Our Bureau

Mumbai, July 11

Television footage of Monday's wounded commuters in Mumbai fumbling with their cellphones to call someone, somewhere, got people asking themselves this question: why, during every crisis in the city, do telephone networks get jammed?

Is it because networks are congested with the sudden burst of traffic or have the cellular companies been asked by the authorities to plug their networks "fearing rumours?"

For a short period of time even landlines were jammed, calls just yielding the `engaged' signal or simply not going through at all.

It's only congestion

There is no request from police to jam networks, wireless company officials said. "No cellular network is equipped to handle the kind of volumes that pour in when such calamities occur," said an official with one of them.

The traffic rises enormously, several fold, said officials. Not only that, this traffic is "instantaneous", all happening at one time rather than spread over a period of time.

There was a period of time after the bomb blasts when hardly anyone could communicate with anyone, whether on the wireless service or the landline service.

Police would not ask cellphone networks to plug their service, said these officials. It is too useful. And its possible misuse by a few people is not a reason to stop wireless services, they said.

Landlines too jammed

It was not just cellphones this time, even landline phones were jammed from time to time. As a bad testimony to their own service most of the wireless company officials themselves could not be reached on their personal phones, helplessly out of touch.

The mobile merely makes life more convenient, it is not useful in times of community crisis, was the general opinion doing the rounds.

Cellphone-equipped commuters tumbling out of suburban railway stations as trains were cancelled first headed to public telephone booths and to wayside shops to make their calls to their loved ones.

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated July 12, 2006)
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