8th July 2005 Telecommunications networks were put to the ultimate test in London yesterday, as a series of explosions hit public transport vehicles in the centre of the city.
Concerned friends and relatives used all manner of communications methods to check on loved ones who might have been exposed to the blasts – with mixed results.
Email traffic in Europe doubled in the twenty four hours following the terrorist activity, and telephone usage increased to such an extent that many Londoners were unable to make mobile phone calls. Even the land-line networks were overloaded, although here BT reported that while calls were taking longer to connect, they were however getting through.
Demand for mobile telephone networks rose so steeply that the UK’s largest mobile operator, Vodafone, asked its customers to refrain from using their mobiles. Vodafone’s network is used by the emergency services, and it was attempting to free up capacity for them.
But while mobile calls were not getting through, people had a better experience with text messages: there was some degradation of service levels, but most managed to get messages sent.
Meanwhile, web traffic on UK-based news sites also rocketed in the wake of the attacks. Hits on news sites accounted for 5.6% of all Internet traffic. Broadcaster BSkyB experienced 1.7 million users on Thursday, roughly a month’s worth of visitors under normal circumstances.
The unprecedented levels of traffic resulted in a number of sites struggling to serve the number of browsers requesting page views. According to Internet analyst Keynote, one in four attempts to load pages on 40 leading UK web sites failed on Thursday afternoon.
The failure of many Internet services to withstand the burden following yesterday’s events raises questions about the increasing use of Internet-based telephony systems such as voice-over IP (VoIP). As the popularity of VoIP technology increases there will be a need to ensure that emergency calls are prioritised, to ensure they are not lost in a surge of Internet activity.