a week in wireless

Field work

If a band plays at a summer music festival, but nobody records it and uploads it to social media, does it make a sound? This essential philosophical question of our times was never more important than over the past couple of weeks, when the UK population mobilised for the annual tradition of listening to music in a muddy field.

A typical photo of the stage from the crowd will be taken by a mobile phone and feature mainly a sea of disembodied arms holding other phones aloft like latter-day Statues of Liberty. There is no time, at least when a band is performing, when these arm-phones are not omnipresent, while a lot of people, who have presumably never heard of GoPro, wonder between sets in this pose, as if the wind changed and now they’re stuck that way.

The main reason people go to such lengths to capture these moments is not to reflect on their memories in the comfort of their own homes at some later date, but to announce to the world what they’re doing and, ideally, receive waves of thinly disguised jealousy in return.

The platform for all this instantaneous interaction is, of course, social media. Primarily Facebook and Twitter, but there are no shortage of other ways to get the rest of the world involved in what you’re up to thanks to the combination of smartphones and mobile broadband.

“Coldplay rocking the house,” you might be tempted to stretch credibility by tweeting. “Hope you’re having a great one,” your friend may lie in response as they sit in front of the Antiques Roadshow solemnly contemplating where it all went wrong.

Except you can’t, can you? If you were the only exhibitionist in the field that day then there wouldn’t be a problem. You could probably stream 4K video from your phone to the world via gloat.com (a URL that is inexplicably still available, incidentally) if you felt like it and your outstretched arm could handle the strain.

But there are thousands of other people in the same field with a similar need to augment their fun by rubbing their friends’ noses in it and they’re all using mobile broadband too. So what tends to happen is that you attempt to upload your image, or whatever, to Facebook, or whatever, and it just hangs there, for hours, stuck in the data equivalent of the M25 on a Friday evening.

A wireless cow

A wireless cow

In the name of research the Informer decided to attend a couple of these festivals recently – Calling Festival in Clapham and Sonisphere in Knebworth. In both cases the mobile broadband connection was fine earlier on in the show, implying it was either half full or people didn’t consider the bands worthy of propagation, so the likes of Toseland and Babymetal were inflicted in full upon the eagerly awaiting digital world. But by the time the respective headliners – Aerosmith and Iron Maiden – took to the stage, you would have had more chance of buying a pint for less than a fiver than uploading your experiences.

Of all the potential solutions to this problem, perhaps the least obvious involves cows – wireless cows to be precise. But that’s the direction UK operator EE chose to go as part of its involvement in the best known of British music festivals – Glastonbury.


Has anyone got an Apple charger?

Has anyone got an iPhone charger?

EE deployed a temporary network at Glasto with “the highest network capacity ever”, employing five 2G, 3G and 4G sites around the field in question. It also installed 4G wifi hotspots inside fibreglass cows (as you do) thus theoretically enabling everyone to get online and gloat about what a groovy time they were having. Apparently three quarters of a terabyte of data was uploaded at the festival, which is approximately equal to 10 million slightly resentful people.

The Informer is pleased to report that the Red Bull Infinity Formula One racing team had no such problem communicating urgent messages to its drivers, such as “go faster” and “don’t crash”, as well as telematics and all kinds of other high-tech business. Again, in the name of selfless research the Informer went trackside to make sure everything was in order and was reassured by AT&T’s UK and Ireland VP Dave Langhorn that the network his company provides the team was firing on all cylinders.

Take care.

The Informer

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