A Call to Handsets

By eweek  |  Posted 2001-09-24

In the aftermath of the suicide plane crashes into the World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon, its incredibly difficult to concentrate on anything but news surrounding the events. Everything else seems so irrelevant.

Yet the stories weve heard about how people involved in the tragedy were able to use their cell phones are remarkable. I just saw a news report on television about a flight attendant on one of the hijacked planes who was able to call airport operations and give them the seat numbers of the terrorists, which may help authorities to identify them.

I saw another story about a rescue worker pinned under debris after the second World Trade Center tower collapsed. He used his cell phone to direct others to him and they pulled him free. And weve all heard of the passengers who managed to call loved ones moments before their plane crashed.

So although it feels incredibly irrelevant to think at all about wireless networks when so many lives have been lost, wireless technology played an important positive part. Its hard to believe that this crucial role has been treated as commonplace; we dont really recognize how amazing it is that lives have been saved and mysteries have been solved because it is so easy to make a wireless phone call.

The life-saving capabilities of phones make other wireless applications seem trivial. "Checking stock quotes doesnt have real value, but aiding rescue workers does," says Jacob Christfort, chief technology officer and vice president of OracleMobile, at the Wireless IT conference in San Diego that began Sept. 11, the same day as the terrorist attacks on U.S. government and financial centers.

Wireless companies have also rallied to help, and I believe that their efforts are far from publicity stunts. Cingular Wireless, Verizon Wireless and probably others immediately rolled out additional cell sites in New York and Washington D.C., mainly to free up network capacity so rescue workers could communicate. Verizon rounded up all available phones in inventory in the Washington area, charged and programmed them for local, state and Federal emergency crews. It also set up a hotline and e-mail address to organize requests for phones and service so it could distribute handsets quickly.

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