the data network if available to ensure faster delivery but SMS was really a brilliant hack to take advantage of the nature of the network.

Local news begs to differ (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,7 days | (#43460889)

Talk about the telephone effect: local news never once said the cellphone network had been shut down. Instead, they repeatedly asked viewers not to use their cellphones to make calls or send texts, on the off-chance that such communications would set off any remaining bombs. By inference, that would mean the network was up and running.

I actually found it distressing that the media reports subtly added more drama the further it traveled from Boston. I was pleased that our local news was so even-keeled. The event was so shocking and saddening enough.

SMS text worked better than voice, because.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,7 days | (#43460899)

Voice and SMS texts go over different channels.

When I needed to reach friends after 7/7 (London) I used SMS by preference, because the voice channels were saturated with "Are you OK?" calls.

The only time I ever see SMS traffic slow down is New Years, when everyone tries to SMS everyone else at midnight. Although that's becoming rarer thanks to WhatsApp, Facebook, twitter..

it should be common knowledge (2)

nimbius (983462) | 1 year,7 days | (#43460925)

that during an immediate crisis or disaster, cellular networks will become quickly overloaded. network providers acknowledge this and tout things like COW and COLT (Cellular on Wheels and Cellular on Light Truck) as a solution. what isnt clearly stated is that these systems may be hundreds of miles from the immediate area, or may rely on existing trunks and uplinks that are themselves completely saturated, if they havent been destroyed by $crisis || $disaster. cellular providers also have a terrible habit of booking these emergency systems for sporting events to augment their second rate cellular networks.

For geeks who understand how cellular works its limitations are pretty obvious, so im seriously wondering if amateur radio played any part in assisting during this crisis?
ham was designed from its inception to help in a civil emergency, and it would be hard to imagine an event like the boston marathon without at least one 2 meter or 6 meter general class or extra present.

does boston use ASTRO? or EDACS radio networks for emergency services? if so how did these networks perform?

Re:it should be common knowledge (1)

geekoid (135745) | 1 year,7 days | (#43461187)

I wouldn't be surprised if hams set up, but traffic cleared up pretty quickly, all things considered.

Re:it should be common knowledge (3, Informative)

cdwiegand (2267) | 1 year,7 days | (#43462037)

They weren't activated, and the ones that were in use during the race (for coordination) were all evacuated and followed those orders (http://cqnewsroom.blogspot.com/2013/04/boston-marathon-update-all-hams.html)

You're more likely to find hams helping in inter-departmental capacity, where large-scale (this was so not large scale) events require coordination between multiple police and fire departments, hospitals, etc. This was a local situation where Boston Police (and to a point DHS) were involved, but no other agencies - they can usually handle talking on their own radios to themselves.

admission of guilt (-1)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,7 days | (#43460953)

I did it. Yes, it was I. Tommy Jones Jr.

I did everything. You can blame it all on me. Now, I'm off to the pub! Never too early to start drinking.

I just want to watch the world burn. Once I learn to make pie ...

Dumb thing to focus on. (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,7 days | (#43461055)

Whether cell towers were working or not is a stupid thing to focus on, here. How about the coming absolute surrender of all remaining liberties? Since 9-11, I've repeatedly pointed out that all we need is one more big terrorist event to shake the population enough that we will give up everything. Complaits about the TSA, second amendment, privacy, government and corporate wiretapping without justification. All of it. It is over. We lose.by attacking us, we shell up. We take away our own freedomFOR them. It is time to shutter yro.slashdot, because it no longer matters.

Re:Dumb thing to focus on. (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,7 days | (#43462049)

No shit. I came for the liberties discussion, and got a bunch of SMS idiots. Where is the false flag conspiracy? Surely we can get some real discussion out of that. :)

Re:Dumb thing to focus on. (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,7 days | (#43462151)

Whether cell towers were working or not is a stupid thing to focus on, here. How about the coming absolute surrender of all remaining liberties? Since 9-11, I've repeatedly pointed out that all we need is one more big terrorist event to shake the population enough that we will give up everything. Complaits about the TSA, second amendment, privacy, government and corporate wiretapping without justification. All of it. It is over. We lose.by attacking us, we shell up. We take away our own freedomFOR them. It is time to shutter yro.slashdot, because it no longer matters.

Alternatively, another big terrorist event could show that all those liberties sacrificed did nothing to make us safer. Mybe this will be the wakeup call, that the best defence against terrorism isn't a police state but to address the underlying social issues that make blowing people up seem like a more viable way to affect change than voting.

Then upgrade the cell network (4, Insightful)

HeckRuler (1369601) | 1 year,7 days | (#43461171)

So... considering that's we hear about this with EVERY major catastrophe, would this be the sort of national infrastructure concern that we would want to mandate that the cell companies install extra capacity? You know, in case of emergencies. Are we at the point that we can consider cellular connection, or generically wireless connection, to be a basic utility and not a cutting edge hip new ordeal that only the rich can afford?

And hey, since they've got ALL THAT BANDWIDTH, just lying about in case shit hits the fan, it'd be great to sell it on the cheap. You know, that idea that society and the fundamental utilities is here to foster growth rather than wringing out the last coin from the customer's pockets.

Re:Then upgrade the cell network (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,7 days | (#43461961)

And hey, since they've got ALL THAT BANDWIDTH, just lying about in case shit hits the fan, it'd be great to sell it on the cheap.

Providing "all that bandwidth" costs "all that money" to install "all those additional towers" and "all that additional infrastructure."

Forcing providers to add "all that bandwidth" would also mean that "all those providers" would increase "all those monthly charges" to offset the legislatively-mandated expenditure to build out and maintain the infrastructure to support it. Which means that "all those customers" will pay "all that extra."

Re:Then upgrade the cell network (1)

Bigby (659157) | 1 year,7 days | (#43462107)

Not worth it. What good, from an emergency response perspective, are you going to get because a loved one can contact you now instead of an hour from now? Maybe a little good, but not enough to justify raising everyone's cell bill by 50%.

Short memories (5, Insightful)

MickyTheIdiot (1032226) | 1 year,7 days | (#43461173)

Uh.. doesn't this happen after just about every disaster?

If you design the networks to work at the utilization that you see after a disaster there would be cell phone towers at every corner, our bills would be $500 or more a month, and it would be using a very low percentage of its capacity 99.99% of the time.

It isn't what is important at the moment, anyway.

SMS uses a different protocol (2)

sl4shd0rk (755837) | 1 year,7 days | (#43461299)

I believe SMS piggy-backs on a transmission from the tower which is a different protocol than what is used for voice/data*. It seems possible that SMS may work when voice/data has been blocked.

"transport messages on the signaling paths needed to control the telephone traffic during time periods when no signaling traffic existed. "

[*] - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Short_Message_Service [wikipedia.org]

Re:SMS uses a different protocol (1)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,7 days | (#43461549)

Which is why charges of ANYTHING for text/sms should be fraud! Cellular would not work without this data stream, they act as if they are providing you with a service.

Re:SMS uses a different protocol (2)

isorox (205688) | 1 year,7 days | (#43461967)

Which is why charges of ANYTHING for text/sms should be fraud! Cellular would not work without this data stream, they act as if they are providing you with a service.

Don't like it? Don't use it.

VZW appeared overloaded, not blocked (2)

CLorox (7) | 1 year,7 days | (#43461405)

VZW appeared heavily overloaded and calls were not going through. Additionally, text messages also appeared to be throttled or heavily delayed. If this was a result of jamming or some other technology to throttle the network, calls were being placed, they were not however providing audio. I received about 20 calls from my girlfriend who lives in the area and her calls were ringing through and "completing", but no audio was making it over the line. Calls I was placing appeared to ring through (five or six rings?) and made it to voicemail in most cases, although I did get a couple Verizon messages instead of the voicemail box.

Text messages we were sending each other were either extremely delayed or never made it at all (some did). I would go with the disaster norm of badly overloaded. We resorted to email via wifi instead of relying on the cell networks. When she took to the car to pick up her sister in South Boston (T services were shutdown in and around Boston), she was able to start completing calls and texts were making it through.

Re:VZW appeared overloaded, not blocked (1)

Beorytis (1014777) | 1 year,7 days | (#43462129)

Not long after the bombings, I saw messages on twitter from local law enforcement encouraging people to text instead of call. "Less bandwidth" they said.

They didn't? Why not? (1)

GameboyRMH (1153867) | 1 year,7 days | (#43461429)

Given the situation I think shutting down the cell networks would have been reasonable. They shut them down for G20 meetings and various protests but not in the middle of a bombing incident where there's a good chance cellular detonators are being used? Huh?

Re:They didn't? Why not? (2)

geekoid (135745) | 1 year,7 days | (#43461745)

Becasue it was over.
Plus, any response that is standard will be trivially worked around.

Ah, the rush to misreport (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,7 days | (#43461481)

Ah, the rush to misreport. This is why I wait a week to read about what happened. News outlets, and law enforcement officials, will just make stuff up because it's too early to know what really happened. Enjoy your speculation!

Re:Ah, the rush to misreport (2)

isorox (205688) | 1 year,7 days | (#43461947)

Ah, the rush to misreport. This is why I wait a week to read about what happened. News outlets, and law enforcement officials, will just make stuff up because it's too early to know what really happened. Enjoy your speculation!

Facts: There were 2 explosions near the finish of the Boston Marathon yesterday. 3 people have died.
Opinion: Everything else on the news for the last 24 hours.

Dated information (4, Informative)

Brucelet (1857158) | 1 year,7 days | (#43461799)

I don't know for sure on cell service, but there's a whole lot of other outdated information in that article. Specifically, the fire at the jfk library is now known to be unrelated, and law enforcement officials have stated that no undetonated devices were found.

Media (2)

isorox (205688) | 1 year,7 days | (#43461913)

* Media spouts a load of crap to get ratings
* News at 11

Oh wait, not news at 11, it's news all the time. Doesn't matter that there's nothing new to report, that it's all over, that it will takes days to get any more answer, we have to have wallpaper news because all the other stations are having it. Everyone's hoping for another 9/11.

Oh how I wish for a return to a half hour news bulletin 3 times a day, when journalists had time to go out and find what's going on rather than sit in a studio doing two-ways, reading wires and copy that's come from the studio.

That's enough from me standing outside an empty office block, back to you in the studio. I'll be here again in 15 minutes though for an update.

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