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BART overstepped boundaries in San Francisco Cell Service Incident

Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) logo Apparently SF BART had shut down cell service for about three hours in the San Francisco area at a few stations where some activists were going to protest.   While I do believe this has some serious free speech implications since they’re trying to pull a whole minority report type of scenario which is against current law, I have to say that from a telecommunications standpoint, they pulled a major flaw by calling it a safety issue.   As a telecommunications professional, I have spent years of time facing countless hours trying to maintain the cellular infrastructure.  One of the biggest risks we face in telecom is the one where someone can’t make a 911 call.   That means that people’s lives could indirectly be effected by our work which is why we must be careful.

In shutting down cell service to “prevent” something from happening, the problem then becomes an issue when someone does indeed get hurt and there’s no communications inward or outward.   You can’t rely on BART officers there with their CBs since they can’t be there while maintaining lines or what not against a protest.   So from an emergency situation where someone’s life is dictated by the minutes of time that could effect life and death, cellular service is critical for response.   In this case, I believe that BART made an egregious error and whomever made that decision didn’t think about the consequences that it might follow.  On top of all of this?  BART themselves pulled the plug on the base stations and notifying the carriers after the fact (another mistake and a hard one).  Meaning, the carriers had no idea and probably saw the sites go down in the NOCs and were scrambling to get them back up.

BART said that they were well within their legal rights to turn off cell stations, but I beg to differ.  If this were the case, then all base stations are endangered by the tower leasing areas.  Of which I know for a fact, the leasing contracts do state that they can’t just willy nilly turn off power or otherwise to the leased areas since the carriers are the ones that maintain those agreements with the utilities and not BART.

Nice job, BART.   You not only wasted a lot of telecom professionals time with your crazy logic, but you didn’t go down the right legal roads to at least create a foundation that your logic could stand on.   And thus, BART’s going to get their “you know what” handed to them by all sorts of legal experts.  Do I foresee a resignation?   Maybe, but at the very least, someone is going to take the fall for this one.

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Why SMS is Here to Stay

It’s amusing when I read about apps that try to out-do SMS.   Take for example, Facebook with their latest app.  Or iMessage.

Guess what, as a person that’s been watching technology trends for the better half of two decades, I can say for certain that SMS is sticking around.  Why?   SMS is a complete cellular protocol whereas any app by a social media company is driven by their only their users.  Even iMessage is completely driven by iPhones alone and not cellular in general.  This is one of the reasons why it’ll fail.  It doesn’t help when your friends use different technologies across different systems.   And SMS is built into a cell phone already whereas you can’t say the same for apps.   Take a look at how widespread Twitter is and why it’s constrained to the character limitations.   SMS designed and driven. Sounds too simple?  That’s because it is just that simple.  Standards and protocols rule industries.

So until iMessage/Facebook design a protocol that drives cellular in general?  I’ll wait until I see some new-fangled technology drive SMS out of its place.   Until then?  Everyone is limited to their 140 characters.