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A Live Test of Wireless Download and Upload Speeds, and Latency, During Barack Obama’s Inauguration Ceremony




WASHINGTON, January 24, 2013 - Whenever a large gathering commences, chances are that, in addition to cramped quarters and long lines, the influx will also mean a major increase in the number of cell phones, laptops and other Wi-Fi dependent devices. As when on January 21, 2013, President Barack Obama was sworn in for his second term as 44th President of the United States, and an estimated crowd of 800,000 people swarmed the National Mall for a glimpse of the President.

Recent studies have shown that around 83 percent of Americans have cell phones. Using that as a rough guide, and assuming that these individuals brought their phones with them, roughly 664,000 cell phones were crammed into the roughly three miles between the Capitol steps and Reflecting Pool.

Using the Federal Communications Commission Speed Test application on my AT&T 3G iPhone, I was able to take readings on several important measures related to the quality of wireless service at various points throughout the city on Inauguration day. The FCC application measures, for any given area, the device’s download and upload speeds and latency. The download and upload speeds are reflective of the ability to transmit and receive information, such as reloading Twitter, accessing a web site, or sending a text message. Latency represents the amount of “lag time” that will commence before connectivity. The lower the latency, the easier it is to use applications like voice over internet protocol (VoIP).

Data points:
8:22 a.m.
7th & D St. (Inaugural Entrance Gate)
D 1.29 Megabits per second (Mbps)
U 0.51 Mbps
L 5227

8:34 a.m.
7th and D St.
D 1.00 Mbps
U 0.07 Mbps
L 5005

8:50 a.m.
7th & D St.
D 0.65 Mbps
U 0.03 Mbps
L Unreadable

These indicators appear to demonstrate that, over a period of 28 minutes, as the large crowds gathered and grew impatient at the gate, a direct correlation was discovered with plummeting download and upload times, as well as increased latency.

11:15 a.m.
4th and F St.
Judiciary Square Metro. (Inaugural Entrance Gate)
D 0.14 Mbps
U 0.05 Mbps
L Unreadable.

As crowds gathered in the thousands, my device’s download speed continued to plummet, while upload speed and latency became generally inoperable.

11:54 a.m.
United States Capitol
D Unreadable
U Unreadable
L Unreadable

As the hundred thousands crammed in to hear President Obama begin his address, the available WIFI in the area was so reduced that the FCC Test was rendered inoperable. (The day after the inauguration at the very same spot, the download speed had climbed to 1.40 Mbps, the upload speed to 0.62 and the latency at 5339.)

12:32 p.m.
1st and Indiana
D 0.82 Mbps
U 0.04 Mbps
L Unreadable

While many began repositioning themselves along the parade route, the general area saw an increase in download speed. However, uploading capabilities and latency remained inefficient. Judging by the amount of people taking photos and videos during the Inauguration, perhaps the upload speed lagged as thousands attempted to share their photos on Facebook all at once.

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