When Good Networks Go Down

Meant to excite and engage more than 20,000 people, the first-ever official Pokémon Go Fest, hosted in Chicago’s Grant Park on July 22, 2017, was over before it began. Dead-stopped by network and server problems, the event didn’t even happen. The Guardian reported, “From 6 am on the day—four hours before the event was due to start—players were complaining they were unable to log in, as the concentration of high-bandwidth connections swamped, then collapsed, mobile networks in the area.” Despite several hours and a 2-mile radius expansion of the event, networks did not return to normal.

Surreal as it may seem in 2017, network slowdowns and crashes, like the one experienced in Chicago, are common. Mobile networks are designed and built to support a finite amount of capacity for voice and data usage in the local surrounding area, and most of the time, the provided bandwidth is more than enough to meet the demand. Any unexpected increase in call or data usage volumes—during a large event or a crisis—strains networks, causing them to slow down, and eventually collapse, preventing the public and first responders from utilizing these networks. Temporary additional mobile towers can help to alleviate strain on networks in some situations, but ultimately cannot be relied upon to permanently serve the demand for increased capacity. Changing the way consumers and first responders access telecommunications capacity, and where the spectrum comes from, can have a marked positive impact on accessibility, reliability, and throughput for everyday use, and during times of increased demand.

Pokémon Go Fest, Chicago

How Improved Satellite Ground Link Systems Can Solve the Terrestrial Network Capacity Problem

Mobile towers and other terrestrial telecommunications networks have many limitations. Most terrestrial networks take significant time to design and deploy, require difficult-to-achieve government approvals for massive infrastructure requirements, and can be very costly. In addition, terrestrial networks have limited capacity. The satellite spectrum, on the other hand, provides 5,000 times the capacity of all terrestrial networks combined. The right ground link systems open access to that capacity, making it as available as a view of the sky.

Satellite communications relay and amplify telecommunications signals, creating a communications channel between source transmitters and receivers on Earth. The right antenna — the equipment that manages the receipt and transmission of data—can make all the difference in the reliability, accessibility, and throughput of data. High-throughput antennas, like Kymeta’s metamaterials-based, flat panel antennas, provide multicast capability without ever slowing down or maxing-out on capacity; the capacity is so generous with satellite connectivity that there will always be enough to meet the demands of consumers and first responders. Flat panel antennas provide the added advantage of being lightweight and mobile, making them easy to move to other locations if necessitated by crises or other events.

Case Study: Supporting Greenville South Carolina First Responders During the 2017 Total Solar Eclipse

Prior to the August 2017 total solar eclipse, which spanned from coast to coast across the continental United States, news reports indicated that mobile networks were likely to experience significant disruptions or collapses in several key cities along the path of totality (the area where the total solar eclipse would occur). Greenville, South Carolina — population <68,000 — was expected to welcome more than 500,000 visitors from across the country; the city’s mobile networks, even with added capacity, would be unable to support the sudden influx of cell phone toting eclipse chasers.

Kymeta took to the road to support first responders in Greenville during the total solar eclipse event. Prior to the event, Greenville Police Chief Ken Miller said, “We are likely to face decreased capacity and that’s a problem. Having the extra testbed support Kymeta is offering will provide us with an additional means of communication.” Connecting to terrestrial networks during a large event can be problematic for first responders because too many people are connecting at the same time; terrestrial networks have pre-determined capacity limits, and once capacity is reached, users experience significant slowdowns, and even network failures. The Kymeta team did just what they set out to do, keeping the officers of the Greenville PD connected and on the move throughout the day’s events, by using Kymeta’s mTenna to access satellite capacity, far outside of terrestrial limitations.

Satellite-Enabled Mobile Connectivity Will Keep the World Connected

Increasing demand on cellular networks and limited terrestrial capacity means increased pressure on telecommunications providers and developers to find new ways of providing internet access that is faster and more reliable than that which is currently available. While typical ground communications will continue to be limited in their capacity, and continue to be disrupted by increases in demand for everyday use and in cases of emergency, space-based communications paired with mobile antenna systems can change the way everyone connects, and communicates. Employing satellite-based communications systems with high-throughput mobile antennas provides a cost-efficient, reliable means of accessing available satellite capacity to meet everyday demands for communications. In the instance of the Pokémon Fest, communications failures were a letdown for thousands of eager fans. Lives weren’t on the line, but reliable communications were still a necessity. Satellite-based communications systems paired with mobile antennas and satellite internet services have the power to provide ample capacity, whether reliable communications are necessitated by popular events, daily tasks, or in a crisis, even when ground systems fail.