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Update: Internet, wireless hold up despite deluge of inaugural video streaming

High traffic slows many news Web sites

January 20, 2009 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Streaming Internet video of the inauguration of President Barack Obama jammed Internet links and news Web sites today, and wireless carriers reported a deluge of calls, but problems seemed to be minor.

CNN.com/live said it broke its all-time live video-streaming traffic record for a single day.

"Traffic is completely through the roof," a CNN spokeswoman said. At 6 p.m. Eastern, the spokeswoman said the Web site had generated 160 million page views, with 25 million live video streams for the 12 hours between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. That beat CNN's previous video stream record of 5.3 million live video streams for Election Day last November, she said. Also, 1.3 million live concurrent streams were served in the critical moments between Obama's taking the oath of office, and his inaugural address.

Wireless carriers also a reported a record number of cell phone calls during the inaugural ceremony.

Some news sites encountered performance slowdowns while broadcasting live pictures, video and blogs of the inauguration, said Shawn White, director of operations at Keynote Systems Inc., a mobile and Internet test and measurement company in San Mateo, Calif.

Web sites of many TV networks, including ABC, CBS, Fox Business and MSNBC, as well as the Web sites of National Public Radio, USA Today and the Wall Street Journal experienced significant performance slowdowns prior to and during the inauguration ceremony, White said in an e-mail.

Keynote's data showed the slowdowns were the result of sluggish "Web server response" caused by heavy traffic to the sites.

One Boston area reporter was unable to obtain video from CBS.com or from CNN.com/live from a home office during the noontime festivities, although staffers at Computerworld's offices in Framingham, Mass., were able to view the entire event via a T-1 connection.

Going to a Web site early helped, and visitors who connected to CNN's video site just before the swearing-in at noon were sometimes told, "You made it, [but] so did everyone else. You have a place in line."

However, even for several users who could not access the CNN.com/live video, a special space for posting comments on Facebook was available. Other users said Washingtonpost.com had a successful live video feed as did the New England Cable News Network's NECN.com via the Boston Globe's Boston.com Web site.

A major investment by wireless carriers in the Washington area infrastructure seems to have paid off, although some minor glitches were reported. The carriers had invested millions and prepared for months to boost network capacity around the National Mall, but given the millions of people in attendance at the inauguration, some delays or dropped calls were inevitable, they said.

One major Internet carrier, Sprint Nextel Inc., showed delays and packet loss for San Francisco users who were trying to call Washington in the hour before Obama took the oath of office, according to Keynote's Internet Health Report.

That problem was corrected just after noon Eastern time for the swearing-in and Obama's inaugural address, however. The Sprint route from San Francisco to Washington was 100% accessible, even when packet losses and delays were reported, so connections were maintained even if performance was degraded, according to Keynote. Keynote's measurements also showed that 99 other links it was monitoring had healthy performance at noon.

A Sprint spokeswoman said the carrier experienced a record number of wireless calls and text messages in the Washington area during the inaugural, with a 211% increase in voice, text and data traffic from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. She said there may have been delays for some users but "everything was working properly."

She had no details on the San Francisco-to-Washington delays and packet losses reported by Keynote.

Independent analyst Jeff Kagan said cell phone usage in the Washington area for today and tomorrow will be at higher than normal levels, but the mad crush of calls from earlier today should be over.

"In situations like this, there simply cannot be enough capacity. So if the network is busy when you try your call, just hang up and try again. As soon as someone else hangs up another call can be taken," Kagan said in an e-mail. "Bottom line, the networks were jammed, but calls did go through. It was a success, with a hiccup here and there."

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