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At Trump's inauguration, tech sputters

President Donald Trump promised the crowd that "everyone is listening." On the ground in DC, CNET's Maggie Reardon says, it wasn't so easy to get the word out.

maggie-trump-inaguration-photos-2.jpg

People could take videos and photos with their phones, but network overload made it tough for them to share those images in real time.

Maggie Reardon/CNET

As he took the oath of office on Friday, President Donald Trump vowed that "the forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer."

"January 20th, 2017, will be remembered as the day the people became the rulers of this nation again," Trump told the crowd during his 16-minute speech from the Capitol Steps. "Everyone is listening to you now."

Well, not if you were one of the people on the ground in Washington, DC, like me, trying to reach out to colleagues, family or friends on social media.

You'd think in an age of 4G communication and Twitter, it would be easy to share videos, photos and thoughts as the 70-year-old real estate mogul was sworn in as the 45th president of the United States.

Now Playing: Watch this: Donald Trump takes the oath of office
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But on Friday morning, I watched thousands of people in front of the Capitol -- all carrying phones, all taking photos and videos -- trying and failing to send their words and images.

AT&T told me its customers used more than 4.5 terabytes of data during the morning's ceremony, compared with 527 gigabytes of data for the entire day of Barack Obama's inauguration in 2013. In comparison, AT&T customers used more than 5.2 TB of data at last year's Super Bowl.

Verizon said its customers used about 7 terabytes of data throughout the event, double the amount of data compared to an average Friday. About 67 percent of data use was dedicated to web browsing and social media, with Facebook and Snapchat being the most used social apps for Verizon customers.

The area between the reflection pool and the stage, right where I was standing, experienced the highest traffic, a Verizon spokesperson told me. This makes sense since it was the most populated space on the Mall, and it explains why so many Verizon customers around me had so much trouble connecting to the network. Still, the company said the "network performed well, as expected after two years of planning."

Phones were out in full force as Donald Trump was sworn in as the 45th president of the US.

Phones were out in full force as Donald Trump was sworn in as the 45th president of the US.

Maggie Reardon/CNET

But for those of us on that small patch of the National Mall it was frustrating.

Mobile devices have become extensions of ourselves. Almost every moment of the 2016 election was tweeted on Twitter, shared on Instagram or discussed on Facebook. We now have a president whose primary form of communicating with the world is through two Twitter accounts -- his own, with nearly 21 million followers, and @POTUS, which switched to Trump on Friday and had over 5 million followers by midday.

"It's about sharing the experience and wanting to let people know they are part of the experience," said Marcia DiStaso, an associate professor of public relations and social media at Penn State University. "It's the check-in mentality. We care more about people hearing us as a collective than individually."

Thanks to network overload, our voices had to wait to be heard.

The situation was nearly the same on the bitterly cold January day when Obama was elected to his first term, but for different reasons. In 2009, Facebook was only five years old, and Twitter and YouTube were just three years old. They weren't even close to being a daily habit for most people. Instagram, Snapchat and WhatsApp didn't exist, and the Apple iPhone had been on the market for about 18 months.

Oh, and there was no such thing as live video streaming.

Even making a phone call was a challenge in Washington, DC, on January 20, 2009. Almost everyone on the mall or along the parade route had trouble using their phones.

Things change

Though both inaugurations suffered from a failure to communicate, they differed in other ways. Let's start with the crowd.

Organizers expected 800,000 to 900,000 people to attend Friday's inauguration ceremony, down from an estimated 1 million in 2009 and 1.8 million in 2013. Back then, I stood in a security line for two hours, then had to run to my spot to catch Obama being sworn in.

Today: No line whatsoever. (Check out photo comparisons of the crowd size here and here.)

A couple shows off their bobblehead doll of Hillary Clinton dressed in prison stripes.

A couple shows off their bobblehead doll of Hillary Clinton dressed in prison stripes.

Maggie Reardon/CNET

Eight years ago, people joined hands and sang about unity as they waited for the new president to leave Capitol Hill and the parade to begin. For Trump's swearing in, the crowd booed Sen. Chuck Schumer, the only Democrat to speak at the inauguration, for what they perceived were partisan remarks. They cried "Drain the swamp!" and "Lock her up!" when images of presidential candidate Hillary Clinton came on the jumbo TV screen. It felt...disturbing.

Even members of Republican Sen. Tim Scott's staff, who drove here from South Carolina to support the new president, told me they wished the crowd showed more respect for the dignity of the office and the ceremony. "Hello, someone voted for him," I overheard one staffer say as the crowd yelled at Schumer to sit down. "This is a democracy isn't it?"

Amy McColm, 44, (left) and Chris Hinds, 68, (middle) of Tacoma, Washington, traveled to Washington, DC, for the Women's March. They stand alongside Trump supporter James Burnett, 43, (right) of Portsmouth, Virginia, along the inaugural parade route on Pennsylvania Avenue.

Amy McColm, 44, (left) and Chris Hinds, 68, (middle) of Tacoma, Washington, traveled to Washington, DC, for the Women's March. They stand alongside Trump supporter James Burnett, 43, (right) of Portsmouth, Virginia, along the inaugural parade route on Pennsylvania Avenue.

Maggie Reardon/CNET

In fact, the peaceful transition from one administration to another is the best proof that US democracy is alive and well. While some protests erupted into violence just a few blocks from the parade route, protestors at the Navy Memorial on Pennsylvania Avenue peacefully co-existed with Trump supporters.

As for the wireless network, after the crowd dispersed and spread itself throughout the city, everyone was able to get back to tweeting and Snapchatting.

First published Jan. 20, 12:07 p.m. PT.
Update, 5:30 p.m.: Adds information from Verizon and more insights from the protests and parade.

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