Cell phones and technology

Last weekend we encountered our first major cell phone outage… just in time to make credit card sales next to impossible.  At the Ohio Sauerkraut Festival our cell phones became virtual doorstops… the signal provided from towers was being exhausted by the sheer number of people accessing the towers of this otherwise bucholic community.  A quarter of a million people each day using facebook, twitter, and making phone calls all while 450 vendors were trying to tap into the data plan for credit card approvals…. meant immediate failure of all.  We were getting messages like “Radio interrupt, data overrun, and all resources are in use – please attempt again in the future or free some resources to continue.”  And the actual ability to make a cell phone call was down too.  the only form of communication still working was texting.  Yikes.

We have put a lot of thought into the technology utilized for our business… have the best possible data plan on our cell phones, and fairly recent cell phones, constantly updated.  And we have chosen an app based web based application for taking credit card payments.  It has been seamless to install the little swipe unit into the headset port on the phone, turn on the application, and immediately connect and accept transactions. But when we are at the mercy of cell providers to boost their signal to meet the sudden demand of a large crowd – what can you say.  Instead of boosting the signal the exact opposite happened.  We all lost internet access and cell access at about 11:30 on saturday morning, and it never really came back up until we left the area that evening. 

I have taken to the internet to research and discovered that cell phone service reaches capacity when towers are overtaxed by high and unexpected demand.  This was the case on saturday.  It was not the credit card processor’s problem, but the internet provider’s issue.  With the significantly high use of internet and broadband, the vendors were in a fight with the visitors for sheer space and bandwidth to complete transactions.  So while someone was sending a facebook post with a picture, and another person was tweeting, as you multiply the activity over a quarter of a million people it reduced the likelihood of just getting bandwidth to send a transaction.

So what are the answers?  The event promotions should  think of a protected and dedicated network for vendors – guarantee that data can make it out to the internet without competition.  Creating a password protected wireless network that vendors only could access for the day would resolve 99% of the concern.  Speaking with the cell phone companies to rethink their service capacity might be another.  

Meanwhile we are now packing paper credit card receipts and an old addressograph credit card receipt swiper just in case this happens again. omg.  Technology is great when it works, but when it doesn;t we are plummeted to the pre-technology era trusting that credit cards will go through from paper…