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Cell Phone Service Functioning Well At Inauguration

Months of preparations by cell phone service providers appeared to be paying off for hundreds of thousands of spectators who jammed the National Mall and the area around the Capitol for the swearing in of Barack Obama as the nation's 44th president.

Sisters Sandra and Elizabeth Seru, positioned at different sections of the Mall, both reported normal reception receiving and sending voice calls and text messages.

"People all around me are on their phones and they are taking pictures and sending them," Sandra Seru said in a clear voice call. She uses a BlackBerry Pearl with Verizon Wireless service and was stationed between the Lincoln Memorial and the World War II Memorial. "I've had no problem calling or texting."

Her only problem: "It's very cold and I have to jump around to stay warm. But everyone's in good spirits."

Her sister, Elizabeth Seru, who was at the edge of the Mall, also reported no difficulties sending and receiving voice calls and text messages. She has an Apple iPhone with AT&T service and said people around her seemed to be talking on their phones without incident. Elizabeth Seru has a pair of fingerless gloves, but she said she takes off her gloves to make calls because the phone's touch screen works more efficiently that way, particularly in the cold.

On Monday night, the inauguration crowd got a preview of cell phone usage when concertgoers jammed the Lincoln Memorial and flooded the airwaves with voice calls, text messages, digital photos, and videos. Only a few scattered outages were reported among the 400,000 who attended the concert.

The major cell phone service providers all added resources for the inaugural events. AT&T said it spent an additional $4 million to beef up its D.C. coverage, while Verizon Wireless noted that its $1 billion investment in Washington in recent months helped set up coverage for the inauguration. The service providers also set up cell truck sites to buttress fixed infrastructure.

Sprint Nextel reported earlier that its special inauguration coverage -- which included satellite trucks and a trailer for IP coverage -- had been planned for months. A spokeswoman said there was some mild blockage of calls, as expected, but overall service functioned well.

Many company and industry figures urged spectators to text rather than make voice calls, but, initially at least, texting didn't appear to be necessary given the relatively smooth completion of voice calls.

Twitterers appeared to be sending without incident. Biz Stone, co-founder of Twitter, said the company had doubled its capacity in time for the inauguration. The Washington Post set up a Twitter service to keep spectators informed of the events as they unfolded.