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How your daughter watching Youtube in the car can cause a major traffic jam....

by Larry Bellehumeur   |  Mar 02, 2016  
I am not sure if this is still the case (Note to any network engineers: please let me know if this has changed) but for many years, the heaviest time of the year for cellular voice traffic used to be early on Halloween evening. And.....it makes sense. This is when all of the parents are trying to call each other from the car to see who will pick up the little ones, who will shell out, etc.

One of the hardest parts about projecting data/voice traffic on that night was that almost no one talking was stationary, so it is next to impossible to accurately predict network usage. Well, that night won't look so "scary" compared to the "network nightmare" that engineers are about to see.

Imagine a car with 4 teenage children and their parents. One of the parents is driving while 4 kids (and maybe even the other parent) are hammering away on the Internet, thanks to the built-in WiFi in the family's new car. The family is amazed at the speed they get while Dad tries to cut a few minutes off of the commute by pushing his Buick to just short of the "speed of sound". When the network engineers designed the coverage for Dad's personal autobahn, they were most likely worried about providing coverage for voice and texting traffic. It makes sense since this was the main reason why phones were used along this piece of real estate. Over the years, they may have seen some increased data traffic, thanks to smartphones.

However, did they plan for families having WiFi hotspots that could use megabytes of traffic each minute.....and a lot of them? I can't imagine that they did. To make it worse, even families without built-in WiFi systems can easily set up Hotspots, thanks to smartphones. Does it get any worse than that? Well, it actually might.....as cars get "smarter", they also will use the network to report how they are doing.

So, what is the big deal?

First, it will mean that things might get slow for a while. If you are in the car during a traffic jam, your kids might find that connection to their favourite gaming site or Youtube to be lacklustre. More importantly, however, is that so might your favourite First Responder....until networks have fully implemented Priority Access for them, they might have issues getting down large files (such as blueprints for a ventilation access) quickly.

The other concern may be those in rural coverage. Let's face it, these areas are not usually well covered by the latest high-speed network of the day. So, if you use wireless at your cottage, you might find the performance to be lacking on a normal summer day, as the networks may have an issue dealing with the influx of "city folks" stopping by. Throw in that all of those Minivans are now also dragging down speeds, and it might be tough to upload your PowerPoint that you are working on behind your wife's back when you are supposed to be relaxing....

The Bottom Line

Network engineers tend to be smart people, so something tells me that this blog post won't be shocking to them, they already know about the potential issues. As well, based on the current rates for airtime usage on those WiFi plans from the car makers, it might be pretty expensive for most people to use them much. However, like anything else in technology, pricing falls rapidly, so this might change quickly. So, you may find a lot of people with kids gleefully using the Internet at high speed in the car.....until all of the batteries die!