The Americans are not particularly known for their prolific usage of wireless. And for once, hit by the worst tragedy of their lifetime, they did turn to the untethered medium. And what a disappointment it was!
The wireless networks got so choked up that they virtually did not work for some time. And as a few messages in some message boards suggest, it added to the fear that something more devastating has happened that has impacted the whole of America in general, and New York in particular.
As they came to know the reality and extent of damage, and after the initial shock and fear, a few started questioning the reliability of the medium that is wireless. And the most popular target of the backlash was Verizon Wireless. Incidentally, Verizon has been the most severely hit among the communication companies in Manhattan.
But was Verizon at fault? Or for that matter, can wireless be blamed?
The problem occurred not because Verizon lost its critical infrastructure. Yes, it did lose a lot. Not only has Verizon's facility at West Street-that almost entirely supports the requirements of the Wall Street-was severely damaged, some of its staff who were working inside the WTC are also feared dead. The company also lost ten base-station sites. Other companies like Cingular and Sprint also lost a few sites, but Verizon was the worst affected.
"The problem was not a disaster-management problem, it was a pure network problem", says an observer. And that explains it all.
The network was not down, it was choked. It could not cope with the traffic that was flowing in.
The US is a market where wireless penetration is fairly high whereas the usage is low. (India is moving in the same direction). The wireless operators always design and optimize networks taking into account the usage and not just the number of users. So when something like this happens, and all users want to talk, the network simply cannot withstand the traffic. And that is what happened in America on the Black Tuesday.
Any other operator in its place could not have done anything much better.
Internet stood firm
Keynote, an Internet performance monitoring company that publishes KB40, an index that measures the performance of the top forty business web sites, including news and search engines, says some web sites did saw unprecedented slowdown for some time, but the Internet bounced back soon.
Web site Availability
(Between 9 am to 10 am)
"On Tuesday at 10:15am, following the attacks, the Index average reached 12.9 seconds-a performance degradation over three to four times the normal daily average. Over the next few hours, the Index average improved until it returned to normal by mid-afternoon. Keynote has rarely seen this kind of performance effect on the overall KB40 Index", said a press release from the company.
However, the Internet backbone infrastructure, says Keynote, was not significantly affected. And that is fairly obvious. Had it been the case, many networks around the world, which route traffic through America would have been severely affected. That was not the case.
Keynote claimed that the tunnel fire in Baltimore, in July, that resulted from a train wreck had more impact on the Internet backbone than these attacks. That is when some fiber optic cables had melted.
It is easy to see why the two networks behaved in two different manners. As there was no critical physical damage to any network, the performance was primarily a matter of traffic pattern change. For wireless networks, it was additional traffic. And a lot of it. For the Internet, it was not really too much additional traffic. Just that the Net-savvy Americans-the shoppers at amazon.com to searchers at yahoo.com-changed their priorities and flocked to the news sites.
For the Internet as a whole, the traffic was only marginally, if at all, higher.
|Its switching facility in the basement of WTC was
not damaged much
|Lost six cell sites
|Lost four cell sites
|Its facility in West Street severely affected
|Lost ten cell sites
However, for those sites, it was an unprecedented surge. No wonder, they tumbled. Says Keynote, from 10:00 to11:00 am, the availability of news sites like CNN and New York Times, was 0 percent. Interestingly, the availability of the government web sites were fairly better though performance slowed down. That could be because the sites of CNN and NY Times were being accessed not just by the Americans, but people from throughout the world. The government sites were being used primarily by the US citizens.
While cynics do point out the fact that the Net slowed down for some time, the Internet did prove that it is not such an unreliable medium that it is made out to be.