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November 02, 2012

Slight Improvement Continues in Number of Cell Phone Towers Online after Hurricane

By Ed Silverstein, TMCnet Contributor

There continues to be a slight improvement in the number of U.S. cell phone towers now in working order after the massive damage caused by Hurricane Sandy.

Even though many New York and New Jersey residents still have problems getting a signal for their phones – or can’t even access the Internet – the number of cell phone towers out of order in the impacted region was about 19 percent as of late Thursday, according to the FCC (News - Alert).

That compares to 25 percent earlier in the week.

That percentage can fluctuate because companies were losing power in their back-up power systems at the towers. Some are apparently running out of gas at cell towers and switching facilities, The Washington Post reported.

“The availability of fuel to keep generators delivering backup power to switching facilities and other critical network equipment is an increasing challenge in hard-hit areas such as New Jersey and New York,” The Post quoted a Verizon (News - Alert) statement made Thursday afternoon.

On Tuesday, Verizon also issued a statement that “more than 200 Verizon facilities continue to serve customers on backup power.  The company engineers its networks with backup power to provide redundant, uninterrupted service in critical facilities such as switching offices, cell sites, and cloud and data centers.”

Even downed trees and flooding prevented employees from some companies from reaching impacted cell towers, according to news reports.

On the other hand, Verizon was able to restore backup power at four "critical facilities" in New York, the company said, according to The Hill newspaper.

It was also reported that AT&T and T-Mobile will share networks in the hard-hit areas of New York and New Jersey.

On Thursday, Sprint (News - Alert) said in a statement its network was "fully restored" for customers in several states impacted by the storm.  These include: Maryland, Virginia, Delaware, Maine, Vermont, Ohio and Kentucky, as well as Washington, D.C.

The company also claimed it made “significant progress” for customers in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island, where the network “is more than 90 percent operational.” In New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, Sprint’s network is more than 80 percent operational, but “challenges remain for the hardest hit areas of these states, including metropolitan New York City and portions of the New Jersey coast.”

In New York City, Sprint said “approximately three-quarters of the network is operational, but challenges remain in obtaining commercial power, backhaul connections, and gaining safe access to cell sites.”

As of Thursday, about 85 percent of T-Mobile's (News - Alert) network in New York City was restored and the company said it achieved "good progress" in other areas impacted by the storm, according to The Hill.

"Network technicians are working as quickly as possible to restore service by deploying generators to cell sites where power outages continue and to repair damage caused by high winds and flooding," T-Mobile said in a company statement quoted by The Hill.

In addition, the hurricane shows that plain old telephones (POTS) are more reliable than cell phone service, some industry observers claimed.

“Copper-wire phone networks were built with stability and dependability in mind because they were public utilities and were supposed to withstand hurricanes and floods,” Harold Feld, a senior vice president at Public Knowledge (News - Alert), told The Post.

The FCC is monitoring progress in getting cell phone service restored.

“Our commercial communications networks are essential to emergency response and recovery efforts, as well as to commercial activities and connecting with family,” FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said in a public statement on Thursday.

Edited by Brooke Neuman
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